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A museum’s colorful history

The Coutts Museum of Art, in El Dorado, has had many purposes. Originally, it was a 1917 bank, then it was purchased by Coutts to convert into an attorney’s office, and finally, it was renovated to be a museum. (Photo by Katie Miller)

These collections of art are housed in a 100-year-old bank and the original vaults can still be found inside, though some have been converted to optimize the space.

In 1917, the bank was purchased by Warren Hall Coutts II to be converted into an attorney’s office with his son, Bud. Soon after, Bud and several other El Dorado businessmen died in a tragic plane crash that left the town grieving.

While mourning his son, Coutts decided to convert the office into a museum to showcase the art they had collected together and to celebrate his life.

“Mr. Coutts is one of a number of El Dorado citizens who just seemed to be extremely generous, and always gave support to different groups who were doing good things within the community,”  said Tim Howard, the executive director of the Coutts Museum of Art. “They really, really wanted to make El Dorado a better place. I think the museum really reflects that.”

This unusual backstory lead the museum to have quite an eclectic mix of collections.

An Americo Makk oil painting on canvas, titled “Chuck Wagon.” Makk was originally from Brazil, where he and his wife were appointed Official Artists of the government. (Photo by Nicole Grimes)

The Coutts Museum of Art has an almost complete collection of Remington sculptures, a large collection of Prairie Printmaker from a group of artists based near Lindsborg, and one of the largest museum collections of Makk family paintings.

The Makks are world-renowned artists who have done everything from painting portraits of presidents, kings, and princesses to painting chapel ceilings.

“We’re actually in a relationship with them right now and we’ll hopefully soon to become the largest collection of their paintings, period,” Howard said. “They came a couple of weeks ago and got to visit with some of our members and folks in the town. That was an amazing experience.”

One of Howard’s favorite paintings in the museum is of Empress Joséphine, Napoleon Bonaparte’s first wife.

When they first received the painting, it was a portrait of Josephine with a completely black background. As the painting was restored, they found the black was concealing a male figure standing with Joséphine. It turns out Napoleon was a very jealous husband.

“Kind of a traditional photoshopping of old pictures, I suppose,” said Howard. “That’s probably one of my favorite paintings here just because it has that amazing story to it.”

— by Nicole Grimes