The Robertson Apartments

Robertson Postcard    

In her glory days, the Robertson Apartments were state-of-the-art dwellings, where Joplin’s more prestigious residents had access to such amenities as a direct telephone system, a safe (which remains intact in the lobby), gas stoves and the day’s finest boiler heating system. Individual apartments keep the original layout, including built-ins, such as Murphy beds and dressers, as well as a full-bath, a small dressing room and a small kitchen. Those residing just behind the building’s facade also have elegant French doors that open onto private balconies. Or so they did. Presently, the Robertson is a hodgepodge of quick “fixes” and broken windows. She sits wide-open and empty, save for the trash strewn about her corridors and rooms.

A few weeks ago, a couple of friends and I decided to take a tour of the building. Visitors are warned as follows:


Upon entering, we discovered that it looks as though the building was suddenly abandoned. Left behind are belongings of all sorts: books, clothes, coolers, food, furniture, shoes, televisions and so on. At best, the apartments now look something like this:


Further exploration revealed that all of the door knobs have been taken off of the doors; the sinks and commodes are detached and dismantled; and appliances, such as refrigerators, stand with their doors open, some still containing food. Painted on one of the first-floor apartment doors is a warning to stay out or get shot. Heading West down the first floor’s main hall, we took note of a foul smell, presumably emanating from the cut-outs near the floor, which likely lead to the basement. We decided to venture neither downstairs nor upstairs.

Like many of Joplin’s historical buildings, the Robertson Apartments are falling into disrepair. This doesn’t have to be yet another sad story–the building is for sale. Only time will tell of her fate: disrepair/demolish or rescue/restore? No doubt Riley Robertson would lobby for the latter.

Riley Robertson 001


Cher’s Fairyland

Once upon a time…. Cher Jiang is an artist from China, where she grew up in the countryside. As such, she didn’t have many friends. “Art was something I could play with. So I made art,” said Cher. Indeed Cher and art have become very good friends over the years. In China, she is known as one of the most popular illustrators for children’s books and her technique is referred to as “Cher’s Style.” Here in Missouri, she’s becoming increasingly known for her imaginative drawings and paintings. Residing in Carthage, Missouri, Cher continues to publish illustrations in China, as well as for Precious Moments. She also makes custom illustrations. Last week, I had the opportunity to meet with Cher to discuss her art, some of which is currently on exhibit through June at the Post Memorial Art Reference Library.

My comments/questions are in bold,
whereas Cher’s are not.

You’ve been illustrating for over ten years. What did you do before you became an illustrator?
I was a computer video game designer. I designed characters and made 3-D models on the computer and painted it. I like illustration better. I wish to be an international illustrator.

I see that you like to take photos and recreate the scene using animals. Why do you illustrate the people as animals?
Animals make it more beautiful and happy. I like to use the cute, nice animals.

You’ve created Cher’s Fairyland. Why do you like the fairytale style?
I like fairytale style because I want people to be happy. I turn life into a fairytale.

Could you tell me about your creative process?
I make the drawings and scan them on the computer to add color. Computer drawing is very popular in China. I wanted my unique style. I always draw in pencil first.

Where do you draw?
Everywhere! I’m uncomfortable when I’m not drawing. My husband drives, I draw in the car. I draw at dinner, on vacations. Once it’s done, I move on to the next one. I enjoy the process, but when I’m done I’m thinking of new things I can draw.

How do you add the color to the illustrations?
I use Photoshop to add color.

Why do you prefer to add color on a computer?
I like to do it on the computer because the colors are more vivid. Sometimes when you scan a painting the colors do not turn out.

But you also paint. Could you tell me about the paintings in this exhibit?
These are mixed media of acrylic, oil and Chinese watercolor.

Your art often brings together Eastern and Western elements.
Yes, my characters are more Western looking because I like [the diversity of] Western style. But my technique is more Eastern. I have one of the Phelps House [a local historically significant home] with water lilies. The water lilies are very Chinese.

The Phelps House is but one of many local/historical structures in your art. What are some others?
Fantastic Caverns, Silver Dollar City, the Neosho Fish Hatchery, Red Oak II and the Carthage Courthouse.

Most of your illustrations are published in China as magazine covers. And you’ve illustrated a Chinese children’s book. Have you illustrated any books in English?
I have illustrated one, but it’s not published yet.

How is your art viewed in China compared to here? Are the same pieces popular?
I think it’s viewed about the same. The tree house is the most popular.

