What do fountains add to life in Kansas City?

Sculptor Tom Corbin, who has created elements for several Midtown and Kansas City fountains, says the play of water with sculpture has a real dramatic impact. Kansas City is credited as having more fountains than any other city except Rome. Local art experts say the public art enhances our physical environment.

Tomorrow, the Midtown KC Post starts a contest allowing our readers to show off their knowledge of Midtown fountains.

All of which raises the question – why care about all fountains in a city dripping with them? Kansas City, as you know,  is said to have more of the expensive-to-maintain waterworks than any city but Rome.

Jan Schall, Sanders Sosland Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, spoke to that.

Such public art “is a pause as we move through our lives,” she said. “a pause to remind us that beauty matters.”

Fountains and statues commemorate the lives of people or events or more, she said. “It lifts us up.”

Fountains reach back to ancient times partly because of the human fascination with water, a liquid essential to life that that covers much of the earth.

As engineering evolved, fountains became more ornate and operated more often. Schall said the leaders of Versailles, France, in early days, had fountains turned on one at a time as they showed worthy visitors their city. A runner went ahead from one fountain to another to get it turned on while those behind were turned off, creating the illusion to visitors that all fountains were always on.

Fountains were “an evolution in science and technology and art,” she said, and Kansas City leaders embraced them in the early 1900s as part of the City Beautiful movement.

“Our fountains set us apart and make us a special place,” she said, and as for maintaining them: “It’s worth it.”

Another advocate is Kansas City area sculptor Tom Corbin, who has created several brass sculptures for city fountains.

Among his works are the Children’s Fountain and the Firefighters Memorial fountain at Penn Valley Park, both of which need repairs. The impetus for the Firefighter fountain was the 1988 explosion that killed six firefighters and it stands as a monument to all fallen Kansas City firefighters.

In Midtown, Corbin also created the Kauffman Memorial Gardens fountain at 4800 Rockhill Road. The bronze sculptor’s work appears in over 20 museums, galleries or showrooms and Jack Nicholson and the late Frank Sinatra owned his pieces, he said.

Fountains have been a small part of his output, and yet “People probably talk about that more than anything I do,” he said. “The play of water with sculpture has a real dramatic impact – it brings it alive.”

Art impacts people and the culture, he said. “To take it away would be terrible.”

Donations for fountain repair can be sent City of Fountains Foundation, 4049 Central, 64111.

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