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Storm watcher: Winning artist discusses love of the Flint Hills, storms

Artist Michael Duane stands with his winning piece, “Storms Lined Up.” Duane has submitted work into the Symphony in the Flint Hills juried auction six times, but this was the first year his was the winning piece. (Photo by Kevin Benavides)

ˆBy Olivia Babin

As a kid Michael Duane doodled on the walls of his childhood home. Now he’s winning juried art shows.

Duane’s latest creation — a pastel painting named “Storms Lined Up” — was the winning piece in the 2019 Prairie Art Exhibit, and one of 52 pieces that were expected to fill a tent at the site of this year’s Symphony in the Flint Hills on June 15, where attendees could browse the art gallery and bid in the organization’s yearly auction.

After storm damage led to the cancellation of this year’s signature event, the artwork now hangs in the Symphony in the Flint Hills gallery space in Cottonwood Falls. The artwork was auctioned online and reproductions are for sale on symphonyintheflinthills.org.

People from all over the United States submit their art into the juried art show, which gets judged and auctioned off at the event. 

The 52 pieces were selected out of 132 entries, all centered around this year’s symphony theme, Ad Astra. This year the pieces were judged by two founders of Harvester Arts, Kristin Beal and Kate VanSteenhuyse. Harvester Arts is an artist residency program in Wichita that partners with local artists.

Symphony in the Flint Hills volunteers and staff members unpack artwork June 15 in Cottonwood Falls. The 52 pieces would have been on exhibit under the art tent at the symphony, which was canceled due to storm damage, so they were returned to the Cottonwood Falls gallery space. (Photo by Justin Sperry)

Duane said he has submitted art pieces for six years and has been chosen to be in the show five years.

“Storms Lined Up” depicts a storm building over the rolling Flint Hills. The pastels create bright colors and beautiful contrast between the dark purple of the storm and the green of the prairie below.  

“This is the first time I won best of show. So that was really exciting,” Duane said.

Duane was inspired to create “Storms Lined Up” after he went flying over the Flint Hills with his friend, who is a pilot. He said he was inspired to do an aerial painting because of the theme, Ad Astra. 

“The only thing about the flight I didn’t enjoy was when he said ‘Want to see how stable the plane is without the engine running?’ and turned it off,” Duane said, laughing. 

Storms have always captured Duane’s eye. He said when he was a child, he saw a tornado and has loved weather ever since. 

“It took me a long time to put weather with art but when I did there was no stopping it…It can be either beautiful or dangerous and I think that keeps me going,” Duane said.

While Duane loves art, he also loves kids. Duane works as a paraprofessional at his old high school in the Kansas City area. He said he gets to work in the art classrooms and share his passion for art with the children. 

When asked about the best experience he had working as a para, his eyes lit up as he told a story of an art show for children with autism.

“We got all the kids together and they all did four or five small pieces of art. We got them wrapped and hangers on them to put them up in the gallery. We took a field trip and they got to see their art hanging in a real gallery,” Duane said.

The 52 art pieces in the 2019 Prairie Art Exhibit were packed in a truck waiting to be unloaded the morning of June 15 in anticipation of the Symphony in the Flint Hills at Irma’s Pasture, when a storm hit the event site. 

Symphony in the Flint Hills volunteers and staff members unpack artwork June 15 in Cottonwood Falls. The 52 pieces would have been on exhibit under the art tent at the symphony, which was canceled due to storm damage, so they were returned to the Cottonwood Falls gallery space. (Photo by Kelly Glasscock)

No art was damaged in the storm that led to the event’s cancellation. It hung in the Symphony in the Flint Hills gallery in Cottonwood Falls, and buyers could bid in an online auction. Reproductions of Duane’s piece can be purchased on the Symphony in the Flint Hills website. A number of other pieces of artwork are still available for purchase through July 7.

“I’m extremely pleased to be in this year’s Symphony in the Flint Hills, to be best of show and to have the money go to preserve the tallgrass prairie, what is left of it, is just truly exciting for me,” Duane said.