|A matchbook cover made use of “the famous paintings.”|
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The green art-deco barstools still swivel in what used to be the Savoy Grill of the Hotel Savoy, now the bar/lounge of a chef-driven restaurant called the Savoy at 21c. There was the recent complete edgy makeover by the 21c Museum Hotel group, which calls itself “North America’s only multi-venue museum dedicated to collecting and exhibiting art of the 21st century.” For anyone curious about what that might mean for a beloved old-school room originally inspired by a pair of 19th-century wagon wheels: A swiveling art-deco barstool is a good place to see how time changes history.
“’Untouched by time’ would be an understatement,” said Anthony Bourdain when he brought an episode of “No Reservations” here in 2012. “They don’t make rooms this beautiful anymore.”
So today it’s satisfying to see the room still exists. Much of the old remains. The dark-clubby feel, the wood-and-tile details, the booths where old U.S. presidents dined. And the murals – a dozen paintings of the old Santa Fe Trail journey from Westport Landing to New Mexico, scenes of riverboats and wagons, plains and mountains, an Indian attack. Not exactly art of the 21stcentury.
A corner barstool is close to the artist’s signature at the edge of the first mural:
As a young artist Edward J. Holslag had worked on the decorative painting staff at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, and created ceiling murals for the new Library of Congress building in Washington, D.C. He eventually made a name for himself as an interior decorator of public spaces – banks, courthouses, theaters, and hotels.
In 1899 Holslag designed the interior of the grand new Hotel Baltimore here in Kansas City. The Baltimore's proprietors also ran the Hotel Savoy. Which probably is how he was selected to create murals for the new grill.
|Edward J. Holslag|
When he painted these scenes Americans still romanticized the Old West, still celebrated the pioneer spirit of 19thcentury expansion. When the restaurant was briefly known as the Pioneer Grill, the murals were used in advertising. One scene of wagons crossing a stream appeared on matchbook covers and postcards.
The years were hard on the murals. Grease, dirt and neglect turned them into dark and dingy wallpaper. The Old West eventually became more kitschy than heroic. But to longtime customers the paintings were symbols of something meaningful and essential, so in the 1980s a restoration specialist was hired to clean the murals. He worked for six months, using oversized cotton swabs and trisodium phosphate. When he was done they threw an unveiling party with a jazz band.
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Edward Holslag died at 54 in 1924. An obituary remembered him as “a great artist – a really great artist, with the temperament and sensitiveness which are ever associated with the artist soul.”
Just a few years earlier, the Fine Arts Journal had published a review of an exhibition of his work. “The paintings of this artist are contemporary, they are modern, but not faddish,” it said. “They are of today, and yesterday, yet they are neither prophetic nor inventive of some unusual and generally unaccepted tomorrow.”
As someone with the artist soul, Holslag would probably welcome how the new hotel has brought him into the 21stcentury. He might even forgive the restaurant’s website naming Edward Holsang as the mural artist. Because time changes things.The work highlights the role of the artist as healer or shaman, bringing a sense of balance, compassion, and inclusivity to a space originally designed to celebrate European-American expansion and the mythology of manifest destiny, as illustrated in the historic murals in the historic Savoy lounge. … [It] transforms a space of the past into a forward-focused one of the present, acknowledging the complexity of history and the potential for progress, a reminder of the advances made since the restaurant’s first incarnation – visual confirmation that art is the highest form of hope.
An old green barstool is a good place to raise a glass to change, to hope, to remembrance. All in the strange comfort of knowing that sooner or later we’ll all be forgotten.
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