Fourth of July Creek: Laura McPhee’s Photographs at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

MattVisitingShepherdsCamp150Last month I went to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City to see the special exhibit of Laura McPhee’s photographs of the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho.

I don’t like a lot of modern art, but I do like photography, and the exhibit of McPhee’s work was outstanding. The photographs on exhibit are all huge – 6 feet by 8 feet. To appreciate the pictures, viewers need to step away from them, and the All Postsgallery at the Kemper is large enough to accommodate this perspective.

Some of the photographs were landscapes, some were intimate pictures of a single character (as intimate as a life-size photo can be). One of my favorite photographs was of a young girl dressed in her grandmother’s wedding dress. Both the girl and the dress were lovely.

Many of the pictures were of the Fourth of July Creek in Idaho, which is quite near the Oregon Trail route that the characters in my work-in-progress took.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, the name “Fourth of July Creek” came from an Independence Day celebration in 1895 by gold miners in the Yahk Mining District. The name first showed up in print in August 1895 in the Kootenai Herald, a local newspaper. I can’t use the wonderful name in my novel set in 1847, but I can use the locale. I will be thinking of the McPhee photographs of the Sawtooth Mountains as I revise the descriptions in my novel.

I went to the museum with my father, who has been trout fishing on Fourth of July Creek. He was intrigued by the MePhee exhibit also, and told me stories of his trips to Idaho. One of the photographs showed a forest fire smoldering. My father was a firefighter in Idaho during the summers he was in college, so he had more stories to share as we viewed this picture.

Perhaps I found the exhibit compelling because, as McPhee is quoted, “you feel the past and the present in one place.” That thought resonated with me, a writer of historical fiction.

Although I don’t appreciate all the art in the Kemper Museum, I always appreciate their wonderful restaurant, Café Sebastienne. It is one of my favorite lunch spots in Kansas City. Our lunch with cousins after viewing the McPhee exhibit was another excellent meal. I like the soup, salad, and sandwich special they serve each day. My father had a huge Reuben that he said was one of the best he had ever had.

The exhibit of Laura McPhee’s photography remains at the Kemper Museum through September 22, 2013. Try to make time to see it. And to have lunch at Café Sebastienne.

Writers, have you used photographs or other visual art to assist you in writing?

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  1. I have a stack of old photographs that take me back in time when I’m writing. Some are landscapes, some are portraits, one is a group of schoolchildren sitting at their desks, and I have many more. They are too late in time for the period I write, but a good resource nonetheless.

  2. Sounds like another worthwhile exhibit, Theresa and I have not enjoyed your café but I like your suggestions. I plan to attend the Harvey Girl exhibit at the Kansas City Archives next week. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

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