Prairie Museum
of Art and History
Colby, Kansas

May 10, 2001

Another place we visited while staying in Oakley, Kansas, was the Prairie Museum of Art and History in nearby Colby, Kansas. The museum is different in that it presents Kansas prairie life using several venues. There is the Pyramid, as it is called due to its shape, and there is the Prairie Living Site. The Prairie Living Site consists of several buildings. There is the Eller House which depicts a typical 1930's farm house. Surrounding the house they have a large homestead garden that features many heirloom, or open pollinated garden plants that would have been grown to feed the pioneer family and livestock. A major part of the exhibit is the Cooper Barn, a barn listed as "the largest barn in Kansas". It sure looked like it to me. This barn measures 66 feet wide, 114 feet long and 48 feet high. There were a number of old farm implements displayed inside as well as several cars. Down from the barn was the Nicol School. It symbolizes the one-room country school houses that were used to educate the many children living on the prairie. Next we saw a sod home. The sod home was there to show the ingenuity of the homesteaders in the late 19th century. This particular sod house was constructed by volunteers in 1984. Also shown was the Lone Star Presbyterian Church which was a vital part of the lives of the people living on the prairie. There were also farm animals in the livestock pen next to the Vacin Barn (near the house). What was really neat is that everything was open and you were allowed to wander anywhere you wanted. After our tour of the outside we wandered into the strange looking Pyramid Museum. We found out that the Museum is distinguished as one of the finest museums in the Midwest. The story behind the Museum started when Joseph Kuska came to Colby in 1913. He eventually met and married Nellie McVey in 1917, who was a teacher in the local schools. Both became avid collectors of a number of things over the years. In 1957, Joe and Nellie, moved to California to be near their three sons and their families. Since they were such avid collectors and had so many things, they opened a museum near their home in Lomita, California. They continued to add to the collection and operated the museum until Nellie's death in 1973. In 1975 the Kuska Foundation donated their collection to the people of Thomas county. The collection took more than three moving van to move the seventeen tons of artifacts to Colby. That's right! I said 17 tons. I can't imagine that those folk every threw away anything in their lifetime. I was impressed. The Smithsonian appraised the collection at the time, at a value of more than one million dollars. Included in their collection were glass, furniture, ceramics, toys, dolls, stamps, clocks, coins, quilts, silver, jewelry, and rugs. In addition to all the collections we further learned that the Pyramid building itself was designed by their son George Kuska. It is a 21,500 square foot pyramid faced in blue. An earth berm, planted with native buffalo grass, encircles the building to blend with the surrounding prairie. The collection wasn't actually moved into this building until Mary 24, 1988, when the building was completed and dedicated. Also, in the museum is a Gallery which highlights some famous entertainers that came from the Colby area. The museum's inventory numbers 28,000 pieces from the Kuska collection plus an additional 10,000 local history artifacts. At the present time only approximately five percent of these holdings are on exhibit. The gallery space is gradually being expanded to include all the items. As the gallery is rearranged, the old cases are currently filled with an array of pieces which represent the breadth of the collection. Because the Kuska Collection came with little documentation, a great deal of research is required to develop the exhibition of a greater number of artifacts. There is a gallery of 16th century Meissen, Europe's first and most important hard paste porcelain factory. Some famous doll makers represented in the collection include Jumeau, Ravca, Marseille, Clears and Schoenhut, Lenci, and Mattel. There are china, bisque, composition, parian, paper, and wooden dolls. One of the prized dolls on exhibit is a rare French doll signed, "Rocharde." This doll has a necklace, that when viewed closely, show magnified pictures of famous paintings in the "beads." Another doll is a rare mechanical French Juneau called "The Sorceress." The beautiful bisque doll turns her head and waves her wand as three small dolls take turns appearing. At the end of the game, the little girl blows a kiss. A French tune plays during the shell game. The dolls called "All Nations Figurines," were commissioned by the Roosevelt's WPA program in the 1930's. Also on display is a permanent exhibit of wedding dresses entitled, Something Borrowed, Something Blue: Wedding Traditions. The dresses are machine made and span a period of time from the late 1800s to the 1980s. The Home Sweet Home exhibit showcases a variety of furniture styles from provincial to vernacular. A new exhibit area, Glorious Glass, was opened in October 1998 to display nearly 1,000 pieces of cut, pressed, molded and blown glass. The impressive variety of glass includes examples of exquisite art glass of Galle, Burmese, Peachblow, Rubina, Quilted Mother of Pearl, Satin Glass, tortoise-shell, vaseline and Millefiori. Makers include Steigel, Sandwich, Steuben and Tiffany.
As I wandered from room to room I just kept wondering how anyone could collect this many things in their lifetime. Just the time to buy each one of these would take time. I was very impressed and more than a little surprised to find a museum like this on the plains of Kansas. If you find yourself traveling across Kansas on I-70 by all means take the time to stop by Colby and take a look at their Prairie Museum. If you'd like to have a preview drop by their website at:

Good Luck! Have Fun! and Stay Safe!