World's Largest Easel
A severe change in the terrain of roadside America comes when you descend the Rocky Mountains into central Colorado. After days of hairpin turns and two lane roads caught behind gasping Winnebago's, the Great Plains suddenly stretch before you in a never-ending flatness. No longer confined to travel along pioneer passes and river cuts, you can go in any direction you want.
Invariably, plains towns have the urge to raise their arms, and jump up and down, yelling, "Over Here!" We commend this, and when they yell, we'll aim our car towards the hubbub, whether it's the Wonder Tower in Genoa, Colorado, or the World's Largest Twine Ball in Cawker City, Kansas.
For the past several years, Goodland, in western Kansas, has been waving at passers-by with the World's Largest Easel(or at least the largest along a US Interstate). It's 80-feet tall, and atop it rests a 32-ft.x24-ft. representation of one of Van Gogh's "Sunflower" paintings. It is located about 1/2 mile off of I-70, along Hwy 24 near the center of town.
Kansas is the "Sunflower State," and Goodland is at the center of the local sunflower industry, so it makes sense. It made enough sense to the trade group, Sunflowers USA, that when Canadian artist Cameron Cross pitched them the idea in 2000, they raised the $150K necessary to build the thing. After overcoming some visa problems, Cross arrived in late '00, and the Easel was dedicated in August 2001, during Goodland's Sunflower Festival.
Goodland's painting is a version of "3 Sunflowers In A Vase," one of the seven sunflower paintings Van Gogh made back in the late 1880s. Cross's idea is to make giant tributes to all seven (six originals still exist; one in Japan was destroyed in a bombing run during WWII). However, it looks like the project might be stalled out. The first giant easel went up in Cross's hometown of Altona, Manitoba in 1998, and in 1999 he finished one for Emerald, Australia. But it appears that Goodland's has been his last (And on Cross's website, he is pitching giant easels to other towns, with the town getting to choose what giant painting to put on it.).
The easel is built of steel, weighing some 45,000 pounds. The supports are sunk 35 feet into the ground. According to one reporter, "When asked when it would come down, [Goodland spokesperson] Price replied, 'It won't.' "
The painting is properly angled so that the sun illuminates it, and photos can be taken with a "Goodland" water tower in the background. A small parking lot is provided, but not needed when we arrived. Though initial estimates were for the easel to attract an additional 89,000 annual visitors, we were the only ones there when we visited in the summer of 2003.
The painting, at 768 sq. feet, is nowhere near the world's largest. The World's Largest Painting by one artist, for example, is more than 40,000 square feet. However, one of the original Sunflower paintings sold in 1988 for $40 million. Its dimensions were 29''x23" or only about 5 square feet. At that rate, the Goodland painting could be worth more than $6 billion, easily qualifying as the world's most valuable painting.
The size is impressive up close, and we recommend a visit. However, the easel is so big, the painting up so high, and the surrounding land so flat, that it is hard to get the right sort of perspective in photographs. There's not much that can be done for that, so we recommend an addition. We think that lying on the ground in the field in front of the painting should be a giant ear, maybe ten feet long (an ear to the scale of the painting would only be about three feet long). Something that can be climbed on (or in) would make for a better snapshot.
A visit to Goodland also offers a chance to see a replica of the World's First Patented Helicopter. It is only a replica, however, because the original was destroyed in its failed maiden attempt, and the patent arrived after the pieces had been sold for scrap. And back in 1976, the International UFO Reporter noted that space aliens had abducted two Goodland residents - but there is no memorial to the event. Clearly, the painting is the big draw.
Update - April 2004: Artist Cameron Cross, based in Winnepeg, Manitoba, read our story about his giant easel project: "A giant ear...now why didn't I think of that?!?!?" We asked about progress on the Van Gogh front. "Getting the other four easels up is proving to be a struggle, but I am making headway. I will get all seven easels up before I go to that big art gallery in the sky!"