by Joshua Heston
“He was a a gentle man. He was very quiet but you knew he had a lot of love for his family,” remembers Sharon Bartlett, granddaughter of Missouri artist George Kieffer.
Kieffer, who grew up in Pierce City, was a muralist and sign painter in the Ozarks his entire life.
A father of four, he made ends meet how he could. “Don't be an artist,” he is remembered saying to the grandchildren. “You're not going to make much money.”
Though he passed away in 1981, Kieffer is still remembered — lovingly by his family, and gratefully by artists.
Entirely self-taught, his style has been compared to that of another Missouri artist, Thomas Hart Benton.
Still, there is a warmth and vigor, coupled with an exceptional attention to detail, that sets the work apart.
The Ozark Mountains proved his greatest inspiration.
Working through multiple mediums (oil, watercolor, and acrylic) Kieffer approached his subjects with obvious compassion.
This was not the cold analysis of a visiting artist making a social statement upon the region. Nor was it an up-and-comer making a fast buck from the scenery at hand.
No, George Kieffer painted what he knew best just as he lived.
“With love and care,” Bartlett says. "And a lot of patience."
Walt Disney, another famous Missourian, invited Kieffer to come paint for the Disney Studios in California.
He chose to remain in Springfield rather than leave — or uproot — his family.
Today, the art of George Kieffer is scattered throughout the Ozarks, first in private collections, then in Cox Hospital in Springfield, and lastly at Silver Dollar City.
In the late ’60s and early ’70s, Kieffer was commissioned to create several huge, historical murals at the City.
And now, nearly 40 years later, much of the work may still be seen.
The most notable murals are in the Fire in the Hole attraction and on the wall of the exit area of the Ozark Marketplace.
Still vibrant after all these years, the work captures a sense of the region that few words could.
“It makes me proud,” says his granddaughter.
“I remember we would sit on the basement stairs and just watch him paint. He did great work, but also he was a great person. There wasn't anything bad about him. He never talked bad about anybody.
“He was just all good.”
June 2, 2008
plate 1. George Kieffer painting a mural at Burge Hospital (now Cox Hospital) in Springfield, Missouri. [Photo courtesy of Tony Jones & Sharon Bartlett, Keiffer’s grandchildren.
Kieffer is remembered as one of the greatest Ozark artists of the 20th century.
plate 3. The Fire in the Hole mural, Silver Dollar City, April 13, 2008.