Sedalia, Missouri

Where Art Stands the Test of Time

Exploring timeless public art as a family in Sedalia, Missouri

By Jackie Tucker

A few weeks ago, my family was traveling from our home in Kansas City to visit my parents in St. Louis. We’ve made this trip many times before, and we usually just cruise on down the interstate to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. But this time we took a detour for an extra dose of family fun.

My husband, Dave, had been reading up on the unique culture and history of Sedalia, MO—such as its roots in the railroad as well as Scott Joplin’s significant contributions to ragtime music. So, we decided it was high time for a visit.

We arrived in downtown Sedalia and checked into Hotel Bothwell, a historic Sedalia hotel that has been around since 1927. The hotel’s American revival design blends with its elegant luxury, giving a nod to the glittering charm of the roaring 20s.

I was delightfully surprised to find such artistic architecture right in our hotel. Even our kids, Jack (12) and Emily (10) were impressed. Little did we know there was more art to discover in this charming city.


Colorful walls

Murals have always fascinated me—the way a boring blank wall can be transformed into a work of art. I love the way they educate and inspire local culture. So, I was thrilled to discover the mural painted by Eric Bransby in Sedalia City Hall.

Bransby studied under Thomas Hart Benton, the artist who painted the A Social History of the State of Missouri mural at the Missouri State Capitol. I’m a Missouri native, and it’s a piece I’ve always admired.

Bransby’s life-sized figures depict life in Sedalia.

Bransby’s life-sized figures depict life in Sedalia. They highlight the city’s history of both ragtime music and the railroad. The bold brushstrokes make the figures look as if they’re in motion. Even though it was painted in 1977, the mural has a contemporary twist to it that still makes it relevant today.

Next, Dave’s research took us a few blocks away to another mural in the Circuit Courtroom at the Pettis County Courthouse. The panels around the courtroom represent its history from the early 1800s to the present, including the railroad development, the Missouri State Fair and paintings of historic Sedalia figures like George Whiteman and Scott Joplin.

Jack, who loves to draw, especially enjoyed the artwork. He went through a phase as a toddler where he would color on every blank surface he could find—including the walls.

“See, Mom. Maybe I was just practicing drawing murals back then,” he teased.


Books and music

I am a self-professed book nerd. So, we had to stop by the Sedalia Public Library. I was expecting to be awed by its massive selection of books, but I did not realize how gorgeous the building itself would be. It is an architectural stunner. Built in the Greek Revival style with ornate terracotta stone and four limestone columns, it looks like something that would be on a campus of an Ivy League college.

In 1899, the library received a $50,000 Carnegie Grant to build a new library. It was the first to be awarded by Andrew Carnegie in the state of Missouri. The current library was dedicated in 1901 and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Its interior is just as spectacular as the exterior. We ventured inside and admired features like the golden oak woodwork and antique furniture and paintings. The kids’ favorite part, though, was the glass floor in the stacks area. Jack and Emily went upstairs and waved to Dave and me through the floor.

We browsed around the stacks, and Emily picked up a book about Scott Joplin. He and his music were depicted in much of the art we’d seen throughout the day, and the kids started asking questions. It was time to introduce them first-hand to ragtime music.

I checked the lineup at the Liberty Center Association for the Arts and found a Scott Joplin ragtime performance. Rooted in the original ragtime era, the concert showcased current composers and performers who are keeping the music alive.

Emily has recently started taking piano lessons, and her long, thin fingers didn’t stop moving throughout the entire performance. I feel like we’re going to be hearing a lot of ragtime music in our future. And that is just fine with me.


Storytelling sculptures

The next day, we visited State Fair Community College, where we discovered several interesting sculptures across campus. The one that drew me in the most, however, was the Shadow sculpture by artist Jesse Small. It’s a steel panel with a reddish-gold finish that depicts the shadow that a B-2 Stealth Bomber leaves on the ground. The sculpture pays homage to nearby Whiteman Air Force Base.

Over at the Missouri State Fairgrounds, there is a beautiful monument—Trail’s End—that celebrates the end of the trail of the first post-Civil War cattle drive. In front is a bronze sculpture of a cowboy herding longhorn cattle along the Shawnee Trail. It portrays the hardy cowboy spirit that’s often associated with Sedalia’s Western heritage. Behind the cowboy, there is a sculpture that showcases the role the railroad played in Sedalia’s founding history. It includes full-sized replicas of an 1870s cattle car, water tower, windmill and train.

While we admired the monument, I called the number for the Guide by Cell audio tour and put it on speakerphone so we could all listen. The audio tour took us back in time to the 1860s to celebrate the pioneers who helped to establish the West and the settlers who called Sedalia home.

Standing there taking it all in, I imagined the cowboys and railroad men forging their way across the plains. As a Missouri native, I felt this sense of pride, along with a can-do attitude, rising up in me. The monument may signify the trail’s end, but we weren’t quite ready for our visit to be over.

This lovely city surprised me with the way it celebrates Sedalia, MO artists. I would venture to say that it could compete with any of the art museums and galleries in Missouri. When we checked out of the hotel, I went ahead and booked another night for our return trip. There was so much still to see in Sedalia, and we didn’t want to miss a thing.

Explore art in Sedalia