Art in Search of a Home – Park 2: “Man in Despair” UPDATE

(originally published 4/4/2019)

Last week’s piece, in case you missed it, recounted the short, sad saga of a sculpture entitled “Man in Despair,” and its search for a permanent home during the mid-1980s. When last we left it, the statue had found a home in front of the Parks Department’s building at 39th & Gilham. At least, that’s what the Parks Department had on their website. A drive-by review revealed a completely different (but equally despairing) statue in that spot, reopening the question as to the fate of the statue. So not only could I not report that the “Man” had found a home, I now had two mysteries to solve.

Thanks to the swift and able response from the Parks Department to my “what gives?” inquiry, I can tell you that “Man in Despair” has been a resident of Hyde Park since 1994. You can find him n the Hyde Park neighborhood, tucked inside a small grove of trees just a couple of blocks off 39th Street and Gilham Road. If the statue had an address, it would be something like 801 Gleed Terrace.

Ann McFerrin, the Parks Department’s very helpful and knowledgeable archivist, even provided me with the official 1994 board minutes that record the request by someone in the Hyde Park neighborhood to move the statue there. That record gave me the name of the President who, amazingly, is the same person who is President today. Allan Halquist was kind enough to share his memories of those 25-year-old events.

Poor “Man in Despair” had one more dashed hope for a home. The Parks Department briefly considered putting the statue in a small corner park at Armour & Gilham. Again, the idea was scuttled by the community. So Hallquist stepped forward with a suggestion, and thoughtful one too, I have to say.

“I thought the “problem” with Man in Despair is that, on close inspection, it isn’t a very good sculpture,” Hallquist said. “However, viewed from a distance, it is interesting. Maybe mysterious.” With this insight, Hallquist’s suggested location along Gleed Terrace seems inspired. The sculpture is best viewed from the distance of Harrison Parkway, the road on the south side of the green space. None of the adjacent homeowners objected, but to be safe, the statues “backside” points away from the road, so as not to make an unintended statement of disrespect to anyone who had to look at it on a regular basis.

Hallquist added, “I told [the Parks Department] that the problem with prior proposals was that they placed the statue too close to streets and sidewalks, and he isn’t very attractive up close. From Harrison Parkway (the current location), one sees the reclining Man in Despair with his hand over his face.”

The statue has quietly, and almost invisibly been a resident of Hyde Park neighborhood, and from Hallquist’s account, very much an accepted member of the community. “No one has complained,” he said. “Kids climb on him. Dog owners sit on him while watching their dogs romp in the park.” Still, it seems that finding a home hasn’t completely eased the man-of-stone’s despair. As Hallquist noted, “When there is a layer of snow over him and the park, he looks even more lonely and forlorn.”

• Thanks to Ann McFerrin, Archivist for the City’s Parks Department, for setting me on the right course to concluding this story. It is wonderful to know that, with the rich and significant history of Kansas City’s Parks Department, they recognize the importance of having an archivist available to the community.

• Special thanks also to Allan Hallquist for filling in the last chapter of the story of the “Man” sculpture, and in particular for giving me a new perspective with which to look at this piece. I’m looking forward to a beautiful spring day to go visit the “Man” on Gleed Terrace.

(Photo: “Man in Despair” found a a home near Gleed Terrace and Charlotte Street in the Hyde Park neighborhood.”)

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