Glenn Rowlett Gant (1911–1999)
Glenn Gant was an important figure in the art history of Eureka Springs (Carroll County). He is best remembered for his paintings and pen-and-ink drawings that captured the unique essence of the architecture and culture of Eureka Springs during the last half of the twentieth century.
Glenn Rowlett Gant was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on September 25, 1911, the son of Joseph Rowlett Gant and Phillippa Gant. His parents divorced shortly after his birth. Phillippa, a musician, relocated alone to Chicago, Illinois, while Joseph, a bank president, remained in Kansas City and married Mildred Stites. They had two more children: Elizabeth Lee and John (Jack) E. Gant. After his father’s death in 1925, Glenn lived with his aunt, Emma Gant Lockman, and her husband, Benjamin.
Gant attended Kansas City public schools, completing Scarritt primary school in 1925. He knew from age twelve, when he enrolled in an art correspondence course, that he wanted to be an artist. Throughout high school, he took every art course available and participated for four years in the school art club. He graduated from Northeast High School in 1929.
From 1929 to 1934, Gant was enrolled at the Kansas City Art Institute, taking courses on cartooning, lettering, drawing, and life painting. During the Great Depression, he worked as a hotel bellman and elevator operator.
On April 22, 1942, just months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into World War II, Gant enlisted in the U.S. Army. His infantry unit was first stationed in Hawaii before being shipped to combat missions throughout the Pacific Theater, including New Guinea, the Philippines, and Japan. As a runner carrying messages from one position to another, Gant often came under enemy fire. Gant was released from service on November 18, 1945.
In the spring of 1946, with financial support from the GI Bill, Gant returned to the Kansas City Art Institute. He completed courses on painting, art history, sculpture, lithography, drawing, sketching, and anatomy. Gant received a bachelor’s degree with a major in painting in May 1948.
Gant was an instructor in watercolor painting at the Kansas City Art Institute between February 1948 and May 31, 1961. However, in 1951, the institute’s enrollment was not adequate to offer Gant’s course. He used that year away from teaching to study at the University of the Americas in Mexico City, Mexico, a center of artistic creativity then recently influenced by muralist José Clemente Orozco and others. In Mexico, Gant first experimented with using acrylic paints.
Many print and online sources incorrectly maintain that Gant studied under famed Regionalist artist Thomas Hart Benton at the Kansas City Art Institute. However, Benton’s brief tenure at the Art Institute (1935–1941) did not coincide with Gant’s lengthy but segmented time there as a student and instructor. The two men, both longtime Kansas City residents, did become acquainted during the late 1950s, and Gant assisted Benton in the construction and decoration of art frames.
Gant first visited Eureka Springs in the late 1950s and moved there with his mother in the early 1960s. Gant painted hundreds of watercolors of local buildings and attractions during his first years in town. Soon, he and a friend, Jerry Pace, founded the Eureka Springs Sidewalk Arts and Crafts Show, the community’s first public art exhibition. Promoted throughout the region by the chamber of commerce, this show attracted hundreds of tourists and continued annually for more than twenty years.
In 1966, Gerald L. K. Smith financed the construction of the Christ of the Ozarks statue, a monumental sculpture of Jesus located near Eureka Springs on Magnetic Mountain. Gant was selected as project artist. In 1971, the Eureka Springs Historic District Merchants Association commissioned Gant to create a tourist map to guide downtown visitors. Gant’s map was an instant success, and later iterations and expansions of the map continued to be used. In 1980, the Merchants Association named Gant “Citizen of the Year” for his contributions to the town’s historic district.
Gant exhibited throughout the Midwest and the South, and internationally at the American Artists in Mexico exhibition at the Academy of San Carlos. He held one-man shows at the Kansas City Art Institute and also presented alongside fellow Kansas City watercolorists John Coleman and Frederic James. In December 1985, Gant exhibited paintings of Christmas toys and holiday scenes at the Eureka Springs Public Library. Each painting was inspired by holiday items Gant found in community storefront windows. In 1995, as part of the May Fine Arts Festival, the Eureka Springs Guild of Artists and Craftspeople presented a month-long series of displays of Gant’s watercolors and acrylics.
Well-known muralist and Arkansas artist Louis Freund said of Gant, “His frequent awards at the School of the Ozarks speak well of the critical approval of his work. His art is not just a profession, but is a profession of faith in his ideals.” Frederic James of the Kansas City Art Institute said, “There are few genuine artists left in this civilization. Glenn is one of them. In an age of artistic pretense, Glenn remains true to himself and to his own vision. It is a privilege to share his visual experience and to work with him as a fellow artist.”
In 1999, Gant was living at 3 King Street on the first level of a three-story house. Fire broke out on an upper floor and spread to lower levels. Fire fighters, well acquainted with the artist and his work, rescued most of Gant’s paintings. Restoration of Gant’s home required several months. When completed, Gant moved in, but he suffered a heart attack his first night back home. Gant was taken to the Eureka Springs Hospital, where he died the next day, July 13, 1999. He is buried beside his mother in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows cemetery in Eureka Springs.
In April 2010, the Eureka Springs Historical Museum held a retrospective of Gant’s art, including the museum’s collection as well as pieces from individual collectors. Gant’s artwork can be seen at the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, the University of Arkansas Library Special Collections division, and the University of Central Arkansas archives. Numerous Gant paintings, drawings, and sketches are held in private art collections.
For additional information:
Glenn Gant Materials. Eureka Springs Historical Museum. Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
Glenn Gant Materials. Special Collections. University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Glenn Gant Sketch Books Collection. University of Central Arkansas Archives and Special Collections, Conway, Arkansas.
Kaufman, C. “Gant Focuses on Lively Counterculture.” Arkansas Gazette, September 10, 1982, p. 4B.
Pierce, S. “Eureka Springs Honors Painter.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 12, 1995, p. 5W.
Thomas A. Teeter
Little Rock, Arkansas
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