Grand central station for southwest Kansas souvenirs

4/25/2014

By RENÉE JEAN

By RENÉE JEAN

rjean@gctelegram.com

If you could take the essence of southwestern Kansas and bottle it up to sell, there'd be a part that was sunflower. There'd be a part that was farmland quirkiness. And there'd be a part that was sunset and dreams, spreading out over a fabulous expanse of green and growing land stretching to infinity.

All that and more are now bottled up and ready to sell at the Finney County Historical Museum, where they've recently added a number of quintessentially southwestern Kansas items to the gift shop.

There are Kansas-crafted sunflower mugs and plates, Wizard of Oz collectibles, buffalo-style cookie cutters and figurines, and postcards and calendars of Finney County landmarks. There are items hand-crafted by local artisans, too, and books and cookbooks that detail Finney County lore and the legendary dishes of its ladies. There are even three lines of Jumpy Monkey coffee, named after famous Finney Countians and landmarks.

"We felt like the community needed a place to find collectibles, souvenirs and gifts connected to Finney County, sunflowers and the Sunflower State," said Johnetta Hebrlee, museum education coordinator and store manager.

The idea, according to Executive Director Steve Quakenbush, is to become the headquarters for southwestern Kansas memorabilia in the Garden City neighborhood.

"There wasn't really any place in town where you could go find these things in one place," Quakenbush said. "We think these items will kind of help make us the place to go if people are looking for something southwest Kansas or Finney County or Garden City related. And in addition to the sunflower, buffalo, Kansas items, we also want to be the place to come if you're looking for a gift made by an artist in the area."

Even though tourist season is already upon them, Quakenbush said the museum is still looking to add artisans and artists to that lineup. Items are generally sold on a consignment basis.

Among the artist offerings already in the house are greeting cards with Finney County landmarks on them by Curtis Perez, Kansas landscapes by Shirley Creeden, handmade purses by Doris Walker, pottery by Brian McCallum, Windsor Hotel prints, postcards and calendars, and there are handcrafted, stuffed pets by Synthia Preston.

In addition to those items, they've even added a T-shirt commemorating one of the museum's quirkier items — the giant hairball.

The hairball was extracted years ago from the stomach of a cow being processed at what was then the IBP plant in Holcomb, now Tyson Fresh Meats. The hairball used to weigh 55 pounds and had a 37-inch circumference. Over the years, it's lost moisture and shrunk to a present-day weight of 20 pounds and 35.5 inches around — close to basketball size.

"It's not the artifact we are most proud of," Quakenbush said, "but people are interested in it, and we've had requests, so we decided to come up with a T-shirt. So now you can buy T-shirts commemorating the experience of the giant hairball."

With 17,000 artifacts in its keeping, there are of course many artifacts to be proud of. The museum's mission isn't just preservation of historical treasures from Finney County and surrounding areas, but telling the story of southwestern Kansas — enlightening the future by understanding the past.

Among these treasures is a gallery of Finney County settlers taken by Frank Conard back in the '30s. The collection came about as a bright idea to keep his business afloat during the Great Depression. He would take the portraits free, betting that many would eventually go ahead and buy prints, even if they didn't buy them right away. Today his collection is one of the most complete visual records of a single area's western settlement in southwestern Kansas, if not in the entire west.

That same photographer experimented with another innovative idea at the time, the results of which are among the offerings recently added to the gift shop.

"He'd take images of jackrabbits, grasshoppers and then he'd take images of say, a cowboy in chaps, and he'd superimpose the images so that the grasshopper seemed gigantic," Quakenbush said.

So you can find, say, a miniature cowboy broncbusting a gigantic grasshopper — a quirky farmland sight you could perhaps only expect to find in southwest Kansas.

"They have a corny appearance today," Quakenbush said, "but they were pretty cool for the time."

And pretty cool for today — if you're looking for unique southwestern Kansas souvenirs right here in Garden City.

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