‘What Did It Say To You?” the Art of Vernon Rickman

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Recently, we were pleased to receive a painting by local artist, Vernon R. Rickman, for our collection.  Rickman worked at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History for 23 years.

He began as technician in 1958. At the time of his retirement in January 1981 he was a senior sculpture. One of many projects he worked on was the Neanderthal figures for the permanent exhibit “Ice Age Mammals and the Emergence of Man.” He later recalled this was one of his favorite projects.  Another project involved preparing full-sized mannequins of Pat Nixon, Betty Ford and Rosalyn Carter for the First Ladies Hall in the National Museum of American History.

During that time, he also painted privately.    His body of work included over 300 oil paintings, in addition to sculptures and reliefs. The collection was donated to the Carriage Factory Art Gallery in Newton, Ks.  One was also given HCHM for our collection of local Harvey County Artists.

Painting by Vernon Rickman. HCHM 2017.1

Vernon Reid Rickman was born in Newton on August 4, 1929 to Theodore and Mattie Jordan Rickman.  He had three sisters and a brother.

Shirley Elliott, a cousin remembered that “he always had a pencil in his hand.” 

At Newton High School he was fortunate to have Marie Orr as an art teacher.  She recognized his talent and encouraged him to explore different mediums throughout high school.  As a senior in 1947 he won the Scholastic art contest and spent a semester at the Cleveland School of Art.

Vernon Rickman. Photo courtesy Julian Wall, Find-A-Grave Memorial Marker #127049881.

After nearly 2 years in the U.S. Army, he enrolled at the University of Kansas. In 1957, he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.  He began graduate studies at the Kansas City Art Institute, but quit to “earn a living” at the Smithsonian Institution.

After he retired, Rickman returned to Newton where he continued to paint.  A nephew, Michael Scott recalled one visit to Rickman’s home soon after;

“I looked at paintings everywhere . . . paintings in the basement . . . paintings everywhere.  He was painting all the time.”

In 2007, Rickman had a show of his private work at Bethel College.

Vernon died at Kansas Christian Home in Newton on December 27, 2013 at the age of 84.

Examples of his work  can be found at the Carriage Factory Art Gallery, with some available for sale. The Carriage Factory Art Gallery is located at 128 E. 6th, Newton, Ks.

In a conversation about his work with his nephew Ted Scott, who asked, “Where did this come from?” 

Rickman  replied, “you had to figure it out for yourself-what did it say to  you?”


  • Buller, Beverley Olson. “Vernon Rickman Life Sketch,” 2016.
  • “Vernon Rickman” Find-A-Grave Memorial #127049881.
  • http://carriagefactoryartgallery.com/vernon-rickman-exhibit/nggallery/page/1.

“Anyone Can Apply It”

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Spend time in some of the older homes in Harvey County and you might run across some interesting woodwork.

Pocket doors with false graining.

Pocket doors with false graining.

These doors reflect a popular way to decorate your home during the late 1800s into the early 1900s known as “graining” or “false graining.”  The effect was achieved with tools similar to a graining kit we have at the museum.


Graining Set. HCHM #91.21

The practice of graining became popular in the United States because it was a way to make inexpensive wood, like pine, look like more expensive, less available  wood like oak, mahogany and cherry.

Our graining kit was patented in 1908 by the Ohio Varnish Company, Cleveland, OH as the “Original Ready-to-Use Chi-Namel Graining Process.” For “a little under 2 cents per square foot” a plain floor could become a “Hard Wood Floor with Maple Inlaid Border”  or have the effect of a natural oak floor. instructions 001 The front page of the instruction booklet explains, “Any one can apply it – previous experience not necessary.” The kit in our collection was no doubt ordered by someone interested in completing their own project, not a professional grainer.  There were people, however, that were skilled in the art and available for hire in south central Kansas.

Newton experienced a building boom in the early to mid-1880s.  Many of the homes along West Broadway and East First were built during this period. The 1885 Newton City Directory has nineteen individuals that identified “Painting” as their occupation and one woman, Mrs. F.M. Hurlbut, who worked with “Decorative Art Material.”  There is a separate category in the directory for construction. Those painters that had skill in graining would usually be paid more.

At least two area men were known for their graining skills.

Emil Kym (1862-1918) lived in rural Harvey County near the Alta Mill community.  He was  well known for his work which included wood-graining, marbleizing and even full scale murals of the Swiss mountains.

Emil Kym (1862-1918)

Emil Kym (1862-1918)

The second was John L. Caveny, father of J. Franklin Caveny.  John L, along with wife, Louisa, and two children came to Kansas from Pennsylvania in the early 1870s.  About the same time, his parents, James and Susan, and brother, H. Wayne Caveny, also moved to Newton, Ks.  H. Wayne Caveny also worked as a contract painter.

The Reese House, built in 1879 by John Reese, has several examples of false grained doors.

At this time, we do not know who created the wonderful interior doors at the Reese House. We do know that John L. Caveny was working in the area as early as 1876. He and his brother may have worked on the home.

