Brick by brick, a face begins to take shape in Kansas City’s stockyards district

12/31/1840 9:00 AM

06/05/2014 4:57 PM

Most successful artists accept an allotment of commissioned works and promotional agreements to sustain their craft.

Stan Herd has had his share. He is Kansas-nurtured and internationally recognized. This Lawrence-based sculptor of giant images formed of carefully laid rocks and plantings — best viewed aerially — has even been featured in a Neiman Marcus holiday catalog. A half-acre installment by Herd was available for anyone with $160,000-plus to spend.

His latest project is much less commercial, far more personal. It’s kept Herd quietly toiling for the past month laying bricks in Kansas City’s stockyards district. He’s already placed more than 5,000 bricks, with 1,500 to go.

The half-acre project, just south of Robert Morris’ “Bull Mountain” earth sculpture near 1400 Genessee St., depicts a woman’s face. Her intricately designed profile, best seen from above, captures Brazil’s multiracial and ethnic peoples.

A counterpart artwork in Brazil is planned to coincide with the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. That image will be three times larger than the one in Kansas City and will be designed by Herd in a clay quarry. The site is within view of anyone flying into a major airport in Campinas, Brazil.

Herd has already sunk $10,000 of his own money into the project, including three trips to Brazil in the last five years to begin work with favelas in Rio, slum areas that are being revitalized through community gardens and other improvements. He has linked with the environmental nonprofit Green My Favela, helping with irrigation systems and teaching people to incorporate mosaics into the upgraded landscape.

The stockyards project, “Young Woman of Brazil,” “isn’t solicited by anything other than my own desires to create art,” Herd said.

He reaches to the ground and pulls three fist-sized river rocks from a pile. “See?”

And yes, when they’re side by side, it’s easy to see the subtle color differences of gold, gray and muted red. The distinctions are everything to Herd, helping him decide which rock goes where in a work that includes a turtle, a scorpion and a human-like figure captured within the design of the woman’s face.

Herbs will be planted within the artwork, along with sunflowers, other flowering plants, ground cover and a white rose to commemorate an earthwork he once did in Cuba.

In the larger sculpture in Brazil, the bridge of the woman’s nose will contain a vegetable garden.

“I want to leave art that becomes something that has more of a functional value in the community,” Herd said. “I’m trying to build relationships.”

Herd was first contacted about working in Brazil by a British filmmaker based there who was impressed by Herd’s commitment to cross-cultural works.

There is no end date to the project, as Herd hopes the work will be sustainable through the garden.

For the Kansas City project, Herd couldn’t have scripted a better match than Bill Haw, the former banker and rancher who bought and restored the Livestock Exchange Building and who has long worked to revive the stockyards area.

Haw provided the site for the artwork and donated the 100-year-old bricks Herd is laying. They are left from the millions that once covered the area, the flooring for cattle pens.

“When Stan got in contact, his plan really resonated with me,” Haw said. “We think it’s a perfect fit for our neighborhood.”

Haw’s mother was an artist. He said his decision to keep the fifth floor of the Livestock Exchange available as affordable studio space for artists was among the best he’s ever made. Nearly 40 artists create there.

Haw also is a strong backer of Foutch Brothers’ proposal to turn Kemper Arena into the anchor for a youth sports complex. An opposing idea, backed by the American Royal, would raze the 40-year-old Kemper and build a smaller agricultural-focused center.

Herd is staying out of the brewing battle over Kemper. For now, he has bricks to lay and plants to plant.

“It’s June,” he said, “so I love to be in the fields.”

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to msanchez@kcstar.com.

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