Kansas veterinarian's work inspires Big Apple photographer's exhibition at Beach Museum of Art
Monday, Jan. 30, 2017
"April 27, 2007 (1)," an inkjet print by photographer Tom Mohr, is among the works featured in "Kansas Veterinarian at Work: A Portrait by Tom Mohr," an exhibition that runs Feb. 7-June 17 at Kansas State University's Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art. This image is courtesy of Tom Mohr. | Download this photo.
MANHATTAN — Kansas farm life and the work of a rural veterinarian, as seen through the lens of a New York photographer, are the focus of a special exhibition opening Feb. 7 at Kansas State University's Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art.
"Kansas Veterinarian at Work: A Portrait by Tom Mohr" will run through June 17 in the Beach Museum's Marion Pelton Gallery. The exhibition features photos taken over a span of 12 years by photographer Tom Mohr, who followed large animal veterinarian Lee Penner as he made his rounds among family farms and ranches in Kansas.
"What emerges from this selection of photographs is a warm and sometimes poignant representation of contemporary Kansas farm life," said Aileen June Wang, associate curator at the Beach Museum of Art, who organized the exhibition. "Mohr's photographs challenge his viewers to appreciate Kansas and its farmers with fresh eyes, expanding into contemporary times the Regionalist art movement of the 1930s started by John Steuart Curry, Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood. Through Mohr's photographs we see the solemn beauty of a vast field with a lone red barn, the quirky charm of Penner's mud-encrusted van, and the strong bonds nurtured by a veterinarian and the people of his community."
Mohr, a native of Rochester, New York, came to Kansas in 1967 to study architecture at Kansas State University, where he met Penner. After a year, Mohr decided to transfer to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting and a strong interest in photography. Along with working in the industry for several years, including for Frank Tartaro Color Labs in New York and as a color photography specialist at Barron's magazine, Mohr pursued his own art photography practice, working in his New York City apartment near Wall Street.
When the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, Mohr's apartment and studio were destroyed. He and his wife, Jil, were on vacation in Utah at the time. With a 35mm camera, Mohr shifted his focus from studio-based photography to making portraits of people and the places where they live. He quit his day job, bought a trailer and embarked on a 13-year nomadic life across the United States — and a two-year stop in Venice, Italy — with his wife, pursuing his photography.
"Kansas Veterinarian at Work" was one of the earliest series Mohr started after leaving New York. Mohr purchased his trailer in Junction City and reconnected with Penner. Mohr accompanied Penner on his rounds, initially intending to send a mutual friend a prank photograph.
"But Mohr became fascinated by what Penner did, the farmers and the farm environment. He would return to Kansas several times over the next decade, riding with Penner in his dusty blue van," Wang said.
"'Kansas Veterinarian at Work' captures rural Kansas life from on high as well as up close," Wang said. "Some of Mohr's panoramic compositions are of expansive blue skies with sculptural clouds and soil and greenery as far as the eye can see."
Other works show beige expanses of dusty ground dotted with people, cows, barns and farming vehicles. Mohr gets up close in other photographs, documenting the personal connections forged on the land: farmers taking a rest and laughing with Penner in fields or backyards, clients and doctor coming together for a family dinner.
"The photographs in the exhibition are stitched together digitally," Wang said, with each image comprising multiple exposures made in sequence, typically three to 12. A large-scale picture like "July 17, 2007," includes 25 exposures.
The Beach Museum is offering several activities related to the exhibition; all are free and open to the public:
• The opening reception for "Kansas Veterinarian at Work: A Portrait by Tom Mohr" will be at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, at the museum.
• "The Veterinarian's War: Lt. Harry Hunt in the World War" will be presented by historian Jed Dunham at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25, at the museum.
• A gallery walk of the exhibition will be led by Lee Penner at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 9.
• "Anthrax & Abbatoirs: The Archive of Col. Frank Caldwell Herberger" will be presented by Hale Library Special Collections Head Keli Rylance at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 13, at the museum.
Support for "Kansas Veterinarian at Work: A Portrait by Tom Mohr" is provided by Dan and Beth Bird. Additional support comes from the Morgan and Mary Jarvis Wing Excellence Fund and The Ross and Marianna Kistler Beach Endowment for the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art.
The Beach Museum of Art, on the southeast corner of campus at 14th Street and Anderson Avenue, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday; and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Admission and parking are free. The museum is closed Sunday, Monday and holidays. More information is available on the web at beach.k-state.edu or by calling 785-532-7718.