Ad from The Kansan, 1 June 1876.

Ad from The Kansan, 1 June 1876.

The Caveny brothers continued to work as a painters in Harvey County.  John L. Caveny died in 1920 at the age of 80. Described as “a very useful and valued citizen of Newton,” J. LCaveny also served as county clerk for several terms.

False graining enjoyed renewed popularity in the 1970s with a renewed interest in preserving historic structures.

Find out more about the process at these  two do-it-yourself sites.

  • http://www.oldhouseonline.com/create-faux-wood-grain-finish/
  • http://www.homedepot.com/hdus/en_US/DTCCOM/HomePage/Commerce/Building_Supplies/Paint_Sealers_Supplies/Interior_Paint/Docs/MS-LowRes-5-26-final-Eng.pdf


  • “Honored Citizen For Many Years Passed on This Morning” Evening Kansan Republican, 4 October 1920.
  • Newton City Directories: 1885, 1887, 1902, 1905, 1911, 1913, 1917. HCHM Archives.
  • U.S. Census 1880, 1900.
  • Stucky, Brian.  “Who Was Emil Kym? 13 August 2008 at  http://www.usd411.org/vnews/display.v/SEC/Facilities%7CEmil%20Kym%20Art%20Gallery%3E%3EWho%20Was%20Emil%20Kym%3F
  • http://www.oldhousejournal.com/magazine/2004/aug/art.shtml

The Many Talents of J. Franklin Caveny

By Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

When I first started working at HCHM, I ran across a sketchbook that had been donated to the museum in 1966.

J. Franklin Caveny Sketchbook, January 1899.

J. Franklin Caveny Sketchbook, January 1899.

At the time I had no idea who J.Franklin Caveny was, but I enjoyed the sketches in the small book. The sketchbook was one of my picks for our current exhibit, “Stuff We Love,” and by now I have learned more about  J. Franklin Caveny, a man of many talents.

The chalk-talker, J. Franklin Caveny, is the humorist of the company. . . . He drew with both hands landscapes of real artistic merit while he talked, and with a few deft strokes would transform the scene from ‘Sunrise on the Atlantic” to “Moonlight on the Hudson.”

Nationally, J. Franklin Caveny  was known for his “Chalk-talks” and entertaining lectures.  He traveled the country with his wife, Maude Wood, presenting programs and demonstrations from 1906-1944.

Poet, Fred Emerson Brooks wrote of Caveny in the Post-Reader:

“Caveny is a witty and artistic genius.

He makes birds fly;

He makes chalk fly;

He makes his tongue fly;

And his fingers fly;

And as the people laugh and wonder at those different flies,

They are amazed to see how time flies.

So take J. Franklin Caveny

If artist you would have any.”

This well-known, talented entertainer got his start in Harvey County and attended Newton schools.

His obituary 1944 stated;

While [he] grew up in Newton, he began his career as a public  entertainer early in life and traveled in every state and some foreign countries.”

J. Franklin was born February 16, 1876 to John Lewis and Louise Caveny in Newton, Ks.  His father, John Lewis Caveny , was an early Harvey County settler that painted houses and hung paper.  He also offered “Graining at reasonable prices.” 

Ad from The Kansan, 1 June 1876.

Ad from The Kansan, 1 June 1876.

J. Franklin attended the South Side School, Newton (later McKinley School) in the 1880s.

By 1906, he had played a lead role in several of Shakespeare’s plays.

He married Maud Wood in 1909 and they traveled the country performing.  Caveny maintained connections with his home community, giving artwork to friends and family.  He also returned

“to the old home town every few years, at which time he would appear at meetings of clubs, societies and churches, donating programs of entertainment, and never failing to draw large audiences.”

"To Mrs. Gaston Boyd, With sincere regards, J. Franklin Caveny, 1914

“To Mrs. Gaston Boyd, With sincere regards, J. Franklin Caveny, 1914

In 1914, J. D. Nicholson commissioned Caveny to paint a large mural for the First Presbyterian Church, located at 7th and Main, Newton, entitled “The Christ Child Among the Doctors.”

The mural was removed when the church was razed in 1964 and installed in the new church located at 900 Columbus Ave., Newton.

J. Franklin Caveny died at Staten Island, NY after a brief illness while on tour. His ashes were buried in the Caveny family plot in Greenwood Cemetery, Newton, Ks.


  • Evening Kansan Republican, 11 November 1902.
  • Evening Kansan Republican, 24 February  1944 – J. Franklin Caveny Obituary.
  • HCHM Photo Archives.
  • Koppes, Linda.  “Pulpits and Potlucks: A Photographic History of the Churches of Harvey County from 1872-2007.” History of the First Presbyterian Church.  HCHM Archives.

To see more Stuff We Love picks, visit the museum.  Admission is free (donations accepted) and we are open Tues-Fri 10-4 and the 1st & 3rd Saturday of each month from 10-4.