Tom Parish stands in one of the Flint Hills root cellars he has been photographing and documenting as part of his “Take Shelter” project, opening Friday at the Box Gallery. David Mayes Kansas State University
Tom Parish stands in one of the Flint Hills root cellars he has been photographing and documenting as part of his “Take Shelter” project, opening Friday at the Box Gallery. David Mayes Kansas State University

Visual Arts

Explore the soul of the Flint Hills in photographs by Tom Parish at the Box Gallery


The Kansas City Star

December 03, 2014 06:00 AM

A fascinating project by Emporia, Kan.-based photographer Tom Parish opens at the Box Gallery for December First Friday.

While working on his Master of Fine Arts degree at Kansas State University, Parish began exploring Flint Hills root cellars, taking detailed photographs of these man-made caves with arched roofs made of native stone.

“These places often are all that remain of early homesteads and seem to show the last traces of the people who built them,” Parish notes in an artist statement. “They were often built by an individual and/or a family with the sole purpose of sustaining their life and providing for their future in a time of crisis.”

Earlier this year, Parish did an installation of his photographs at K-State’s Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art. Organized by Beach associate curator Theresa Bembnister, the exhibit included two 8-by-17-foot images installed in a tunnel-like space viewers could walk through, as well as the artist’s historical research.

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“These caves are a part of the lives of so many people who have lived here,” Bembnister said, “so Tom started going out and finding them and talking to people that have them on their property. It’s almost like he became ‘the cave guy.’ People would show up at events where he was appearing to share their experiences of these structures. He’s really creating community around his work.”

During the exhibit’s run at the Beach from February to mid-June, Jonathan Kemper, vice chairman of Commerce Bancshares and chairman of Commerce Bank, Kansas City region, saw it and invited Parish to do a show at the Box Gallery.

For his KC showing, Parish plans “a slightly pared-down version of the museum exhibit,” featuring 10 prints, including one of the 17-foot shots from the Beach show. He will introduce a new triptych, featuring a pair of 360-degree images of a single two-chambered cave, as well as a view of its exterior.

Parish also will use the gallery’s flat screen to present images of 46 additional structures he has visited and photographed; informational panels will discuss “the special nature of the structures and their relationship to the Flint Hills.” An interactive component will allow viewers to hear stories of the caves’ uses.

“Even with only 100 years having passed, much of the recognition and understanding of these structures is now gone,” Parish writes. He compares them to “ancient crypts or to some early religions holy places” for him, they “seem to exude a spirit or soul.”

Holiday shows

First Friday in December also finds plenty of affordable art for gift-giving at spaces around town.

The Kansas City Art Institute’s popular end-of-semester exhibition and sale, featuring student work from the departments of ceramics, digital filmmaking, fiber, graphic design, illustration, painting, photography, printmaking and sculpture, begins Friday night and continues through Sunday.

In the Crossroads, don’t miss Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art’s two-day Holiday Hot-Shop of works priced at less than $300 by 21 artists, including Hung Liu, Cary Esser, Kent Michael Smith and Larry Thomas.

And you may not be able to resist splurging on yourself at the sight of the tiny (5-by-5- and 6-by-6-inch) paintings in the ongoing Michiko Itatani exhibit at Sherry Leedy. They’re pretty magical and priced at $600 and $800.

Blue Gallery celebrates the holidays with a “Wonder Wall: Works of Art $500 or less.” Head to Mattie Rhodes for a selection of handmade items.

You can buy gifts and support a good cause at the VML Wise Gallery, where more than 100 local artists have contributed heart-shaped works to the “Hearts Social Club Group Exhibition & Art Auction,” in support of Children’s Mercy Hospital. The bidding opens at $50 and the maximum sale price is $100.

Alice Thorson is The Kansas City Star’s art critic. To reach her, call 816-234-4763 or send email to

Blue Gallery

“Wonder Wall: Works of Art $500 or less”

When: Friday (reception 6-9 p.m.) through Jan. 31

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and by appointment

Where: 118 Southwest Blvd.

Info: 816-527-0823

The Box Gallery

“Take Shelter: An Installation by Tom Parish”

When: Friday (reception 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.) through Jan. 30

Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Friday

Where: Commerce Bank Building, 1000 Walnut St., Suite 211

Info: 816-760-7885

Kansas City Art Institute

“End-of-semester student exhibition and sale

When: Friday (5-7 p.m.) through Dec. 7

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday

Where: 4420 Warwick Blvd.

Info: 816-802-3423

The Late Show

“Naughty Elves” group show

When: Friday (reception 6-10 p.m.) through Dec. 27

Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and by appointment

Where: 1600 Cherry St.

Info: 816-516-6749

Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art

Holiday Hot-shop

“Michiko Itatani: Cosmic Wanderlust”

“Ruth Borgenicht: Homesites”

“New works by Jun Kaneko and Amy Myers”

When: Reception on Friday (7-9 p.m.). Hot-Shop Friday, Dec. 5 (7-9 p.m.) and Saturday, Dec. 6 (11 a.m. to 5 p.m.). Other exhibits through Dec. 20. Hot-Shop is open for a preview Friday, 11-5 p.m.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and by appointment

Where: 2004 Baltimore Ave.

Info: 816-221-2626

Leedy-Voulkos Art Center

KC: America’s Creative Crossroads: A National Lifestyle Campaign by the Kansas City Area Development Council, featuring “Portrait Photography by Cameron Gee”

“Plays & Penalties: Paige Beltowski and Max Adrian”

“Patrick Duegaw: The Innumerable Anxieties: Studies in Disorder”

“Edward Navone: A Passion for Painting”

“Merry Menagerie: Paper Cuttings by Angie Pickman”

When: Friday (reception 6-9 p.m.); Duegaw, Navone, Pickman and Beltowski/Adrian through Dec. 27; Gee through Jan. 31

Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday

Where: 2012 Baltimore Ave.

Info: 816-474-1919

Leopold Gallery

“William Lobdell and Phil Epp: Sculptures of the City, Paintings of the Prairie”

When: Friday (reception 6-9 p.m.) through Dec. 31

Where: 324 W. 63rd St.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday

Info: 816-333-3111

Mattie Rhodes Art Gallery

“Loteria” group show and “Hecho a Mano Mercado” (Market for hand-made gifts)

When: Friday (reception 6-10 p.m) through Feb. 14

Hours: Noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday

Where: 915 W. 17th St.

Info: 816-221-2349

Mid-America Arts Alliance

“Backstage Pass: Baron Wolman and the Early Years of Rolling Stone”

When: Friday (reception 6-8 p.m.) through Dec. 19

Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursday and Friday, Dec. 11-12 and Dec. 18-19

Where: 2018 Baltimore Ave.

Info: 816-421-1388

Todd Weiner Gallery

“Duality by Alessandra Dzuba and Heinrich Toh”

When: Friday (reception 5-10 p.m.) through Dec. 27

Hours: 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, and by appointment

Where: 115 W. 18th St.

Info: 816-984-8538

VML Wise Gallery

“Hearts Social Club Group Exhibition and Auction” in support of Children’s Mercy Hospital

When: Friday 6-9 p.m. (one night only)

Where: 2020 Baltimore Ave. (Third Floor)

Info: 816-665-8118