The painting is by Vincent Van Gogh and depicts three sunflowers, arranged in a vase. It is twenty-four feet across, thirty-six feet high an it leans upon its easel some eighty feet in the air at the top. It is said to weigh 40,000 pounds.
You can see the painting from I-70, heading west, but it’s doubtful that you would be able to see it with enough time to process what you are seeing, with enough time to maneuver to the off-ramp into Goodland, Kansas.
The structure was built by the artist Cameron Cross at the city’s behest and with a budget of $150,000 and this is the third of such works, the first built in his hometown of Altoona, Canada, and another in Australia. Each features a different Van Gogh sunflower painting and he has plans to eventually compete the whole set.
That might be be either six or seven paintings, it’s not clear. Van Gogh made seven sunflower paintings but one was destroyed by American bombers when they pummeled Osaka in the weeks just before the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts and Japan’s subsequent surrender.
The destroyed painting is not wholly lost. There are photographs of it, one hanging above the head of its owner, Yamamoto Koyata, who bought it in Paris and had it shipped to his home in 1920. There is another photograph of it, discovered in the archives of a Japanese museum, apparently made just after it arrived in Japan. In that photograph the painting has a simple frame, painted bright orange, a frame mentioned by Van Gogh in his journals, chosen by Van Gogh. That frame was at some point replaced by the standard gilt-gold wooden frame, ornately carved, favored at the time.
There’s not much there to frame the Kansas painting. Next to the plot of land where Cross’s Van Gogh rises is a visitor information building, closed when we arrived. There’s a water tower in the background, so you know where you are even if you still have no idea where you are. And not much else. A few low, quiet buildings and a road leading off. You know you are on the outskirts of something, maybe an industrial park, maybe a little downtown area, but it’s impossible to know which.
And the highway and the on-ramp are right there, calling you back.
This post is from a series of articles chronicling a 2020 cross-country trip with my wife and two daughters and a boyfriend, from California to Ohio (to visit family) and Pennsylvania (to drop off my oldest daughter at grad school), and then back. We spent over five weeks on the road during the pandemic.