Header Image Photo Credit: Drone-tography
The Keeper of the Plains, a five-ton, 44-foot-tall steel sculpture located on the Arkansas River, is the most recognizable landmark in Wichita, the Heart of the Country. The iconic Wichita work of art - and one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Art - was erected nearly 50 years ago. Today, it symbolizes inclusiveness as it brings together locals and visitors from all walks of life to marvel at its rich history and beauty.
The artist and his vision
Born in Oklahoma in 1921, Blackbear Bosin, whose father was Kiowa and mother was Comanche, spent his early years in the Sooner State. Although the University of Oklahoma offered him an arts scholarship, he turned it down to focus on his wife and children and instead trained to work with sheet metal. After moving to Wichita in 1940 and finding work at Beech Aircraft, Bosin enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and relocated, but he moved back to Wichita permanently in 1946.
Bosin continued to paint and entered art contests in Dallas, Denver and other cities. His works of art have been displayed in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., and in 1955 his painting “Prairie Fire” was featured in National Geographic while others were displayed at the National Gallery. In 1959, Bosin was commissioned by the Hotel Broadview (now the Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview) to create a mosaic mural for the Crystal Ballroom. The 1,500-square-foot work of art remains on display there today.
Construction of the Keeper of the Plains, designed to pay tribute to the area’s Indigenous people, began in 1970. It was placed at the confluence of the Big and Little Arkansas rivers on sacred ground where the Wichita Indians settled.
At the dedication of the Keeper sculpture, Bosin said, “To the City of Wichita, Kansas, and all its people, it is with extreme pleasure and pride that I give this sculpture Keeper of the Plains . . . I sincerely hope that this sculpture will always be a reminder to all peoples that we all belong to the earth, our Mother, to the sun, our Father, and above all, to each other and to the Great Spirit.”
Next to the Keeper is the Mid-America All-Indian Museum, where one of the permanent exhibits is “Tsate Kongia: Walking in Two Worlds, the Life of Blackbear Bosin.” Bosin showed his artwork for the remainder of his life until his passing in 1980 at the age of 59.
The sculpture, a plaza and a museum
Bosin was one of the founders of the Mid-American All-Indian Museum, which serves to preserve and educate the heritage of American Indians. Museum guests can experience a powwow, view traditional American Indian artifacts and shop authentic clothing and jewelry in the gift shop. The museum, which has an admission fee ($7 for adults, $5 for seniors and military with ID, $5 for students and $3 for children ages 6-12), is also home to the largest collection of Bosin’s work. In 2022, the museum marked what would have been his 101st birthday with a social dance and fundraiser. Thanks to those efforts and the generosity of people across the country, the MAAIM recently added 26 pieces of Bosin’s original art.
The Keeper of the Plains Plaza is at the base of the Keeper and is free to access either form the museum during operating hours or via two footbridges from each side of the river. Visitors can explore displays around the plaza covering the history, beliefs and practices of the Plains Indians, including weaponry and the Circle of Life consisting of the four elements of earth, wind, water and fire. Wheelchair-accessible paths guide visitors through the displays and down to the railing at the Keeper’s base just above the five firepots.
Symbolic Ring of Fire brings together locals, visitors
The firepots, known as the Ring of Fire when lit, are perhaps what draws people to the Keeper of the Plains. Each night (at 9 p.m. during Daylight Saving Time and 7 p.m. during Standard Time), if the winds are calm, the firepots are lit for 15 minutes. The firepots are symbolic as they complete a sacred hoop of the four elements of earth, wind, fire and water. Spectators marvel as the fire illuminates the Keeper and the water below. It’s a top photography spot in Wichita not only at night but during just about any sunrise or sunset. It’s a place where everyone – no matter their age or cultural background - can gather to find peace and tranquility in the heart of the city.
There is parking near the two footbridges leading to the Keeper of the Plains Plaza. Throughout most of the year visitors can opt to participate in a kayak tour or rent watercraft from Boats and Bikes to explore the structure from the water. Also nearby, along the east riverbank, art lovers can view the statues at Veterans Memorial Park and the iconic troll.