Wichita, Kansas, was the largest American city Ruth and I had never been to. We corrected this lapse during our recent trip that was focused on Colorado. It was worth the effort to see, and we focused our attention on 3 downtown attractions. The Keeper of the Plains paid tribute to Wichita’s history as a trading center and meeting place for nomadic Native Americans. The Mid-America All-Indian Center is part of its complex of attractions. The Museum of World Treasures celebrated a local collector of note. The Wichita Art Museum has an impressive collection of American art that many Wichita entrepreneurs surely promoted and fostered.
Wichita has an impressive business history. It accurately advertises itself as the Air Capital of the World because Airbus/Bombardier, LearJet, Beechcraft, Cessna, and Spirit are all a big presence, and 250,000 mostly private aircraft have been produced here since Cessna set up shop on the Kansas plains here in 1916. The Chisholm Trail may have given Wichita the nickname Cowtown and oil and grain both contributed to its fortunes, but aviation is what Wichita is known for today. Private airplanes are to Wichita what cars are to Detroit, and it was no surprise to me that Boeing manufactured B-29 Superfortresses here during World War II. I was, nevertheless, rather amazed at the number of high profile companies that got their start here. They include The Coleman Company, Pizza Hut, White Castle, Residence Inns by Marriott, and Safelite Auto Glass. Safelite got its start here in 1947 and has grown to be the largest vehicle glass company in the world despite the fact that its headquarters is now in Columbus, Ohio.
The Wichita Art Museum at 1400 West Museum Blvd. in downtown Wichita in a park-like setting was a big surprise in several ways. First, we missed the entrance on a steaming hot summer day. Secondly, we arrived during lunchtime and decided to have a bite to eat before checking out the collection. The menu in the upstairs Muse Cafe featured a healthy soup, which we ordered. Ruth and I found this cafe already crowded and a special event was clearly being set up nearby. There was only one 2-person and a lone 3-table arrangement available, and Ruth graciously offered the 3-person table to a threesome. We sat at the 2-person table awaiting our soup. The surprise came when we attempted to pay. The lady entertaining the threesome turned out to be from New Hampshire, and she paid for our lunch because we had given her party the opportunity to sit together for lunch. The third shock had to do with this museum’s art. We asked the young man at the welcome desk to tell us this museum’s star attraction, and he told us that most people gather around the Mary Cassatt or admire its 2 Edward Hoppers. Ruth most liked Toots Zynsky’s orange vase sculpture, and I gravitated to John Stewart Curry’s “Kansas Cornfield” as this museum’s most locally characteristic art work. We both admired its unusual Georgia O’Keeffe urban scene.
This museum, we both agreed, was completely worth seeing before we headed to the enigmatic Museum of World Treasures in Wichita’s Old Town where we met the collector’s daughter and scored a free balloon for showing up on that particular day.