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A Kansas City artist wanted a new direction. It led to a giant sunflower in Prairie Village

A printed sheet of paper shows different views of a circular steel arch that is rust-colored and adorned with yellow and red steel petals. It resembles a giant sunflower with a hollow center that people can walk into and view the sculpture from the inside.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
A rendering of "Gateway" shows what Amie Jacobsen's creation will ultimately look like after installation.

When artist Amie Jacobsen finishes one of her latest projects, visitors to Meadowbrook Park in Prairie Village, Kansas, will be greeted by a massive sunflower made of glass and steel that will glow during the day and be lit at night.

For most of her professional career, Amie Jacobsen was a graphic designer, painter and children’s book illustrator. Then, about seven years ago, she decided to take up welding.

"From the time I was a little kid," she said, "all I thought was, you know, I was gonna be an artist."

Three people, two women and a man, stand around several large, steel tables that hold different metal parts for a large sculpture.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Amie Jacobsen, right, stands around some of the steel components with her team, Megan Bryde, left, and Kai Huffhines inside Jacobsen's studio in Independence.

Jacobsen moved to the Kansas City metro area in 2007. Originally from Colorado, she studied studio art and painting in college there before moving with two young kids to Georgia to earn an MFA in illustration at Savannah College of Art and Design.

Here, she taught online classes, illustrated children’s books and created paintings for galleries.

"At some point," she said, "I was just getting burnt out."

Searching for a new direction, she was watching a local arts show on Kansas City PBS when inspiration struck.

"I saw a shop on Arts Upload on the public TV station one night (when I was) working on an illustration," she said, "and it was called Machine Head, owned by Dick Jobe."

So she called Jobe, who ran the fabrication shop in the Crossroads Arts District, to see if he had some ideas about where she could learn to weld.

"He just was really kind and said, 'Well, I take interns sometimes. Why don't you come down and you can run errands for me and, you know, and I'll teach you some welding.'"

A person wearing a blue shirt and yellow welder's helmet uses a torch to fuse a large metal ring. Sparks are flying and metal parts can be seen in the foreground.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Amie Jacobsen welds a joint on a steel ring that will become part of the "Gateway" metal sculpture.

Jacobsen spent two years working full-time in the shop. During that time, she met artists working on public art and sculpture projects and knew she wanted to give it a try.

She won her first large commission — a twisty stainless-steel piece — for a hospital in Davenport, Iowa. But, first, she needed her own tools.

"So I went and rented my own space and bought a welder, some cutting wheels, an angle grinder, and a chop saw," she said with a laugh, "and built a sculpture."

A pair of hands hold a gray steel frame and sheet metal that are roughly shaped like a flower petal.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Amie Jacobsen shows where the steel petals will be bolted to the "Gateway" sculpture.

That was back in 2017. Jacobsen now creates sculptures, furniture and public art pieces in her own studio in Independence, Missouri.

Some, crafted from stainless steel and glass, take inspiration from nature, such as plants and insects — wildflowers up to 12 feet tall in Oklahoma; a 12-foot butterfly in Florida; and a 12-foot sunflower in Kansas.

On a recent tour of Jacobsen's shop in an industrial building in Independence, two of her assistants were hard at work on her latest installation called “Gateway,” a sunflower-shaped arch for Meadowbrook Park in Prairie Village, Kansas.

"So we are in the middle of making petals and pieces and parts for all the petals," she said, "and starting to get our main structure ready."

When it’s installed this summer, it will be the first public art in the 80-acre park.

Three people pose with different steel parts that are shaped like sunflower petals. Behind them is a large steel ring and tools and equipment used for metalwork.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Amie Jacobsen, center, stands within the framework for the metal sculpture "Gateway" with her fabricators, Megan Bryde, left, and Kai Huffhines inside her studio space in Independence.

The center of the sunflower is a nearly 12-foot tall archway with 24 petals made of cast glass and steel.

"But also important to this piece will be these illustrated panels that go up the sides of the arches, inside the center of the flower that presents the history of the park and the surrounding area," she said.

The panels will be covered with mirror polished stainless steel, and as people walk through, they’ll see their own reflections.

A woman stands while holding a large, yellow metal sculpture that is shaped like a flower petal. Behind her are steel shelves filled with metal parts.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Amie Jacobsen displays a partially constructed petal that will adorn the "Gateway" metal sculpture she and her team are working on.

Jacobsen’s shop is tucked into a residential neighborhood just down the street from Englewood Arts. So there’s synergy with the Independence arts district.

Jacobsen and her husband, Tim O’Neill, bought this building back in July. He runs The Urban Lumber Company, repurposing lumber harvested from local trees.

They also have plans for a showroom and a community woodshop.

"It would be for like four or five people who could rent out a designated area," she says, "and then they can share all the big tools that most people don't have in their garages."

Jacobsen says she hopes the space will provide a new direction for other artists — as well as sustain her own.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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