In a nod to Wichita’s history and artistic spirit, a 14-foot welded steel sculpture sits in the middle of the street in the downtown area. The sculpture, christened “Peerless Princess of the Plains,” was created by Augusta artist Frank Jensen and is the brainchild of Project Beauty.
Jensen shared on his website that the inspiration for the Princess sculpture dates back to 1887 when the Wichita Eagle’s editor, Marshall M. Murdock, dubbed the city “The Peerless Princess of the Plains.” A century later, the name stuck with him, leading to his sculpting of this iconic figure for the Hill.
A Wichita Eagle article on February 12, 2011 noted the sculpture shows a woman with arms outstretched, aptly named the “catching the wind” pose by Jensen.
The Wichita City Council replaced a Gino Salerno wooden statue with this 500-pound masterpiece. The Salerno piece was rotting in the Kansas weather. John D’Angelo, manager of the city’s division of arts and cultural services, described it to the Eagle as a “neat piece.”
Regarding the sculpture’s design, Jensen noted on his website that some see a visual harmony in its repetition of similarly shaped pieces of varying sizes. A friend even likened it to the musical repetitions in Bach compositions, a comparison Jensen appreciates.
The statue was dedicated to Gwen Naftzger in 2011. At the dedication Jensen quoted from the Gene Austin/Beatles song, “Ain’t She Sweet” saying, “Ain’t she sweet? See her walking down the street. Now I ask you very confidentially, ain’t she sweet.
Born in the heart of the Depression (1933), Jensen grew up on small farms in the Flint Hills of Kansas. He attended one-room country schools and went to Admire High School, ranking third in a class of five. Later, he joined the Army and studied English, even writing a thesis on Mark Twain. Jensen began teaching at Derby High School and then Wichita High School Southeast for a total of 28 years.
On his website he says his passion for art began at Southeast High, thanks to excellent teachers. In 1986, he bought “the Hill” and started sculpting, often inspired by classical literature. He’s sold over 150 sculptures.
Jensen has a number of sculptures across the state, there are at least four others in the Wichita area.
7373 E. 29th St. North, Wichita, KS
On his website, Jensen said, “Kansas gets its name from an Indian tribe and Kansas is known for its tornadoes, therefore an Indian chief calming a tornado. It seems logical to me, but, of course, I have been out in the sun quite a bit.”
143rd Street and Summerfield
Chisolm Trail Park – Park City
After the Civil War, the Chisholm Trail served as a vital route for driving cattle from Texas to Abilene, Kansas. At Abilene, cattle could be loaded onto trains and transported to eastern U.S. cities. A quaint park in Park City pays homage to the Chisholm Trail’s legacy, featuring a historic marker and a sculpture crafted by the Jensen.
Bruce from the Park City Parks Department told me a little about the sculpture. “The rider is LeRoy and you see the little steer coming up, how his head is turning, like he’s trying to get out of line, you’ll notice the first one is right straight down the path. So the smaller one, that one’s name is Sparky, because he’s trying to get out of line. That’s why the horse is turned.”