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January 16, 2014 | 12:00 a.m. CST
From John Glenn’s living room, the expansive gold plain of his family’s Kansas farm kisses the sky within its gilded frame. There is warmth and calm captured, as if a breeze were just about to whisper off of the canvas. It’s clear the artist is not just a painter; he is a documentarian.
When the buildings of the farm his family has owned and operated in Pratt, Kan., since 1908 began to fall into disarray, he knew that even if they could not be physically preserved, he could give them life within a frame. “It’s sad to watch the farm go downhill,” Glenn says. “But it becomes too expensive to preserve.”
So Glenn, a landscape architect at MU, began to paint: the gated white house his mother grew up in; the lone pear tree rising from a field that has weathered a century of brutal seasons, and the fields his family romped through as children.
He walks those fields and photographs the areas he wishes to document — places where he finds beauty or spots with special memories attached to them. He takes the photos to his Columbia home and the tidy studio it contains that overlooks his backyard.
“The farm means family,” says his brother Dave Glenn. “I remember sitting around the dinner table and telling all the stories. Later we even made a family cookbook that documented some of them.”
It’s his family who inspired his venture into painting in the first place. John Glenn says he comes from an artistic upbringing. His father began painting in his middle age, and his brother is a potter. “I always wanted to paint and be more artistic,” he says.
John Glenn started making drawings and then later renderings as part of his schooling and career as a landscape architect. He doesn’t have as much time as he would like to spend on his work, but he still has produced dozens of pieces. “I enjoy working out the details,” he says.
“He is a representational artist,” says fellow artist and friend Stephen Rust. “He is methodical and intentional. He is recording a point in time.”
Both he and another artistic colleague, Gloria Gaus, point out that Glenn’s realist style is all about maintaining the historical accuracy of a place that holds so much meaning for him. “Artists do things for reasons,” Rust says. “There is an emotional tug.”
Perhaps because his work is so personal, Glenn is not openly seeking out buyers. “My siblings or kids might want it, or it can just be paintings for my own wall,” he says. “But if someone offers me the right price, they can take it.”