Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mrs. Lighton's enthusiasm and leadership

The following article first appeared in The Independent, Kansas City's Journal of Society on July 23rd, 1973, pages 16 and 17. In it, an unnamed author recalls the contributions Mrs. David M. (Gertrude) Lighton made, during her involvement with her Lighton Studios on 1718 Holly Street. It reveals Mrs. Lighton's attitude and generosity to the art community.

      "It was a vacant, elderly brick building that had begun respectfully enough in the 1880's as a hotel high on the west bluffs near Kersey Coates Drive. Later, it housed the Bucket of Blood Saloon and a group of feminine occupants of dubious hospitality and reputation. The police in their uneasy surveillance of the place knew the address well: 1718 Holly. In 1929 it got not religion, but culture, in a rebirth that began with a candlelight procession. The leader was Mrs. David M. (Gertrude) Lighton, and the group she led on an impromptu 10 p.m. tour of the premises  was the Kansas City Society of Artists. Her fellow artists had felt the need of an informal but inspiring center for studios, serious work, and congenial company. But this forlorn place! It wasn't even  wired for electricity. It needed new plumbing and remodeling. Most of all it needed  Mrs. Lighton's  enthusiasm and leadership, and her willingness to restore the building at her own expense."
      "The result by the fall of 1930 was the Lighton Studio, with its inviting reception room, electric lights, three floors of studios, and the Red Lantern tea-room in the basement. Mrs. Lighton found the barn lanterns at a neighborhood hardware store. Rent for the studios ranged from $5 to $40 monthly, depending on the size, and including heat and light, an an associate membership in the Kansas City Society of Artists was required.  Miss Ilah Marian Kibbey shared a studio with  Mrs. James Summers  and Mrs. Loren Martin. Others with studios included Larry Richmond, Gale Stockwell, Mrs. L. B. (Peg) Kittinger, Richardson Rome, Mrs. Joseph Webb Kessinger, Dr. L. Davidson, John W. Orth, Dr. Erwin Brown, Charles Allen, sculptor Dr. Emmett J. Craig (whose dental office was in the Argyle Building) and novelist Frank F. B. Houston, now of San Francisco."
      "Artist Gayle Stockwell remembers the Bohemian charm of the tea-room  and its romantically dim lighting, Oriental  screens, and incense burners. Red and black tables contrasted with chrome yellow walls. Mrs. Lighton's antique pewters  graced buffets and wall shelves. A chauffeur drove Mrs. Lighton's car. We were impressed," says Mr. Stockwell, speaking for his young fellow artists. Yet this same lady-with-the-chauffeur pitched in happily on the remodeling, even helping to put down the linoleum. She also loved to cook, and created many a delicacy in the small jade green kitchen. A handmade menu from the Studio scrapbook (now cherished by Richard M. Hollander, Mrs. Lighton's son-in-law, and by family members) lists tempting entrees such as Studio Chicken with rich cheese sauce and sherry. Lunches were 75 cents and a dollar. There were also sandwich menus and a variety of soups and salads."
      "The Studio became a center for art exhibitions, book reviews, musicals, literary luncheons, teas, and bridge luncheons. And the parties! One pink handbill created by the K. C. Society of Artists was headed BUCKET OF BLOOD--Big Party. "Free beer, free lunch. Come in western costumes." George Cartlich, retired advertising manager for Woolf Brothers, remembers the farewell parties Mrs. Lighton gave for soldiers called to war in 1941-42, "notably [one for] Jerry Rodehaver, manager for the boys' shop and a reserve officer."
      "Other artists of the 30's, whose work appeared in exhibitions at the Studio included Mrs. Hal Gaylord, Mrs. Massey Holmes, Walter Bailey, A. H. Clark, Evalyn Miller, Jim-Edd Spencer, Mrs. Marcus Ford, Coah Henry, Floy Campbell, Roger Cunningham, Mildred Rubin, Letha Churchill, Walter Giffard, and Gertrude Freyman."
      "A newspaper clipping of 1/1/34 announced  "The first one-man show of the works of Thomas Benton, Missouri artist now living in New York will open next week at the Lighton Studios...Twenty-two watercolors and drawings will be shown."
      "Among the popular speakers at the Studio were Tom Collins, Miss Helen Hoopes, and Mrs. Estelle  B. Schneider. Hostesses at various gatherings included Mmes. Thorton  E. Cooke, Nelson Studebaker Riley, Lynn  S. Banks, Powell  C. Groner, Arthur Kriehn, Louis Sosland, Harry  B. Wolf, E. Gilbert Jaccard."
      "After ten years of flourishing activity, the Studio felt the impact of World War II. Lives were geared to war-time living and gasoline was rationed. Eventually Mrs. Lighton moved her studio to 4890 Main Street, near her residence. The tea-room days were over. In 1953 the old building was reopened as the Holly Street Art Gallery, with Mrs. Ivan Ganser as chairman. (In the intervening years the building had served as a youth club, navy barracks, and flood evacuation center.)"
      "The candlelight procession that signaled its happy days as the Lighton Studio was a symbolic contrast to its fiery ending. The old building was destroyed by fire in 1962. It seems a kindness of fate that Mrs. Lighton's death occurred before that time. She died in 1961 at the age of 82, a beautiful, outgoing spirit who would rejoice in Kay Cee's current artistic reawakenings."

One footnote of my own. During the 1920s, portions of Kansas City were known for their notoriety. In their book, Kansas City Jazz: From  Ragtime to Be-bop--A History, authors Frank Driggs and Chuck Haddix described the night scene along a stretch of 12th Street as "gambling dens, nightclubs, and taxi dance halls...The clubs ranged from rough, bucket-of-blood joints with sawdust on the floor and a stomp-down piano player, to elegant nightclubs.."(page 7). The expression "buckets-of-blood" had a certain kind of appeal and excitement. The original Bucket of Blood Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada took its notorious past, and used its folklore to make the saloon into a tourism magnet. Casinos will use this idiom to suggest a wild, good time. It is no surprise then that "Buckets of Blood" was used by the artists of 1718 Holly Street to advertise what was a safe, non-violent get-together. KM

(newspaper article of The Independent, Kansas City's Journal of Society on July 23rd, 1973, pages 16, courtesy of Linda Lighton of Kansas City, page 17, courtesy of Heather Paxton, KC Independent, 4233 Roanoke, Suite 100, Kansas City, Missouri, November 12, 2010. Kansas City Jazz: From Ragtime to Be-boy--A History by Frank Driggs and Chuck Haddix,,+kansas+city&source=bl&ots=kDyD4OqiQU&sig=9J5lo8DW2E3_3xCwY0ndXUtI84&hl=en&ei=ytbMTJ3JK8LsnQf4zbHZDw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=8&ved=0CDEQ6AEwBw#v=onepage&q&f=false, accessed November 12, 2010)


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