Giant van Gogh Painting title

Giant van Gogh Painting dominates Goodland sky

The Giant van Gogh Painting towers over Goodland

The No. 1 attraction in Goodland, Kansas, a giant 24 by 32-foot painting, dominates the sky. The massive replica of “Three Sunflowers in a Vase” stands on an even taller 80-foot-high steel easel. It weighs 45,000 pounds. The Giant van Gogh Painting is so large that people can see it from Interstate 70, even though it sits eight blocks away. This is its story.

Related: The painting is one of the state’s numerous world’s largest things.

Giant van Gogh Painting on Land and Sky Scenic Byway
The Giant Vincent van Gogh Painting with Venus and a crescent moon.

Related: The giant painting is one of Goodland’s top things to see.

In the late 1990s, the artist Cameron Cross was seeking sites for his Vincent van Gogh painting project. Van Gogh painted seven sunflower paintings in Arles, France, in 1888-89. Cross intended to reproduce the paintings on huge easels around the world. He wanted them in seven cities associated with van Gogh or sunflower production. At the time, he had erected one in his hometown, Altona, Manitoba, Canada. He was working with Emerald, Queensland, Australia, to install another one. Both communities grow sunflowers.

Related: Learn sunflower photography tips.

Kansas sunflower
Every August, fields of yellow sunflowers attract pollinators and photographers to Kansas.

Giant van Gogh Painting to be built in the Sunflower State

Since Kansas is the Sunflower State, Cross wanted the American painting somewhere in Kansas. The Sunflower Growers Association recommended Goodland because Goodland set sunflower prices then. Cross followed their recommendation and approached Goodland for the third location. A group of Goodland boosters formed Sunflowers USA. While visiting Goodland, Sunflowers USA members looked at sites with Cross. Eventually, they chose the intersection of Cherry Ave. and 17th Street. He presented the project (PDF) to the Goodland Rotary Club in May 1999. David Branda of the Sherman Theatre became the first official donor at the meeting.

The artist waits for immigration papers, and volunteers prepare

After Goodland accepted the project, Cross waited months for his immigration papers.

While he and the local committee impatiently waited for the bureaucracy, North Elementary’s sixth graders used the project as an educational experience. They followed the painting’s progress and learned about sunflowers.

While Cross waited, Goodland volunteers prepared (PDF) 24 4×8-foot plywood sheets and assembled them into four 24-foot wide sections. They coated the plywood with fiberglass and gel. His papers finally arrived (PDF) in September 2000. When the papers arrived, he shouted, “Hallelujah!”

He painted at the Sherman County Fairgrounds. Even in four sections, the panels were so large that he had to paint them sideways. The process required two months. The sixth graders even helped with the preliminary painting.

After Cross completed the painting, a crew moved it to Farris Manufacturing’s lot, where owner Gary Farris and his crew built the painting’s frame.

Building Pioneer Park to house the Giant van Gogh Painting

While Cross was working to create Goodland’s “Three Sunflowers in a Vase” replica, the City was constructing a new park to hold it. The painting’s future location had been a city drainage problem for many years. After seven years of work, the city opened Pioneer Park (PDF) in October 2000. The park holds a walking trail and a gazebo, which Goodland Kiwanis Club donated.

Painting site preparation begins

In May 2001, contractor Kyle Bartell (PDF) drilled three 28-foot deep and 3-foot wide holes in Pioneer Park East. The drilling crew placed 2-foot metal barrels over the holes’ openings. Four days later, volunteers filled the holes with concrete provided by Schlosser Concrete. The crew set eight bolts and a steel base into each hole. Each bolt is 3 feet long and 1.5 inches in diameter. Each base is 1.5 feet across.

Before installation, the concrete had to cure for 28 days. While the concrete cured, workers built up the land around the painting site.

A week after installation, Farris Manufacturing began assembling the easel and attaching it to the frame.

Giant van Gogh Painting installation
The Giant van Gogh Painting swings into place. (Donna K. Price/Sherman County Convention & Visitors Bureau)

Installation Day finally arrives

On June 16, 2001, Installation Day (PDF) came at last. At 7:30 a.m., workers set the painting and easel onto a trailer. By 9 a.m., the painting had arrived at his new home. North student Samantha Raymer repaired torn paint from forklift damage. The wind caused one more delay. Progress stopped at 11:30 a.m., but finally, cranes swung the painting into the air at 3 p.m. After half an hour, the painting was ready for attachment to its base.

The final cost totaled about $140,000; none came from taxpayer funds.

Rotary Club guestbook holder
Rotarian Tom Betz (left) and Cross read the guestbook.

Rotary installs painting site improvements

In 2004, Rotary installed a floodlight to illuminate the painting. The city had replaced the bricks on Main Street and Rotary repurposed those bricks for an accessible walkway. The club also installed benches and a guestbook.

Giant van Gogh Painting inspection
Artist Cameron Cross inspects the painting for damage.

The Giant van Gogh Painting receives a facelift

By 2010, the painting needed a facelift. Its colors had faded. Birds had assaulted it and lightning had struck it. Sunflowers USA had disbanded. They donated the painting and the land back to the City. Shine on Sherman County worked to bring back Cross.

In 2012, Cross returned to Goodland to repair his work. He had hoped to keep the painting on its easel as it worked. He intended to use a lift that Miller Construction Services had donated, but the wind caused him grief. Bryant Nemechek had to remove the painting from its easel.

Nowhere in Goodland was large enough to house the painting. Because of this, Cross worked in the open. He cleaned and recovered the screw holes and other roughened places. He sanded rust away from the frame. After the repairs, Cross began to paint. As he progressed, he rode the lift to check the painting’s appearance.

Painting on the ground in the summer of 2012
The painting is on the ground next to the pavilion.

Cross kept his equipment and paint in a pavilion next to the painting. Unfortunately, the summer of 2012 was one of the hottest ever recorded. High temperatures routinely were in the 100s. On the painting’s surface, temperatures felt more like 120 degrees.

Even though he avoided the days’ hottest times, Cross sweltered. During the initial painting, Cross had matched van Gogh’s muted color palette. In 2012, he brightened the colors to increase the painting’s visibility from a distance. As the final step, he painted a clear coat sealant on top (PDF). “This is bolder with fewer details,” he said. “That will help with the fading.”

The painting returns to its easel
As Cross watches, the city crew swings the painting back onto its easel.

The painting returns to its easel

Cross’ hot ordeal ended on July 23, 2012, when the city crew lifted the painting onto its easel again. He had missed the initial installation and relished watching his creation retake its shape. “I feel awesome,” he said. He called the repainting process “challenging” but appreciated making the painting whole again.

The restoration cost about $15,000.

Related: Experience more agriculture-themed attractions on Land and Sky Scenic Byway.

van Gogh Painting and water tower
For the best sense of place, include the Goodland water tower in your picture of the painting.

Visit the Giant Grasshopper and more

North of Goodland, another giant artwork, the Giant Grasshopper, awaits you. Farmer Lloyd Harden’s hobby turned used parts into creative arts. America’s First Patented Helicopter is only a block away in the High Plains Museum. Goodland is at the center of Land and Sky Scenic Byway, the nation’s first agriculture-themed byway.

Related: Enjoy the best things to do in Northwest Kansas.

Enjoy more of Northwest Kansas. Learn more about destinations in the Midwest, and particularly in Kansas.

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