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Legacies in Public Spaces

Carthage’s artists have left legacies in stone, bronze, canvas, and other mediums across the area and the nation. Two of the most prolific in their time were Bob Tommey, who died at age 92 in 2020, and Bill
Snow, who died in 2016 at the age of 77. Tommey and Snow left legacies as art teachers to hundreds of aspiring artists throughout their

“Many artists would not be where they are today if it weren’t for Bob Tommey,” said Sandy Higgins, who worked with both artists on the Midwest Gathering of the Artists for decades. “He was a wonderful friend and a wonderful inspiration to all artists. He helped me found artCentral and taught so many young people to be artists at that old building on Central Avenue.”

“He’s been generous sharing his talents and his time and energy,” said Robin Putnam, a Carthage artist who considered Bill Snow a mentor. “He would show you how to use the tools, then let you stretch your imagination. He might go by and whisper in your ear, ‘I wouldn’t do that.’”

They also left legacies in their works throughout the area. Sometimes Snow and Tommey worked together, as they did in 1988 to produce the larger-than-life sculpture of Naturalist and Carthage Native Marlin Perkins, which has stood for more than three decades in Carthage’s Central Park. Perkins was a pioneer in producing nature and wildlife shows on television, serving as host of the long-running show Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, and he was born in Carthage in 1902. That same year, Snow produced a bust of Tommey that now sits in the Jasper County Courthouse in Carthage, complete with a toothpick sticking out of Tommey’s teeth.

One of Snow’s works even survived direct exposure to an EF-5 tornado. On the south side of the hill at Mercy Park in Joplin, the site of St. John’s Regional Medical Center before the Joplin Tornado of May 22, 2011, sits a 24-foot cross that once graced the entrance of that hospital. Higgins told the Joplin Globe when Snow died in 2017 that she was surprised at the sheer scale of Compassion, as Snow named the Cross when he first showed it to her. Compassion, which survived even as the hospital was devastated, is now a landmark in the park,
which honors the 161 people who died in that terrible storm.

The E.L Dale Memorial Garden, located just east of the Carthage Public Library, includes more works by Snow, including a bust of the late Carthage Press owner and publisher E.L. Dale and a statue of Alice from the Alice in Wonderland story.

At the Joplin Regional Stockyards on Interstate 44 southeast of Carthage, stands one of Snow’s largest works, a 10-ton, 20-foot-wide slab of Silverdale Limestone, bearing the head of a Texas Longhorn. It was moved from his workshop in Carthage to a pedestal outside the stockyards in July 1995.

Bob Tommey was best known for his paintings and drawings of scenes from the old west, but he dabbled in sculpture as well. His canvases featuring paintings of scenes from the American frontier are scattered across the country in private and public collections, but sculpture is what really grabbed his attention. Tommey talked about sculpting in a 2015 interview with The Carthage Press. “I always wanted to be a sculptor, but I had to paint so I could afford sculpting, so I did
everything, painting, teaching, and all that so I could do sculpting,” Tommey said. “I was sculpting on the side, but I never could make it a full-time thing. I didn’t know how to sell it or how to make money at it. I couldn’t understand how these guys who are just sculptors had a big
table full of sculpting and they were selling it. I’d rather sculpt than paint anyway, it’s more fulfilling. I guess you’d call it the fourth dimension, it’s three-dimensional and I get amazed at the engineering that I have to do to make it work.”

Aside from the Perkins sculpture in Central Park, one of Tommey’s most visible works is seen by thousands of Carthage students as they come and go to work every day. The painted bronze Tiger, presented to CHS in 2010, has become a backdrop for many a selfie or portrait over the years. Sandy Higgins, who helped raise funds for the Tiger, was ecstatic at the time of its installation on a pedestal in front of the new high school on River Street. “It’s beautiful,” Higgins said. “It’s the happiest day I’ve had in two years. I’ve had some personal
tragedies at home and this has just made my day. It’s wonderful for Bob and it’s great to see it here.”

Famed Artist Bob Tommey has spent hours touching up the painted coat of the bronze tiger since it arrived from the foundry a few weeks ago. Tommey said he decided to paint the sculpture because he wanted it to look different from any other bronze anywhere. John Hacker / Carthage Press