John Steuart Curry was born November 14, 1897, on a farm near
Dunavant, Kansas, to Smith and Margaret (Steuart) Curry. Curry's parents
were well educated and helped him gain an appreciation for art. The
oldest of five children, Curry also enjoyed participating in athletics.
He attended the Kansas City Art Institute, Art Institute of Chicago,
and Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania.
Following graduation Curry worked as an illustrator for Boys' Life, St.
Nicholas, County Gentleman, and The Saturday Evening Post. In 1926 Curry
went to Paris to study the works of realist Jean Désiré Gustave
Courbet, Honoré Daumier, Titian, and Peter Paul Rubens. After
returning to the U.S. Curry married Clara Derrick on January 23,
1923. She died in 1932. Curry traveled with Ringling Brothers Circus
and featured the acts in some of his work. He married Kathleen Gould
His 1928 painting Baptism in Kansas was widely praised and acquired by
the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. He went on to
create Tornado Over Kansas and became known as a regional artist. In
June 1937 a group of newspaper editors began a movement to commission
Curry to paint murals in the Kansas State Capitol. While the public
watched Curry work, a controversy arose over his choice of subject
matter and the way it was portrayed. Amidst the conflicts and criticism,
Curry ceased work on the murals in summer 1942. His request to remove
some Italian marble from the rotunda was refused. Curry decided to quit
in protest and never signed the murals. Among those murals, Tragic
Prelude, with the image of John Brown, is among the best known public
art works in the world.
Curry returned to Wisconsin to continue his teaching. Curry died August
29, 1946, in Madison, Wisconsin. He is buried in Winchester, Kansas.
(The portrait at right is a self-portrait completed in 1928.)