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Local Editorials

Kirkwood lived life of deep meaning through his artwork

Most people don’t know what their bodies look like. 

Mirrors don’t reflect an accurate representation, because mirrors show a reverse image, and people see what they want to see. Therefore, when people see a photograph of themselves, they are often shocked.

Artist Larry Kirkwood set out to change all that. 

He built body casts of people much in the same manner that a doctor builds casts for arms and legs, except Larry cast the torso of the body. 

He would then paint the cast in artistic colors and present the cast to the person. 

The person would then be able to see what their body looks like. Larry’s intent was to show that, contrary to the cosmetic industry, every body, young and old, slim or fat, is beautiful in its natural form. 

The endgame of his project was to help us change the way we look at ourselves and at others, and to help us become aware of and deal with our prejudices of sexism, racism, age, weight and height. 

So enlightening was the experience for the person that it was like a rebirth. For each of the more than 500 body casts that Larry created, he made a birth certificate, because, in a sense, the person was reborn.

One woman he cast, a marathoner and triathlete, was startled to see how strong and beautiful her arms were. Prior to the casting, she had struggled with clothes not fitting and the false image that she was “too fat.”

A lady from Florida had two casts made of her body, each at different months of her pregnancy. She appreciated his work and traveled to Missouri to visit Larry during his last months of life.

Larry was born in Knoxville. He spent some time at Simpson College in Indianola, and eventually received a master’s degree from the University of Kansas in  aesthetics, the philosophy of art.

He spent time in Florida, California, and the later part of his life in Missouri. He conducted workshops at many colleges and universities across the country, teaching both students and faculty. 

Throughout his project, he found more areas of similarities in our humanness than differences. He loved people, life and animals.

Larry spent so much time with the production of his castings, that the fumes, fibers, and paints may have lead to his early death. He died of COPD at the age of 69 in his hometown of Knoxville.

Before he died, he asked his 90-year-old mother, Frances Kirkwood, if his life had accomplished anything. His beautiful body casts, that will be with us for centuries, affirms that it has.

Four of Larry’s body casts are now on display at the Ft. Madison Area Arts Association, at 825 G Ave., in Ft. Madison. Two of the casts have been donated to the art center. Larry’s family wanted to share his art with the public.

Another aspect of Larry’s art, something he may not have foreseen, and characteristic of great works of art, is that his casts go beyond his original intent of focusing on the reality of the body, and take on another art form. 

They resemble famous Greek statues of men and women, without arms and legs, painted in today’s bright, alluring colors.

The effect is quite attractive and pleasing to the eye.

Do yourself a favor and check out Larry’s body casts at the Ft. Madison Area Arts Association. Also on display, are many nice works of art by area artists. Art is a way of glorifying life, and bringing beauty and creativity into what can sometimes be a drab, difficult world.

Larry would be pleased with your visit.

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