by John Steuart Curry, 1937–39
(Kansas State House, used with permission)
This image is one of a dozen conceived by Curry in 1937–39 when he was invited to return to his native
Kansas to paint murals for its capitol in Topeka. He was forced to abandon this project when groups complained that he
chose to illustrate Kansans at their worst. They wanted no reminder that Kansas had served as the "tragic prelude" to the
Curry modeled his dynamic figure of John Brown on Michelangelo's sculpture of Moses, whom Brown admired as
someone chosen as he had been to enact God's will. The modern prophet, posed as if being crucified, holds the word of God
in one bloodied hand and in the other a "Beecher's Bible," a rifle purchased with funds raised by Rev. Henry Ward Beecher.
Freestate and proslavery forces carry American and Confederate flags, the land is ravaged by a prairie fire and a tornado,
and pioneers flee farther west to avoid the carnage.
To Curry, John Brown was a fanatic whom many Kansas historians blamed for causing the bloodshed and
desolation that had ravaged their state.