Which is your favorite piece?
My favorite always is my next one!

Why art?
It’s a way to show others how I see the world.




To see the world from Cher’s enchanted perspective or to learn more about her Art Services, visit Cher’s Fairyland at & like her on Facebook at

Miss Olivia Bendelari

Jopliners are no doubt familiar with the Olivia Apartments, which were built in 1906 by A.E. Bendelari. Bendelari named the apartments for his mother, Olivia. Pictured below, however, is not his mother, but his niece. Not only does Olivia-the-niece, like the apartments, share the matron of the family’s name, but she made quite a name for herself as a muralist.

Olivia Bendelari

Olivia Bendelari at the Smithsonian, 1939. (Courtesy of the Post Library.)

According to an article in the 1939 edition of The Joplin Globe, Miss Bendelari’s parents moved the family to Joplin when she was a small child. After attending Joplin’s schools, she moved to Europe, where she studied in Paris, Switzerland, Italy and Austria. Upon completing her studies, Olivia returned to Joplin, where she kept a studio in the Cunningham Building.

But in Joplin she did not stay. Lured east, Olivia took a studio in NYC’s Greenwich Village. She earned recognition by specializing in murals featuring aviation. (Note: she was a student pilot!) Olivia was believed to be the only woman artist specializing in aviation at the time. She was commissioned to paint “Civil Aviation” for the Museum of Science in Radio City, NY, and her work has also been displayed at the Smithsonian.



Greetings! from Joplin, Missouri

Recall days bygone when travelers documented their journeys and friends shared status updates via postcard. Imagine, if you will, that hundreds–perhaps thousands–of such cards were published to promote Joplin and its development. Imagine no more: the Joplin Public Library’s digitized collection features a touch over 500 such historical postcards. An array of subjects range from buildings to churches to eateries to lodging to mining to parks to recreation to schools and so on. Along with the postcards are their descriptions. Leslie Simpson, Director of the Post Memorial Art Reference Library, wrote the details that accompany each postcard included in the digitized collection. I recently met with Leslie to ask a few questions…

Jill’s questions/comments are in bold,
whereas Leslie’s are not.

How did you become involved in this project?
Carolyn Trout, who was the director of the Joplin Public Library at the time, wanted to do a digitization project. The postcard collection is a part of that project. It was a collaboration among the public library and the Post Library.

Who provided the postcards? Did you put out a call for postcards or seek collections that you knew existed?
We put out a newspaper notice inviting people to share their postcards. Brad Belk [of the Joplin Museum Complex] allowed us to go through the museum’s collection. Some were bought on Ebay. We also sought out people who had collections and asked to borrow them.

How many postcards did you all have to choose from?
We started with 1,000 and narrowed it down to a little over 500.

Your primary role was to write the postcards’ descriptions. How long did you conduct research and how so?
At least a year. I worked hard to specify the date of each image. Each postcard has a publisher’s code. I researched these codes to determine when they were in use and to date the cards. And I was able to date cards by the cost of postage at the time or by each card’s style and type.

When you were going through the postcards, which were the most interesting?
My favorites were the postcards with inscriptions, anything personal. One of the mining ones that I can remember had an arrow drawn to the mine with “This is how we make our money” written nearby.

What do you think it says about Joplin that such a plethora of postcards documents its development?
Well, Joplin WAS the most happening place in Missouri at the turn of the century! There was so much excitement about the fortunes to be made, not just in mining but in all the services to go along with that–dynamite companies, machinery works, hardware stores, grocery stores, etc. People came from all over the US to get in on the action. Postcards were also marketing tools–Joplin civic leaders could show off what Joplin had to offer. Theaters, churches, libraries, public buildings, etc.

Why do you think it’s important to preserve this collection for posterity?
There’s so much history there that’s not really in the history books. The parks, for instance. They were resort areas and amusement parks unlike anything we’ve ever seen. We get a glimpse into how people lived. The downtown scenes are fascinating snapshots into everyday life. We get to travel back in time!

Indeed we do:

Greetings from Joplin Missouri - Gateway to the Ozark Playgrounds





Inside Joplin’s Carnegie Library

In the early nineteen-hundreds, Jopliners appealed to the philanthropic sensibility of one Andrew Carnegie, who granted Joplin $40,000 to establish a public library. (You may read of the details of this endeavor on the Historic Joplin website: From the National Register of Historic Places’ 1977-79 inventory of Joplin’s Carnegie, I gather that its interior is quite impressive. Some features include the main entry’s original molded tin ceiling, oak flooring, doors, stairways and molded oak door frames, as well as a turned spindle balustrade which ascends from a columnar newel post, topped with carved, laurel garlands that rests beneath an egg and dart molding. The Library was arranged symmetrically around the central stairwell on all three levels.

