View All Posts

Jul 28

Local artists created first four collectible poster designs in classic WPA style

Posted on July 28, 2023 at 10:11 AM by Becky Burnside

By David Markham

A public reveal of the first four designs in a new ongoing series of collectible posters by local artists featuring JCPRD parks and facilities will take place on Monday, Aug. 14.

The event will take place from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center, 8788 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park. This free event is open to the public, and attendees are encouraged to RSVP to [email protected] by Aug. 10.

All four 2023 poster artists will be at the event, including: Tad Carpenter, who created the poster of Big Bull Creek Park; Daniel Bartle, who created the poster of Cedar Niles Park; Luke Wittman, who created the poster of Lexington Lake Park, and Michael Perry, who created the artwork of Shawnee Mission Park. Artist remarks will begin at 6:30 p.m.

“We hope these designs leave our community inspired to go and explore these and all of the beautiful park spaces that make up JCPRD,” said Superintendent of Culture Susan Mong. “Each poster highlights a beautiful element of each park. I really love the process each artist went through to develop their vision and determine what feature, perspective, or unique element they wanted to focus on. The artists spent time with park staff and a lot of time in their assigned park before finalizing their design.” 

Poster Artitsts paint brushes blogThe poster project is part of a Public Art Program JCPRD launched in 2019 to activate parks, trails, and facilities in a new way. The posters will feature JCPRD places and spaces using the iconic and majestic style used by Work Progress Administration (WPA) artists in the 1930s. JCPRD will expand its collection in the coming years, featuring parks, trails, and facilities that are part of its system.  

For the first year of the poster project, officials intentionally chose parks representing different regions of the county and included some of JCPRD’s newer parks.  

Following the reveal on Aug. 14, JCPRD posters, notecards, and postcards will be for sale both in person at the Museum Store located inside the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center and online through the website,  Proceeds from these sales will benefit the JCPRD Public Art Program.  

A call for artists for the poster project went out in late February inviting regional artists to participate in this poster design opportunity. The four successful artists were chosen by an Art Selection Committee from 28 applicants who met an April 5 deadline for submitting qualifications. Each successful artist received a $2,500 stipend.

Meet the artists

Tad Carpenter is a designer, author, and New York Times best-selling illustrator. He co-runs the graphic design and branding studio, Carpenter Collective, with his wife Jessica Carpenter, where they focus on bringing powerful messages to life through branding, packaging, illustration, and environmental design. They have worked with clients ranging from Target, Coca-Cola, Meta, Macy's, Old Navy, Conan O'Brien, Adobe, and MTV among many others. Carpenter has also worked with numerous bands on posters and tour campaigns, including John Mayer, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, Paul McCartney, and Dave Matthews Band, to name a few. Carpenter has written and illustrated dozens of children's books in the marketplace today intended for adults and children of all ages.

“Several things stood out about Big Bull Creek Park,” Carpenter said of his poster subject. “But more than anything, it was the pride the park district staff had in the park and how hard they worked to make it unique. I personally loved the towering silos that can been seen from many vantage points within the park. Almost a barometer of where you are as you find yourself getting lost wondering around. I can also remember a distant storm rolling in across the Kansas skyline that I also tried to incorporate.” 

His poster’s viewpoint, Carpenter said, is not a specific place visitors can find in the park, but rather an effort to bring together some of  Big Bull Creek Park’s prominent features. 

“I really responded to the small details that can be found in the creek reflections and shadows on the rocks along Big Bull Creek,” he said. “It can be hard to capture small details like this, and I’m happy with the result. I wanted to show these as accurate as I could but also do so in a subtle and almost simplistic way. I would be remiss, however, if I did not mention the meadowlark. The park has a huge meadowlark population that staff do their best at helping. I wanted to represent this bird in the poster for Big Bull Creek employees that help the bird so much but also for all Kansans, since this is our state bird.”

Daniel Bartle is a visual artist based in Kansas City, where he has been practicing art professionally for more than 20 years. From architectural watercolor illustration to large-scale mural painting, Bartle’s portfolio reflects an ever-striving approach to a life-long passion. His career has involved projects for many national franchises such as Disney, New York Yankees, LG, Kashi, and AMC theaters. He's also engaged in numerous projects with local companies such as The Roasterie, Donutology, Stockyards Brewery, Cafe Ca Phe, and The Kansas City Royals. In addition to painting and illustration, his professional experience includes branding, 3D modeling, and environmental design.

To prepare his poster design for Cedar Niles Park, Bartle explored as much of the park’s 1,100 acres of varied landscape as he could.

