Inside JCPRD: 1970s art installation in Shawnee Mission Park now a hidden gem

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By David Markham

A Johnson County sculptor whose artwork is in collections around the world and were featured in Marvel© and DC© comics-related movies was also the creator of a public artwork recently “rediscovered” in Shawnee Mission Park.

The piece in question consists of three steel and wooden cylinders with seats inside located overlooking the lake near Shelter #4 just north of the marina on the lake’s north side. They were created and donated to the park in the early 1970s by local artist Arlie Regier, who passed away in 2014.

Earlier this year, JCPRD officials came across a 1972 newspaper clipping about the art installation. This comes at a time when the park district is actively working toward installing new public art in district parks.

“This is a great discovery of the very first public art within JCPRD parks,” said Superintendent of Culture Susan Mong. “Arlie was ahead of his time in so many ways. He saw the magic of installing public art in park spaces and he also understood the power of community engagement when creating these pieces. It is clear that Shawnee Mission Park was a special place for his family, and we are honored to tell his story. These are really well used even today – and designed to allow someone to sit and just take in the view. Our staff have shared how often they will see someone peacefully enjoying the park from these structures.”

The JCPRD Public Art Committee, which Mong leads, has formally approved action to dedicate resources from the agency’s public art maintenance fund to restore these pieces. Officials hope to complete the restoration by the end of 2023.

“We are currently researching vendors to determine the best approach,” Mong said. “The site will also be evaluated and improved for accessibility, and there are also plans to add signage to tell this story.”

As part of telling this story, the committee also wants to hear from people who had Regier as a teacher and especially past students who might have been involved in creating or assembling the artwork in Shawnee Mission Park in the early 1970s. Their recollections will be used be used to guide preparation of the interpretive panel and to create a history of the artwork. To participate in this effort, contact Mong at Susan.Mong@jocogov.org.

Sue Regier, wife of local artist Arlie Regier, and her son Dave Regier, recently took time to talk about Arlie’s artwork and their connections for Shawnee Mission Park.

Arlie’s wife, Sue, and son, Dave, recently took time to talk about Regier and his artwork.

“I think Arlie would say that he would want things that were beautiful to be noticed and to be enjoyed, and that people could interact with beautiful things that he called art,” Sue said. “That would help people to expand ordinary days into some things of beauty and enjoyment. He liked to explain how to do this and he was hoping that others would try it. He did teach children – he taught his own children – and he was happy to share what he found was fun and beautiful and productive.”

The Regier’s oldest son, Dave, also became a sculptor and worked with his dad for about 20 years.

“He truly enjoyed telling a story and finding a nugget of information or something he saw as truth that he could illustrate in steel and make it beautiful, and make it meaningful, and make it valuable, and share it,” Dave said. “He was remarkable in that he could find what he could do in the days before the internet.

Arlie Regier was born in 1931 and grew up on a farm near Burrton, Kan., located between Hutchinson and Newton. He studied industrial arts at Bethel College in Newton. In 1967, Regier studied sculpture design under sculptor Richard Stankiewicz and received a master’s degree in industrial education from Colorado State University. Arlie and Sue, who was a second grade teacher and church organist, lived for a time in McPherson, Kan., before moving to Overland Park in 1969. Arlie taught industrial arts in the Shawnee Mission School District, including a year at Hocker Grove school, and from 1970 to 1986 at Nallwood Junior High School, which is now Indian Hills Middle School.

About the time he moved to the Kansas City area, he started experimenting with art, and he would sometimes use participating in his art projects as educational experiences for his students. The artwork he built for Shawnee Mission Park are an example of this.

“It was originally put together at the school as an educational exercise,” Sue said. “I just remember that it was constructed on the parking lot of Nallwood Junior High when my husband taught metal. They would weld outside on the parking lot, and he would teach the kids how to weld.”

“In my mind, this was his earliest public art piece,” added Dave, who was a junior in high school at the time. “When he decided he wanted to be an industrial arts teacher, he didn’t want to have his students build the same things that everybody else built – a toolbox and a candleholder and that kind of thing. I think that very much drove him toward an art class or a sculpture class – ‘what could we find as an excuse to discover something?’”

“Our family actually spent quite a bit of time there (at Shawnee Mission Park),” Sue noted. “With four children – we had just come to the city and we needed places where the kids could run and play. We would go fishing and wade at the edge of the lake. We spent many Sundays there. I have a feeling that he came to someone and told them he wanted to donate them to the park. He donated many pieces (throughout the community).”

Although he started off working in wood, Arlie soon moved to metal for his art, and in the shop classes he taught. He often used scrap metal, and eventually developed an sculpture style using highly-polished mirrorlike surfaces.

“Dad found stainless steel in the mid to late 80s a medium that he could polish and make it reflect the beauty that was around it,” Dave said. “It was clean and didn’t have rust or paint on it, and it was easy to work with. It was the shiniest thing in an art fair. It would look really good compared to a dull piece of wood or a dull piece of stone; it would sparkle. I think that’s why he liked it.”

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston acquired one of Regier’s works in 2007. Other collectors include Warner Brothers; Marvel Studios; H&R Block; DeBruce Grain; A. Zahner Company; the City of Kansas City, Mo.; University of Kansas Hospital; the late British Author Douglas Adams; and private collectors in cities worldwide, including Miami, Hong Kong, Denver, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Tokyo, and Berlin. Two of the Regiers’ monumental works are also in the permanent collection of the Benson Sculpture Garden in Loveland, Colo.

Examples of the Regiers’ public art can be found around Johnson County, including at the Overland Park Convention Center, in front of Shawnee Mission West High School (the Viking ship), and at the new Johnson County Courthouse in Olathe, as well as at the Agricultural Hall of Fame in Wyandotte County. For many years, Arlie also showed his art at local art shows including the Plaza Art Fair and the Brookside Art Annual.

The Regiers have also shown their work with galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Vail, Colo.; San Francisco; Carmel, Calif; and at the Leopold Gallery in Kansas City.

“In the early 1990s, Paul Dorrell started Leopold Gallery and invited dad to be one of the people he represented,” Dave said. “Together they did a lot of great work. Paul Dorrell is now consultant for projects where the project has to use a certain percentage for public art. He will consult with that project and figure out how to spend the money accurately. So Leopold gallery placed the public art that dad built and that he and I built.”

Dorrell, who is the Leopold Gallery’s president and art consultant, commented on what makes Regier’s artwork unique.

“The fact that he creates the works out of scrap steel, mostly stainless, with such a gifted eye for assembly and design,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of work over the decades where artists use scrap steel, but rarely with such talent as Arlie and Dave.” He noted another interesting association as well. “The scrapyard where he most often got his steel was Asner Iron and Metal, which was opened by (Actor) Ed Asner’s father in 1908 and managed by Ed’s brother, Ben, for decades. All those guys have passed, but they all thought the world of Arlie and Dave.”

Arlie Regier’s artwork provides a place of quiet contemplation overlooking Shawnee Mission Park Lake.

As to what he remembers most about Arlie, he commented “his kindness, complete lack of pretension, and gentle humor.”

Sue Regier remains surprised and inspired by the wonderful works of art her husband created.

“I married him as a teacher and all this art was a very big surprise to me,” she said proudly. “I would wonder so many times about the things that he made. It was very delightful and unexpected of the contract when I said ‘I do!’ I had no idea that was in that guy. The thing that I really enjoyed was raising four children. It was an adventure in being surprised.”

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