It all started when...
In 1971, local artist Gale Stockwell was shown something quite extraordinary. One of his students hands him the box of a jigsaw puzzle that was of a painting he had done in 1933 of Main Street Parkville, Missouri. Stockwell’s student had a friend that picked up the puzzle in a gift shop while visiting Canada. She went on to point out something else spectacular, on the cover of the box it said it was from the National Collection of Fine Arts of the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.
During the Great Depression a new program was initiated called the Works Projects Administration. It was started to give artists a chance to earn money by producing paintings and sculptures of public buildings. Each artist could earn $30 to $50 per piece if it was found satisfactory. On completion of the painting Stockwell turned it in and was paid $30. After that he didn’t see it again for almost forty years.
While investigating further he found out it was presently hanging in the Press Secretary’s Office of Richard Nixon’s White House. Once word of this rediscovery rang out, Parkville residents were talking about how to bring the painting back. As it turns out, Duncan Findlay a 1922 Park Alumnus and Trustee and close friend to Ed Cox, husband to Tricia Nixon, persuaded his friend to investigate getting the painting loan to Parkville, which he was successful in doing. On May 17, 1973 the painting arrived.
To celebrate the Homecoming of Stockwell’s painting Parkville and Park College held a festival including a parade with Gale Stockwell as Grand Marshal, arts and crafts booths, a carnival and street dance. Parkville Mayor Bill Latta proclaimed June 16, 1973 as “Main Street Parkville Day” beginning a tradition still carried on today known as “Parkville Days.”*
Gale Stockwell painted this scene of a street in Parkville, Missouri, for the Works Progress Administration. (During F.D.R.’s Presidency). The old cars, colorful storefronts, and smokestack create a cheerful image of small-town America, despite the hardships faced by many mid-westerners during the Depression. Paintings like this, which celebrate industry and community life, showed a nostalgic view of the past while also inspiring hope for the country's future.**
*”Painting “missing” for nearly 40 years comes home to Parkville,”
by Carolyn McHenry Elwess, ’71 Park University Archivist
**from the label at Luce Center, Smithsonian