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Artist Dan Dakota’s De Soto house filled with objects that inspire him

Artist Dan Dakotas at home in De Soto
Artist Dan Dakotas at home in De Soto The Kansas City Star

Artist, award-winning educator and art collector Dan Dakotas is a citizen of the world.

Earlier this year Dakotas and his wife, Ruth Schukman-Dakotas, traveled to Kenya to see firsthand the library and science laboratory they helped raise funds to build as part of the Friends of St. Anne’s Girls’ School-Kapkemich, Kenya project. During the three-week trip Dakotas took photographs of the Kenyans he met. On his return home he printed the portraits as cyanotypes and enhanced them with mixed media and collage.

In September, Dakotas exhibited his Kenyan artworks at the Mattie Rhodes Art Center, earmarking 10 percent of his sales for the Friends of St. Anne’s project.

The house in De Soto where Dakotas has his studio is filled with objects that inspire him — folk art, photographs, prints and former students’ work that he has acquired through trades, found at flea markets and picked up on his travels.

How did you get started collecting?

The first piece I bought was an Iroquois mask for $35. I was 13 or 14 years old, and used my paper route money. I grew up in Beacon, New York, a town on the Hudson River 60 miles north of Manhattan, and there was an Iroquois trading post there. When the Dia Art Foundation opened a branch in Beacon in 2003, it transformed the town.

It’s obvious you love folk art.

I bought that altarpiece in the dining room from Mexico for $60 in 1972. I was in my early 20s. It was before I got married. The artist, Josefina Aguilar, is in the Rockefeller Collection. Nelson Rockefeller assembled a renowned collection of Mexican folk art.

He also discovered Teodora Blanco, a Oaxacan artist who is known for her figures with animals created in bisque terra cotta clay.

We’ve just had fun buying stuff. Those are Peruvian carvings above the Aguilar altarpiece. I have 1920s silkscreen prints from the pueblos that were printed in Switzerland, and a set of painted terra cotta three kings that I found at a flea market in Santa Fe. The masks of the three kings are from Paraguay. I got them through the Kansas Artists Craftsmen Association, which had a relationship with a group in Paraguay.

I’ve never seen so many Nativity sets.

Ruth: We have many Nativity sets, including a mobile one made from coat hangers and clay that we put out during the holidays.

Dan: I wanted an original Oaxacan Nativity set. The later, commercial-styled sets are painted in acrylic with bright colors, and the earlier ones are stained. I couldn’t find one, and then I happened to spot one when I passing a lingerie shop in Oaxaca, and they agreed to let me buy it.

We have an American Indian Nativity set and an African Nativity from Cameroon. The figures are bronze, but what’s unusual is that it shows the Baby Jesus sucking his thumb.

Kansas artists are another one of your specialties?

The buffalo sculpture and the relief of a buffalo are by Pete Felten. He’s kind of a treasure of Kansas. He’s a self-taught sculptor who did the big piece of Four Famous Kansans in the Topeka State Capitol rotunda.

The little painting of the harlequin is by Lester Raymer (1907-91) from Lindsborg. I call him the Michelangelo of Kansas. He could take even rusted metal and turn it into art. K-State’s Beach Museum has a quite a few of his works.

That’s a Birger Sandzen lithograph of Castle Rock over the staircase.

You also collect photographs

The Dorothea Lange “Migrant Mother” is a photogravure, put out in a special edition in the 1980s. Thomas Merton, the Catholic mystic who wrote “Seven Storey Mountain,” took the photograph of Georgia O’Keeffe holding the ladder as her assistant unrolls a painting. It’s the famous cloud painting at the Art Institute of Chicago. Merton also took this picture of the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in Abiquiu, New Mexico. That shot of the Ranchos de Taos church is one of my photographs.

Do you spend a lot of time in the Southwest?

We go to Taos a lot. That’s where we met Tony Abeyta, a contemporary Navajo painter. He did that piece of the Kachina heads on handmade paper.

When Ila McAfee, one of the original Taos artists, had a retrospective in Taos, I did her photographic portrait. In return she gave me this painting of her gardener, a Taos Indian.

I used to do a lot of metalsmithing, and I still teach it at the Lawrence Arts Center. R.C. Gorman gave me this 1976 pastel in trade for a neckpiece I made. He wore it to the opening of the “Sacred Circles” exhibition at the Nelson-Atkins in 1977.

Where else have you traveled?

I’ve been to Galapagos, and I was one of the first teachers to go to China after it opened in 1985. There were 21 teachers from Kansas. We were state guests, and we went all over China for six weeks. They were still wearing Mao outfits. Everything was gray. Nothing was modern. I shot 75 rolls of film.

We could only carry one suitcase, and as I left China I had nothing in my suitcase but art. I brought back that wood relief of a calligrapher that looks like it came out of a screen, and I bought two ink gouache landscapes out of a temple.

And you have a couple of folk artists in the family?

Ruth: My great-grandfather was one of the Volga Germans who moved from Russia and settled in Catharine, Kansas. He and my grandfather made this replica of the altarpiece in Catharine, Kansas, in the German Gothic style. It’s more than 100 years old.

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