Completed in 1902, the Carnegie’s original main level floor included the Librarian’s Desk, the stacks, a general reading area and a high school room. On the second floor were the Ladies’ Reading Room, the Fine Arts Room, a general reading room, an inactive storage room and the toilets. The basement housed the Men’s Reading Room, the stacks, a storage room and the boiler room. A 1916 addition brought a Children’s Library to the basement and offices and more room for the stacks on the main floor. The photographs following are likely from the early 1900s:

Librarians' Desk

Librarians’ Desk


By the mid 1960s, the library’s staff was advised to use the upper level for nothing more than a reading room, as structural specifications did not meet the requirements of a heavy book load. In addition to this problem, the heating and ventilating system needed upgrading, as did the plumbing and electrical systems. Thus the Joplin Public Library outgrew its Carnegie upbringing and sought relocation.

By 2001, the privately owned Carnegie’s Children’s Room, Librarians’ Desk and Reference Room appeared as follows, respectively:

Presently, Joplin’s Carnegie Library building sits on its corner at 9th Street and Wall Avenue, where its future remains unknown. Over the decades it’s undergone changes aplenty, most of which are not aligned with maintaining the building’s historical integrity, such as acoustic ceilings, paneling and partitions. Yet another saddening and maddening narrative of yet another building listed with the National Register of Historic Places (which is a story of intrigue in and of itself) that, apparently, is being allowed to deteriorate into disrepair.

Finally, a comparison: Librarians’ Desk, early 1900s / Librarians’ Desk, 2001:


Crystal Cave

Courtesy of the Post Library

Discovered in 1893, Joplin’s Crystal Cave was a popular destination for some time. Located 80 feet below the surface at 4th Street and Gray Avenue, it measures 225 feet in length and its cavern is completely bedazzled with giant crystals. Formally opened to the public in 1908, one could take in the wonder by purchasing a ticket and following a tour guide down a long flight of wooden stairs. Or perhaps one was lucky enough to be invited to a private party or attend an occasional dance. This “subterranean dance hall” fell out of step when local mining ceased, as it became full of groundwater. All access to the cave was sealed and so it remains.

Crystal Cave I 001

Pub. by F.W. Woolworth & Co.

Visit the Post Memorial Art Reference Library for more information on Crystal Cave, as well as Joplin’s other historical wonders.

Discussion: Images by Cody White

On his website (, Cody White describes himself as having “a job and a home and some loved ones.” Indeed he has. One might further describe Cody as having an inclination toward words and images. Moreover, one might say he’s talented at that. Indeed he is. …Years ago, Cody and I met via mutual college friends. I’ve since had the opportunity for close-ups of his creative endeavors, particularly his poetry and photography. Cody photographs sets that he builds from the ground-up:

In both Northpark Diary and Familiar Spirits, Cody cuts, outlines and sculpts white paper into particular dimensions (some of which are scaled life-sized). In A Day in the Woods, he builds sets with dimensional objects which he’s painted black. He then repaints the sets with light as he takes photographs. I recently visited Cody in his studio, where we discussed his photographic process.

(Jill’s comments/questions are in bold,
whereas Cody’s are not.)

One thing that’s important to me is to keep the content itself realistic. The style can indulge in fantasy and I think it does.
I do, too. And I think that your content is realistic.
Yeah, I really like that set-up, with the content being realistic and the style being the more indulgent.

May I start asking you questions?

How long has it been since you took a photograph and thought that it’s something you would like to put time and effort into?
I think that my first desire to do photography started with this project.
With Northpark Diary?
There were some pictures that I made before Northpark Diary when I first had the process in mind. I made them with just a little click-click camera that I had to go and get the film developed.
So when you first started you were doing stuff on film rather than digital?
Yeah. Digital versus film has never really been a particular concern for me. I’m not aesthetically disinclined toward digital. Somewhere along the line I got the idea to make these and that was the first time that I ever thought of photography as art for myself, about four or five years ago.

