Phil Epp, best known for the Blue Sky Sculpture in Centennial Park, painted the artwork used on the program for the 2010 Kansas Preservation Conference and Kansas Historical Society Spring Meeting.

The event recently was hosted by the Newton/North Newton Historic Preservation Commission.


Phil Epp, best known for the Blue Sky Sculpture in Centennial Park, painted the artwork used on the program for the 2010 Kansas Preservation Conference and Kansas Historical Society Spring Meeting.
The event recently was hosted by the Newton/North Newton Historic Preservation Commission.
The four-day event program featured a painting titled “Clouds and Elevator,” which depicts a mill based on a photograph Epp took years ago of the Ross Flour Mill at Broadway and Walnut streets.
The painting of the mill, now known by the name Horizon, eventually was purchased by the Kansas Historical Society and was selected by Conference Planning Consultant Christy Davis for consideration as an appropriate image of Newton/ North Newton heritage.
Conference participants exploring Newton also may have seen the city water tower, recently repainted in a cloudy sky design adapted from Epp’s work.
Epp’s Blue Sky Sculpture was named one of the Kansas Sampler Foundation’s Eight Wonders of Kansas Art in 2008.
The work of public art was created with two other artists, Terry Corbett and Conrad Snider, and was completed in 2001.
A ceremony in November 2002 dedicated the work to the memory of Jacqueline M. Smith, a patron of the arts in Newton and late wife of Lloyd T. Smith, who financed the project.
The concept came to Epp about 20 years before he actually was able to construct the 20-foot sculpture with its reflective surface, arched motif and central passageway.
As in many of his paintings, the dominant feature in his idea always was the sky, which he calls “one sort of constant in a changing world.”
“The sky is universal in communication qualities, and forgiving in painterlyness,” the artist explains. “You can paint it realistically or whatever you want.”
After numerous drawings turned the sculpture idea into something that actually could be made, Epp contacted Corbett, who eventually used an ancient type of glaze on the tiles for the finished product.
They constructed a model and approached Newton’s city administration, which was receptive, but several years went by before the final location was chosen and the city began pouring the concrete infrastructure.
Epp’s initial idea also included a figure, and the finished product includes two figures created by Snider.
The location in Centennial Park at first received criticism from people who thought the sculpture should be more centrally located, but the artist likes the spot.
“I still think it’s the best place because there’s not a lot of distraction. It wouldn’t work where there’s lots of bright lights and traffic,” Epp said.
The sculpture interacts with the Kansas sky, changing its colors as the light shifts or when viewed from different angles.
The pair of figures invites the viewer to interact with the art.
“The best art allows the viewers some participation in the piece. It doesn’t tell them what to look at,” Epp said.
He prefers to leave it to the viewers to decide what the Blue Sky Sculpture means to them.

    Dena Bisnette is a member of the Newton-North Newton Historic Preservation Commission and a resident of McKinley Residential Historical District.