“Sketchbook in hand, I committed to navigating the park on and off-trail in a sort of zig zag pattern, up and down hills through dense undergrowth, evaluating various angles of every tree, pond or bridge, in hopes of finding that one view that would embody the park's true character,” he said. “Ultimately, the search for that one true character unveiled a theatrical ensemble of personality. I found adventurously fast-paced mountain biking trails that wound up and down through trees along rocky outcroppings. Below them I met with the main trail, paved and gentle, cutting through beautiful meadows of tall native grasses. And then I ventured on down to the creek, for which the park is named, that snaked serenely beneath a canopy of beautiful tall trees.”

In the end, he arrived at a design which includes peripheral elements, but no real central point of focus as an intentional device through which he sought to elicit a sense of serenity, or peace and calm that he experienced in the park.

“The contrast between this creative process and that of my typical commercial projects is stark,” he said. “Plein air painting is a passion with which I would normally only engage on my personal time. The opportunity to employ this skill in service of the Johnson County Park and Recreation District was a unique thrill. And though the final product did ultimately require being rendered in a digital format, I found that utilizing traditional methods to inform my final illustration helped in retaining my experience within the final product.” 

Poster Artsist blog 1

Luke Wittman is a graphic designer and illustrator from Milwaukee, Wisc., now living in Kansas City. He is a graduate of the Savannah Collect of Art and Design and currently works as a product designer for Charlie Hustle. Luke has also done work locally for J. Reiger & Co. WIttman is passionate about art and nature, both of which have always been a huge part of his life and inspire him to be a more curious and dedicated person.

On his first visit to Lexington Lake Park, Wittman noticed and photographed two people in a fishing boat, and that later became part of his poster design. 

“I'm glad that I was able to tell a story within this poster art, and not just a drawing of a tree,” he said. “Firstly, the stonewall in the foreground is a remnant of the pioneers that settled in Kansas hundreds of years ago. Including that not only tells a story, but it's a great way if of preserving history. Secondly, back to the boat I saw; including that in the artwork was crucial to creating a piece which allowed the viewer to put themselves inside the piece itself. It also creates a narrative which raises questions. Who's inside the boat? What are they fishing for? Keeps the eyes hooked.”

Wittman said he didn’t start off aiming for a specific feeling in his poster, but in the end believes his artwork “emulates a laid back and relaxing lake feel. Being in nature is very therapeutic for me, so I'd say it speaks to that.”

The artist added that this project got him out of his comfort zone and pushed him to expand his art “in the right direction.” 

Michael Perry is a graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute, a Shawnee native, and has always loved drawing and the outdoors. He continues to apply his creativity as a professional designer and art director during the day and as a freelance illustrator in the evenings. He lives happily in Parkville, Mo., with his wife, two kids, and two derpy cats.

For his poster of Shawnee Mission Park, Perry had a lifetime of memories at that site to draw upon. 

“Shawnee Mission Park remains my favorite park and has been a frequent destination over the course of my life, so, I'm fortunate to have a variety of memories to choose from. I've had little league end-of-season parties and birthday BBQs at the park shelters. When my dad coached my baseball team, we sometimes practiced on the ballfields. My younger sister performed in several shows at Theatre in the Park with my mom working backstage.” 

His final design includes a color palette emulating the lighting of the hour after sunset and the hour before sunset, sometimes called the “golden hours” by photographers and artists, and incorporating silhouettes of two people watching a sunset.   

“I wanted to pull in some warmer yellows and oranges from that time while maintaining a cooler palette for the rest of the landscape in an attempt to capture some of that same magic. My goal was to create a park image that is iconic in design and easily recognizable as Shawnee Mission Park. I hope it sparks warmly nostalgic memories for anyone familiar with Shawnee Mission Park and serves as a compelling invitation for everyone to visit and make wonderful new memories there. The WPA National Parks posters are widely beloved not simply because of the beauty of subject matter or the style of their design, but also for the sense of adventure and national pride that they elicit from us. We hope to solicit a similar feeling for our local parks through these posters.” 

Looking Ahead

“This is the inaugural year of the JCPRD Poster Project and was included as part of the JCPRD Public Art Master Plan which provides a road map for public art through 2026,” Mong said. “We intentionally limited eligible artists to the Kansas City region to support and feature local artists for this project. We are excited to work with the first four artists and grow the number of artists associated with this project as new posters are released.”

To learn more about the public art plan, go to Public Art Master Plan | Johnson County Park & Rec, KS.

Artists who are interested in applying to create future poster art can expect a 2024 Call for Artists in late February 2024. More information about this project and the selected artists can be found at

The Parks and Recreation Foundation of Johnson County plays a crucial role in the fulfillment of JCPRD’s Public Art Program through the procurement of grants and donations. The foundation continues to seek support for future projects through corporate and private funding. Those interested in supporting this program should contact Development Director Kelly Blandford by email [email protected] or by phone at 913-826-3448.