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Cool Things - Drouthy Kansas Painting

Drouthy Kansas painting by Worrall

Although Kansas is known for its bountiful farms, the state's history has been punctuated by prolonged and severe droughts. This painting makes a whimsical statement on the state's negative image.

Kansans have suffered very real hardships, as well as a worrisome image, because of fickle weather. Even before Kansas entered the union, the brutal drought of 1860 confirmed for many people the suspicion that the whole area was part of the "Great American Desert."

By the time Henry Worrall moved from Cincinnati to Topeka in 1868 favorable weather prevailed, but "several of his former Cincinnati associates were in the habit of making aggravating remarks in their letters about the 'drouth of 1860,' and the general and special dryness of Kansas. In 1869 an excursion party from Cincinnati came to Topeka, and prior to their arrival Worrall fastened on the wall a big piece of paper and drew a charcoal sketch . . . ." (The Commonwealth 3/31/1875, p. 4, col. 1).

The result was Drouthy Kansas, Worrall's whimsical statement on the persistently negative image of his adopted state. With the return of rainfall, tales of agricultural plenty abounded, and promoters portrayed Kansas as a rich land with a rosy future. A local newspaper reported the production of "monstrous melons and beets of immeasurable proportions." (Kansas Weekly Commonwealth, Sept. 23, 1869). Worrall's sketch no doubt alluded to such exaggerated claims.

The artist gave photographs of his sketch to the visitors from Cincinnati. Demand for the image ballooned, and several hundred copies were soon distributed in Topeka and elsewhere. Although Worrall was a prolific artist, Drouthy Kansas became without a doubt his best-known work. It turned up in railroad promotional literature, on the cover of the Kansas Farmer, and even on the drop-curtain of Liberty Hall, the opera house in nearby Lawrence. It was soon declared to have been "the biggest single advertisement Kansas had ever had" (The Commonwealth, March 31, 1875).

Attitudes changed by the mid-1870s, when drought returned and a plague of grasshoppers gobbled up all crops and hope. A Topeka editor reported that hapless settlers began to "invoke maledictions on [Worrall's]. . . artistic head. Delegations waited on him to inform him that, had it not been for the diabolical seductiveness of that picture, they would never have come to Kansas to be ruinated and undone by grasshoppers. . . . [Worrall] was a sufferer for Kansas' sake."(The Commonwealth, March 31, 1875).

Today Drouthy Kansas can be seen on display in the main gallery of the Kansas Museum of History. The museum's collections also include a sketchbook by Worrall.

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Entry: Cool Things - Drouthy Kansas Painting

Author: Rebecca Martin

Date Created: November 1996

Date Modified: February 2011

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.