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The Gallery at Pioneer Bluffs

April 10th, 2012 at 9:55 am

Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:




Sitting in the shade on the spacious front porch at Pioneer Bluffs, it felt as if time had slowed to the small-town pace that I remembered from childhood.

On the porch I visited with Matfield Green residents, Bill and Julia McBride, and with other friends who dropped by that Saturday for an artists’ reception at the Gallery at Pioneer Bluffs.

Paula Haas, who lives in Matfield and volunteered at the event, had taken a break to join us on the porch. Across the road from the porch is a tree-covered ridge. We watched a train as it emerged from behind the ridge and snaked away from view. “I love that,” Paula said, “It’s like having your own toy train.”

Pioneer Bluffs is an 1859 ranch along K-177, just north of Matfield Green. The Pioneer Bluffs Foundation celebrates the Tallgrass region, the history of ranching, and it explores sustainability.

Through June 24, the work of two artists will hang here in the Gallery at Pioneer Bluffs.

My husband, Dave Leiker, is one of the two artists. He has a collection of more than 20 photographs on display. His exhibit, called “The Working Landscape,” depicts life on the Arndt Ranch in Lyon County. Dave has photographed Ryan Arndt and other cowboys as they rounded up and worked cattle on a foggy spring morning. He has photos of Arndt performing winter chores on his ranch.

Also on display are the rich and beautiful abstract paintings of New Mexico painter Anna Patricia Keller. Her colorful show is called “Prairie’s Edge.”

Paula Haas and Bill and Julia McBride are just a few of the people who have moved into Matfield Green in recent years. Other newcomers include Ton Haak and Antonia “Ans” Zoutenbier who run the Gallery at Pioneer Bluffs.

Matfield Green has that kind of draw. There’s a peaceful feeling in this community, reminiscent of my childhood days in a small town in the ‘60s. But there’s also a rebuilding effort afoot here, one that leans toward stewardship, sustainability and creativity.

Later on the porch, I spoke with Ton Haak. Ton and his wife, Ans, are from Holland. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, they made numerous trips to the United States, traveling the West and Midwest. Because Ton had read William Least Heat-Moon’s book “PrairyErth,” Ton and Ans made their first Chase County visit in 1995.

Looking for a place to spend the night they were led to Matfield Green and rancher Jane Koger. They stayed at her ranch for three months.

“Jane’s a good teacher,” Ton said. “I’m a city boy and I’d never seen grass grow.” But he said he learned how to build and fix fences on the ranch during their visit.

Ton and Ans traveled on. And when they moved to the U.S. permanently, they settled in New Mexico and opened an art gallery. After 12 years in New Mexico, they returned to the Flint Hills, to Matfield Green.

“It was like a homecoming,” Ton said.

“At the same time, these guys had started Pioneer Bluffs,” he said. The Pioneer Bluffs Foundation was looking for some sort of commercial operation to go into the house, possibly antiques. But with Ton and Ans available, the foundation decided to open a gallery in the 1908 Rogler farmhouse.

When artists-in-residence come to Pioneer Bluffs, they’re able to stay in rental homes in Matfield Green. Several houses are available in town for that purpose. “We’ve fixed up old homes,” Ton said. “It’s the preservation of the village.”

This community, if you include the folks on nearby ranches, has a population of around 80.

“We have a vision for the community,” he said. And part of that vision is to bring younger people to town. “So far, so good,” he added.

Ton Haak, Dave Leiker, Anna Patricia Keller, Ans Zoutenbier, Elaine Shea Jones, Dick Keller.

After the opening, the artists and spouses and Ton and Ans joined Elaine Shea Jones at her house for dinner. We sat on Elaine’s deck near the edge of town and had a great meal outdoors.

Freight trains slipped through her backyard, but we couldn’t hear them until they were right there. As dusk settled in, we talked and laughed and enjoyed the tranquil setting in the tiny village of Matfield Green.

*For more information, visit www.pioneerbluffs.org.

Copyright 2012 ~ Cheryl Unruh

Art, columns, Kansans, small towns

  1. Flips
    April 10th, 2012 at 10:04 | #1

    Great– I’m sending this to all my friends who grew up in the Matfield Green area—-

  2. Connie Hocking
    April 10th, 2012 at 10:25 | #2

    The beauty of Kansas! Jillian will have to take me to Matfield Green
    one of these days. I would love to see the gallery.
    Ryan Arndt is a good friend of my son, Pete. They were at K-State at the same time and I think roommates. (there were many of those) Brody Peak who runs the Sale Barn was another. I just read that yet another, Josh Lilly, will be in a Spielberg movie that has just been filmed. He plays a Union soldier and was picked for his horse and riding abilities.

    I see you’ll be at KLA on Wednesday. I would enjoy meeting you but I’m not going until Thursday. Maybe someday our paths will cross.
    Keep writing – I love reading your work.


  3. April 10th, 2012 at 12:52 | #3

    I’m “sharing” this on my facebook page and profile and hope to make a day trip to MG sometime soon. 🙂

  4. Jenny Smith
    May 31st, 2012 at 08:46 | #4

    This is great! Matfield Green is going on my to do list!

    Jenny Smith