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Kendall Hart: ‘Mything’ in action

Kendall Hart’s neighbors know that he’s been making weird creatures in his garage for months now, but they’re OK with that — really.

That’s because the 42-year-old Farmington artist has been working day and night in preparation for a one-man exhibit of his life-sized mythological creatures that runs through Oct. 22 at Powell Gardens, a private, not-for-profit botanical garden located just east of Kansas City, Missouri.

On the Tuesday prior to the exhibit’s start over the Memorial Day weekend, Hart and several friends were performing last-minute work on some of the creatures, while most of the figures were already loaded on a U-Haul truck sitting in the driveway of his home.

While Hart looks at least a decade younger than his actual age, he admits that after another project like this one, that will probably no longer be the case.

“We’ve spent the last six months building what I had hoped to build in two years,” he said. “It’s been 90-hour weeks since the day after Thanksgiving. I’ve made 16 creatures in total — from little one-foot fairies to a 45-foot dragon. I would love to spend two to three months on anyone of them the size of the Minotaur, but I had to do everything in six months.”

Oh, and about that 45-foot-long dragon — it was still under construction that day in Hart’s garage as the hours were dwindling to a precious few.

“We’ve still got to put all the skin on today, base paint him and get him on that trailer by something like 10 p.m.,” he said.

The exhibit, expected to bring in 120,000 people over its six-month run, includes Goblin of Germany, Troll of Scandinavia, Kappa of Japan, Fairies of Europe, Bigfoot of the United States, Leprechaun of Ireland, Unicorn of Europe, Gargoyle of France, Minotaur of Greece and Dragon of Europe.

“Inside each one is a steel armature, or skeleton, made out of steel stock,” Hart said. “Then we cover them in various types of foam. Then we carve the foam down and hard shell it with Bondo or fiberglass. Then over that goes a final layer of epoxy clay. Then we paint them with exterior house paint so they’re ready for outdoor display. Even the clothing is actually fiberglass. My wife, Joanna, does the costumes.”

While the process of building each creature in the exhibit took great skill and precision — Hart points out that it all started with an idea.

“There’s a piece of notebook paper where I scribbled down the idea and explained it to my wife,” he said. “It went from this one piece of notebook paper to all these creatures.”

So, who is Kendall Hart and how did he come to rate a one-man exhibit of mythological beauties and beasts at a Kansas City-area botanical garden?

The Illinois native said, “I’ve always been into science fiction, fantasy, monsters, that kind of stuff — and I’ve always been an artist,” he said. “I had been at a desk job for 10 years and decided I was going to leave all that behind and be an artist. Then I moved to Missouri around that same time. I had to get work somewhere, so I found work building life-sized creatures for the [haunted attraction] industry in St. Louis.

“Then I moved down to the Potosi area. I didn’t know anyone, so I did a search for ‘artists – St. Louis’ or ‘artists – Missouri’ and Guy Darrough’s name popped up. He lives outside of Potosi and has a studio of life-sized dinosaurs called Lost World Studios.

“I started working for him, and while installing his life-sized dinosaur show in the Botanical Gardens, I thought, ‘Man, these places are beautiful and would be perfect for mythological creatures. So, that gave me the idea for this show several years ago and we finally got booked just last November.”

Hart admits his work has drawn the attention of neighbors who are curious about what’s going on in his garage.

“While we’ve been building this for the last six months, we’ve had five to 10 people a day stopping by asking about it,” he said. “I’ve told them, when I get a chance, I’m going to tell the newspaper so they can explain to everybody what’s being built over here.”

Hart credits family and friends for helping him complete his monumental project on time.

“I want to thank my wife, Joanna, Jim Harris, Linda Boyer, David Boyer, Christian Flottmann, Shane Flottmann, Shane Foulkes, Ben Foulkes, Youen, Mandy and Killian Ropers, Evan and Leah Lamb, Joshua Litton, Guy and Doris Darrough and the Lyons family. They’ve all been such a big help.”

Helping Hart on moving day were two of those friends — Shane Foulkes and his son, Ben — who were in the artist’s front yard preparing a creature for its almost 300-mile road trip to Powell Gardens.

“He’s got a great idea, I think, for a very unique show that nobody else has,” said the elder Foulkes. “Once it gets out there and gets in the public’s attention it will really be something people are going to remember.”

While Hart appreciates Foulkes’ kind words, he doesn’t necessarily think that he’s more artistically gifted than any other person might be.

“We’re all artists when we’re born — artists when we’re kids — I just never gave up on that and kept working on that skill,” Hart said. “As you become an adult you realize it’s a skillset and you work at it. I don’t know about it being a ‘born talent.’ I think it’s more that you choose to develop it.”

After serving as Powell Gardens’ sole summer exhibit this year, Hart — the father of a 6-month-old and three stepchildren — said his creatures will have other venues in which to amaze and astound children of all ages.

“Then we’ll book it somewhere else — lease it to some other botanical garden next year,” he said. “I had worked a bunch of other jobs I didn’t like — 10 years in a grocery store, 10 years in graphic design — and I’m like, ‘I’ve got to do something cooler.’ You don’t think that you can give yourself your own job. You can make your own dream job and give it to yourself.”

For more information about Hart’s Gardens of Myth exhibit, go to https://powellgardens.org/events-exhibits/exhibits/

“We’re all artists when we’re born — artists when we’re kids — I just never gave up on that and kept working on that skill.” — Kendall Hart, artist

Farmington artist Kendall Hart poses with one of 16 mythological creatures he built in his garage that are now on display at a one-man exhibit being held through Oct. 22 at Powell Gardens, a private not-for-profit botanical garden located east of Kansas City, Missouri.

Farmington artist Kendall Hart poses with one of 16 mythological creatures he built in his garage that are now on display at a one-man exhibit being held through Oct. 22 at Powell Gardens, a private not-for-profit botanical garden located east of Kansas City, Missouri.

On the Tuesday before Memorial Day weekend, Hart — with the help of several friends — began loading his collection of mythological creatures on the U-Haul truck he rented to transport them all on the nearly 300-mile trip to Kansas City.

On the Tuesday before Memorial Day weekend, Hart — with the help of several friends — began loading his collection of mythological creatures on the U-Haul truck he rented to transport them all on the nearly 300-mile trip to Kansas City.

The hours of work and precise detail Hart has put into each piece appearing in the exhibit, like this Minotaur, is obvious. In Greek mythology, the Minotaur was a creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man.

The hours of work and precise detail Hart has put into each piece appearing in the exhibit, like this Minotaur, is obvious. In Greek mythology, the Minotaur was a creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man.

Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

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