By David Markham
Nearly a year ago, JCPRD staff “rediscovered” a piece of artwork in Shawnee Mission Park which was created and donated in the early 1970s by late Overland Park artist Arlie Regier. A lot has happened since then regarding the art, now known as “Cattails,” and a personal link between Regier and a key park staff member has also been rediscovered.
“Cattails” consists of three steel and wooden cylinders with seats inside located overlooking the lake near Shelter #4. Regier’s work is being restored and will be rededicated as part of a ribbon-cutting ceremony tentatively planned for June 3, which will also include improvements to the Shawnee Mission Park Marina, which is nearby. The marina work is dependent upon favorable weather and the date could change.
When Central Region Senior Park Manager Kelby Hellwig was examining “Cattails” with Construction Supervisor Derek Buckridge to see what would be needed for removal, he noticed the word “Nallwood” welded into one of the bases.
“That triggered my memory and I got to thinking that I had a really cool metal shop teacher when I was at Nallwood Junior High School (now Indian Hills Middle School) as a seventh grader from 1985-1986,” Hellwig said. “I recalled a dedicated and thoughtful teacher who obviously loved the work that he did. He was funny and knew his craft well and often referred to himself as ‘Rusty the welder’ and would call his wood shop counterpart ‘Dusty the wood worker.’”
When he got home, Hellwig fished out his school yearbook, and confirmed his seventh grade shop teacher was indeed Arlie Regier.
“What a fun trip down memory lane for me and what a cool teacher to have had,” he said. “Not many teachers took the time to pen a personal message into my yearbook nor did I want most of them to. I do remember Mr. Regier as being really funny and approachable. We had no idea he was a famous artist, and as an Overland Park native, I’m sure I passed his works many times. What I do remember is a humble teacher who placed the focus on his students and I’m sure that’s why his outside works weren’t highlighted in the class.”
Besides being a local teacher, Regier also created art, and it is believed “Cattails,” with its steel and wooden construction, was one of his earliest pieces. He later developed a sculpture style using highly-polished mirrorlike surfaces. For many years, the artist showed his art at local art shows including the Plaza Art Fair and the Brookside Art Annual. His work has also been shown with galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Vail, Colo.; San Francisco; Carmel, Calif; and at the Leopold Gallery in Kansas City, which has placed some of his pieces as background art in Marvel© and DC© comics-related movies. Examples of Regiers’ public art can be found around Johnson County, including at the Overland Park Convention Center, in front of Shawnee Mission West High School (the Viking ship), and at the new Johnson County Courthouse in Olathe.
Those middle school lessons from Regier seem to have had a lasting impact on Hellwig.
“It was definitely the start of building my skillset working with hand tools and an introduction to metal working,” he said. “More importantly, we were encouraged to be creative in regards to our projects and problem solving and this is something that has served me well throughout my career.”
The artwork has gone through a major transformation over the past year, with the goal being to restore it to its original splendor.
“We had no idea of the history behind the pieces until the recent information on them was discovered,” Hellwig said. “We always knew they were unique, had an appeal, and that they were a timeless feature synonymous with SMP but didn’t know the history. It’s fun to be a part of honoring one of this man’s works now.”
Superintendent of Culture Susan Mong said the JCPRD Public Art Committee, which she leads, researched vendors to determine the best approach for restoring “Cattails” and eventually worked with Dick Jobe, a local artist, expert metal worker, and owner of a Kansas City, Mo., business called Machine Head, where they were meticulously repaired and stripped down to original bare metal, pristine condition. The committee also consulted with Regier’s son, Dave, who is also an artist.
“Machine Head stripped the metal pieces and cleaned them first before repainting the pieces to their original look,” Mong said. “Our park staff worked with the staff of Machine Head to handle aspects of the restoration that fit the skillset of our staff. The wood restoration inside of each pod, for example, was handled internally by skilled park staff, to help cut costs, and staff transported the pieces. We are very pleased with the outcome of this restoration and documented the process to allow the public to see this transformation as well.”
McGinnis Autobody of Kansas City, Kan., restored “Cattails” to their original brilliant orange color.
“Based on what we know and discovered as layers of paint, and years of wear came off the pieces, they are being returned to their original color, what I am calling ‘Nallwood Orange,’” Hellwig added. “They were professionally painted with a high-quality automotive paint, and they will certainly pop against the landscape.”
Park staff are currently working to replace the wood that adorns the insides of the sculptures, and to improve the site where the sculptures will be reinstalled, including new natural stone borders, fresh mulch, renovated turf, and improving site lines to the lake with some tree and shrub thinning.
It is anticipated “Cattails” will be reinstalled in early May, with the formal reintroduction of the pieces at the tentative ribbon cutting in conjunction with Shawnee Mission Park Marina improvements on June 3.
“They really sit in a location with a tremendous view of the lake perched on high ground between the marina and Shelter #5,” Hellwig said. “I like the sound of Mr. Arlie Regier’s - AKA ‘Rusty the welder’ - “Cattails” standing like sentinels watching over the peaceful cove of this county jewel, Shawnee Mission Park!”
“The pieces have been safely delivered back to our park staff awaiting reinstallation,” Mong said. “We look forward to welcoming the public to celebrate both of these exciting improvements within Shawnee Mission Park. We are grateful to Arlie’s wife, Susie, and son, Dave, who spent time with us so we could learn more about Arlie, his life, his early beginnings, and any details they could recall about this project. It is clear that he is missed and was dearly loved and respected for the impact he had as a teacher and as an artist.”