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George M. Stone

Spirit of Kansas muralArtist, educator.  Born: December 5, 1858, Shawnee Co., Kan.  Died: November 2, 1931, Topeka, Kan.

Born in 1858 on a farm near Topeka, George Melville Stone was the son of abolitionists who came from Massachusetts in 1855 with the New England Aid Society. He attended Topeka public schools and Emporia Normal School. Stone began a clerical position with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway. He soon discovered that he could make a living off his crayon portraits of Topekans.

He studied art in Paris at Académie Julian under Lefebvre, Bonnât, and Boulanger, from 1887 to 1891 and in New York City with Henry Mosler.  He returned to Topeka with a number of paintings reflecting his classical training and Impressionist influences. He opened an art school with cartoonist-publisher Albert T. Reid, which later became Washburn University art department. One of Stone's students was David Overmyer, whose murals depicting events in Kansas history are featured on the first floor of the Kansas State Capitol. Stone's work was exhibited at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904 in St. Louis and the Art Institute of Chicago in 1905.

A talented landscape painter, Stone was best known for his portraits. Stone became an internationally known portraitist. He went to Riverside, California in 1909 to paint the portrait of the daughter of Frank Miller, the proprietor of the Mission Inn. While there, he painted other pictures including Father Serra Raising Mission Bell featured in West Coast magazine, April 1911.

He pursued a successful career painting many prominent individuals in Topeka including Joab Mulvane, founder of the Mulvane Art Museum at Washburn University. Mulvane, a prominent Topeka banker and entrepreneur, pledged in 1922 a gift of $50,000 to then Washburn College to build the art museum that bears his name.

Stone's paintings of Kansas landscapes and farmers earned him the title of "The Millet of the Prairies," since his style was thought to be very similar to that of the French artist Jean-François Millet.

Visitors to the office of the Kansas Governor will see an allegorical painting of Justice from the early 1900s called Spirit of Kansas that was painted by Stone. It depicts the state's role in agriculture while alluding to issues of slavery and prohibition. It hangs on the east wall of the Governor's conference room and drew renewed interest when it was featured in the February 2008 edition of Vogue magazine. In the mural, corn and wheat typify Kansas agricultural aspects. The broken shackles of slavery lay at her feet, serving as a reminder that Kansas entered the Union as a free state. The empty beer bottle and fallen whiskey demijohn signify that Kansas has been associated with the temperance cause.

The Legislature commissioned Stone in 1920 to create another painting for the governor's office. This painting, The Pioneers, hung for many years in the governor's working office. It can now be viewed hanging in committee room 123-South on the first floor of the Capitol.

Stone died November 2, 1931, in Topeka.

Entry: Stone, George M.

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: July 2010

Date Modified: December 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.