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University of Missouri

Crowning Achievement

Art professor honors the career of local watercolorist Keith Crown.

Keith Crown watercolor

The Gravel Pit Near Taos, New Mexico (1992) Gravel pits, also known as rock quarries, are open mines that allow for the extraction of materials located close to the earth’s surface. Because gravel pits are associated with industry and located on the outskirts of towns, they are rarely subjects of fine art. Crown, however, refused to overlook what so many of us would rather not see. Here, Taos Mountain looms above a series of small hamlets that are separated from the lush meadows by a gray highway that bisects the painting. Although the shape of Taos Mountain is mirrored in the gravel pit, the relative absence of color in its reflection indicates that rock has been removed. — Kristin Schwain, associate professor of American art and architecture

Stunning. Interesting. Vibrant.

These are but three words used by Kristin Schwain, associate professor of American art and architecture, to describe the paintings of the late Keith Crown, a watercolorist who lived in Columbia. At the suggestion of Pat Crown, art professor emerita and Keith’s widow, Schwain is writing a book about his work.

“So many people in the community own his art, and I was hesitant at first,” says Schwain, who observes Crown’s Midwest-, Southwest- and California-produced paintings through a more regional lens than most. The tendency among art historians, she says, is to focus, perhaps unfairly, on the East Coast as the only hub of American art.

With the help of graduate students and the Crown estate, Schwain has also catalogued more than 1,900 works, including landscapes, seascapes and cityscapes. She plans to complete the book in 2016.

Keith Crown watercolor

Side Street — Columbia (1982) In his painting of Columbia, Crown pictures the streets around his home southwest of campus with the downtown cityscape in the background. Crown consistently experimented with new media and techniques, and this work spotlights his use of an airbrush, powered by an overinflated tire, to disperse colors evenly throughout the work and layer paint in a way that evokes adaptation, change and fluidity. — Kristin Schwain

Keith Crown watercolor

The Museum of Art and Archaeology and Overview (1993) In this two-part composition, Crown presents the interior and exterior of the University of Missouri’s Museum of Art and Archaeology. At the top, he presents highlights of the museum’s collection in an outline of Pickard Hall, the museum’s former home. The bottom piece situates the museum within the larger Columbia community by presenting Jesse Hall, the Columns and the Tiger Hotel in a circular panorama. This piece is difficult to display not only because the lower portion hangs at an angle, but also because, if independent, three different sides could serve as the “top.” By disrupting the museum visitors’ gaze in a painting of the museum itself, Crown calls attention to how our expectations limit what we see and how we see it. — Kristin Schwain

Keith Crown watercolor

The Church at Taos Pueblo (1979) Keith Crown depicts the three bell towers of San Geronimo Catholic Church at Taos Pueblo, New Mexico. He enfolds it within Taos Mountain, which he paints blue to reference the Puebloans’ sacred Blue Lake. In addition to evoking the Pueblo’s native traditions, The Church at Taos Pueblo presents its Roman Catholic heritage. In 1620, Spanish missionaries built the church using Indian labor. Importantly, The Church at Taos Pueblo does not present the Taos Indians and their spirituality as timeless, Roman Catholicism as transcendent, or the two belief systems as antithetical to each other. Rather, it portrays the church as it exists for the inhabitants themselves, historically forged over four centuries of protest and accommodation. — Kristin Schwain