You have your photography grouped into three distinct galleries: Northpark Diary, Familiar Spirits and A Day in the Woods. Although each gallery features a unique theme, all photographs showcased are built from the ground-up. Why are you drawn to creating scenes rather than photographing those which already exist?
I want to have a high degree of control and of what the viewer sees, but not necessarily control the viewer’s reaction to or relationship with the photograph. The pictures that I produce look like the pictures I envision. Building them gives me the ability to create them as I see them. It would be harder to say why I look around my apartment, for example, and envision a scene that’s black and white and has this odd sense of depth to it. Something about the black and white does resonate with my imagination. Thinking about the black and white [scenes] was really the thing that launched the whole process for me. There’s a lot of things that I’ve thought about it since then, a lot of reasons why I think it’s powerful, but I didn’t think of the reasons and come up with the project.
Right, you just started doing it and the reasons happened organically.
Yeah, exactly. It’s important to me that I don’t control the viewer’s experience too much. What I would actually like to do is corral the experience to a degree, but leave them a certain jumping off point.

Whenever I look at Northpark Diary and Familiar Spirits, I sometimes feel that all of that white space is impersonal. Yet other times it feels inviting, as it plays with depth and encourages the viewer to sort of fill in the blanks. Initially, I was put-off by A Day in the Woods. Perhaps because those photographs seem more typical, as you’re photographing dimensional objects painted black rather than creating something dimensional out of something flat.
What I really want out of A Day in the Woods is not so much for the viewer to see that they’re objects painted black, but that I want them to be a uniform dark color so that I could repaint them with light. What I envision is something where these different forms are swallowed in the blackness and the blackness blends together. But from the color that I project with the lights, the viewer can see the edges and slivers of traces of the forms and these bits will seem to be glowing unto themselves. But honestly these images aren’t where I want them to be yet. There are some technical problems I need to solve on the photography end before these will look like how I see them. But I couldn’t resist putting them up, even though I shouldn’t.
When I think of a day in the woods, I think oh, a day in the woods, la, la, la, la, la… and your Day in the Woods is very dark, more like a scary night in the woods.
That sort of disorientation is a starting point for me. I want there to be the play between the different tones and the different ways of seeing the same objects. Because sometimes you have an ambiguous relationship to the things in the world.

That’s what I like about what you do. You focus on what makes up the big picture–the ambiguities, if you will–rather than THE big picture. It’s appealing: no particular beginning, middle or end. It’s not figured out just by looking at it. It’s something that exists which is a part of something else that existed and it’s fluid.
I think that I feel pretty strongly that if you try to give THE big picture it’s always going to fail and you’re always going to be lying. Reality is always more than can be encompassed. All you can really do is capture some of the complexity, some of the ambiguity and the mixed experience that you personally have with it. To be honest, I don’t have a feeling.
You have multiple feelings.
Yeah, shades of feeling that continually blend and wash amongst one another. It’s important to me to capture that flux.



Preview: Post Mail Art Projekt

Toward the end of twenty-thirteen, I became increasingly interested in mail art. After perusing a couple of books on the topic and concluding brief (albeit scientific) research via the Internet, I was taken. Taken not only by the intrigue of the pieces themselves, but by the potential for marrying art and accessibility, art and activism. That, along with the fun of creating and the flattery of receiving tangible correspondences, led to thoughts, ideas, conversations and collaborations, all of which led to the conception of the Post Mail Art Projekt. Initially, the project began as a Facebook group which encouraged members to correspond creatively via the postal service. As interest grew, the project evolved into a formal call for mail art. Following is a sampling of responses to the call:

via Portland

via Portland

via Roland Halbritter (Germany)

via Roland Halbritter (Germany)

Found (Joplin Public Library)

Found at the Joplin Public Library

via Stefano Fossiant Sini (Italy)

via Stefano Fossiant Sini (Italy)

via Leslie Simpson (Missouri)

via Leslie Simpson (Missouri)

via Robert Ridley-Shackleton (UK)

via Robert Ridley-Shackleton (UK)

Thus concludes the preview. Kindly save the date for the exhibit proper, which is throughout January 2015 in the Post Memorial Art Reference Library in Joplin, Missouri. A special thanks to Leslie, the director of the Post Library, and many thanks to all for your mailings. This is the type of project that is the brainchild of any and all involved, as each entry collected shifts and shapes the scenery. That said, I await your response to the call (through 1 December 2014) at Post Mail Art Project, Post Memorial Art Reference Library, 300 S Main Street, Joplin, MO, 64801. Good day…