The Missouri Governor’s Mansion in Jefferson City will soon include a little piece of Washington.
Washington artist Gary Lucy recently was commissioned to paint “Jefferson City: Capital City River and Rail Transportation, 1856,” to hang in the mansion’s formal dining room. It will be unveiled March 19, 2020.
The painting will fill a void where the former Harry S. Truman portrait hung. The portrait belongs to the Missouri State Historical Society, which recently requested its return.
Lucy was sought out by Gov. Mike Parson and his wife Teresa more than a year ago to create a piece of work that is indigenous to the history of Jefferson City, touching on the impact the railroad and Missouri River has had on the area.
The Friends of the Missouri Governor’s Mansion, in partnership with the Missouri Bicentennial Commission, officially commissioned Lucy to do the painting. The announcement was made official Sept. 21 at the First Lady’s Luncheon.
Lucy explained the Friends is a separate group and by no means political.
“It’s a separate unit of state government devoted to the history and preservation of the Missouri Governor’s Mansion,” he said, adding the group is funded by private donations.
The mansion, built in 1871, is currently undergoing a major renovation because of the Friends. The original wooden beams are sagging so they will be replaced using steel beams.
“They are making sure the mansion remains a landmark of Missouri history,” Lucy said.
To Lucy’s knowledge, his oil-on-canvas piece will be a permanent installation in the mansion. The painting’s frame dimensions will be 44 by 64 inches.
Lucy said the year 1856 stood out to him as one that combines several important elements in Jefferson City’s history.
“The 1850s were a high point of the river,” he said. “It was the pinnacle of river transportation.”
Lucy noted the railroad reached Jefferson City in 1855, the same year the Missouri House Hotel was built. The hotel also is featured in the composition. It was later known as the Union Hotel.
Now, it houses the Elizabeth Rozier Gallery and the ground floor serves as the city’s Amtrak train station.
At that time, rail transportation was available in Jefferson City, but not to Kansas City. So travelers could ride the rails to Jefferson City then board a steamboat to travel to other westward destinations including Kansas City, Omaha, Neb., and Fort Benton, Mont.
By 1856, Lucy said westward travelers were riding the train to Jefferson City then hitching a ride on a steamboat for the rest of their journey.
“Jefferson City was the transportation hub for the way west,” said Lucy.
In reflection of that, Lucy will paint a farm family of four to be pictured at the lower left corner in a boat tended by local river travelers.
Lucy imagines the family had driven their wagon to the river and then hitched a ride to the city.
The Missouri River also will be depicted in the painting as the highway of the day, Lucy said.
The era depicted shows a city, state and country moving toward a more civilized society.
“They moved past the wild days of the frontier and focused more on building and commerce,” said Lucy.
Aside from little sentiments, like tiny fences around residential areas that would have sheltered gardens and farm animals, Lucy is making sure to capture the important landmarks to accurately depict this point in history.
The composition includes an assortment of various steamboats, including the Arabia and Omaha.
The Arabia steamboat struck a tree snag in the Kansas City area and sank with a total loss of her cargo in 1856. The boat was recovered in 1988.
The Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City, which Lucy highly recommends visiting, was built in 1991 to house the recovered boat and its cargo.
Lucy interprets the Arabia in his painting was about to take its last trip.
The Omaha was en route to the location of current day Sioux City, Iowa. Lucy said it was on its way to build that city.
The Omaha’s cargo was valued at $70,000, which Lucy notes was a lot of money in 1856. He said the ship was filled with “everything you need to build a city,” including three prefabricated buildings.
Lucy’s painting also will capture buildings on the riverfront, including Lohman’s Landing and the Missouri House Hotel, which are both still standing today.
Lohman’s Landing was built in 1834 as a trading site for travelers. It’s now known as the Jefferson Landing State Historic Site.
Of course, the Capitol building will be the main focal point. Lucy said he started a pencil drawing with the construction of the building. It’s the second Capitol building that was built in Jefferson City. It remained in use until 1911 when it was destroyed by a fire. The current building that stands today was opened in 1917.
Lucy noted the building in the composition faces east in a way as if to greet the westward bound traveler.
“It was made to face the oncoming traffic,” he said.
Since it was a stone building, he views the drawing of it with a noted appreciation of the manual labor that was put into building it.
“It’s a daytime piece reflective of early morning as the sun comes up,” said Lucy. “The sun will be shining on the Capitol building.”
The mansion will open in November for visitors. For the time being, Lucy’s print “Eating Up the Lights” will be used in the mansion to fill that void in the dining room.
The new painting will commemorate the mansion’s 150-year anniversary and the state of Missouri’s bicentennial.
Lucy said the mansion has around 66,000 visitors each year.
“I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity,” he said.