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Art Review: Keeper of the Plains

Fletcher Powell

The Keeper of the Plains is a monumental sculpture that marks the confluence of the Big and Little Arkansas Rivers. Rising 44 feet in the air, this Cor-Ten steel sculpture of a Native American chief is a popular site for Wichita visitors and residents alike. The proud figure stands tall with his back arched, offering something invisible to the sky with his upturned palms. The crisp lines of the stylized figure give it striking silhouette. But the large headdress and waving fringe gives the figure movement and life.

The Keeper of the Plains was designed by the Native American artist Blackbear Bosin. Of Kiowa-Comanche heritage, Blackbear is a nationally recognized painter. After serving the U.S. Marine Corp during World War II in his youth, he returned to Wichita, his adopted home, and continued his career in the arts. Although primarily a painter, the Keeper of the Plains was the only sculpture that he made – and an ambitions one at that.

Designed in 1974, Blackbear’s Cor-Ten sculpture is a departure from art practices of Minimalist sculptors concurrent with this decade. Tony Smith, Donald Judd, and, most famously, Richard Serra were working in the Minimalist vein with industrial materials on a large scale, and Cor-Ten steel was a popular choice. But while the Minimalists worked to reduce aspects of Modernism, Blackbear used a simplified figure in a single gesture to create a potent and enduring symbol of Wichita.