HANNIBAL | The Twain Museum: Hannibal House on Summer Street walls feature new glimpses into Mark Twain's life after the home's owner, Paul Krewson, commissioned Columbia artist JD King to use his artistic skills to create original works of art.
Krewson's lifelong love of Mark Twain and Hannibal is reflected in the collection of more than 1,000 artifacts, photos, collectibles, books and works of art throughout the home. In November, he commissioned King to create a pen and ink portrait of Twain, and the two Twain aficionados have been discussing future artwork for the museum and bed and breakfast. Recently, King completed an oil on canvas painting Krewson said holds a special place in his collection.
“This oil painting (King) did, I have it on the wallpaper on my iPhone,” Krewson said, pointing out his desire to include more original artwork to accompany the reproductions in the collection.
Krewson commissioned the lifelong artist to create original artwork of Mark Twain, and they instantly bonded over a shared connection with the famous author's legacy. Krewson sent a handful of images of Twain to King, and they both agreed on the same one for the oil painting.
“He's the most talented artist I've ever met,” Krewson said. “This is the best image I've ever seen of Twain — I've seen a few hundred images.”
King has been painting and drawing since he was six, and he has been devoting more time to his latest projects featuring Twain after he retired from a long-time job as a security guard at the Mid-Missouri Mental Health Center. He's been all over the world, but he said the Show-Me State is special.
“My home is in Missouri, that's where I understand people,” King said, adding with a chuckle, “I think it's important to put bacon grease in your green beans, now a lot of people across the country don't feel that way.”
King said a unique feeling swept over him as he created the pen and ink portrait and the oil and canvas painting.
“I felt like the spirit of Samuel Clemens was kind of watching over me, and he was like 'you know what? I like you son.' And I felt the same way about him,” King said.
King and Krewson acknowledged Twain dealt with personal tragedies and depression later in his life, but he always used humor as a tool to spread joy and counteract negative feelings. King decided he would make sure that he “put a twinkle in Twain's eye” and the hint of a smile beneath his mustache.
“I think that that guy was really, really cool. I think he would have been a lot of fun to know,” King said. “And he reminds me of my grandfather, my uncles and the people who came before me.”
Krewson saved a photo of the painting as the wallpaper on his iPhone, and he said it was special to see King create the painting from the beginning. Krewson admired the painting, turning to look at a deck of cards featuring the same picture that inspired the new work of art. He noticed that each collectible or portrait depicted a “stern face.”
“Then I looked at the oil painting, and I'm like 'this guy looks happy,'” Krewson said. “Then I called JD, and I said you created a happy Twain. This is incredible.”
Krewson said Twain used humor as a “personal weapon” against depression and difficult times, sharing his famous quote “nothing can ever stand the assault of laughter.”
King and Krewson both shared their excitement for the project to honor the legacy of Twain as a writer, statesman and humorist. King said Twain's literature helped him learn about the struggles Americans faced after the Civil War and at the dawn of the 20th century.
“I think (Twain) was way,way ahead of his time, I think he was a visionary,” King said. “I not only see him as a Missourian hero, but also as a true American hero. I think he was a man of letters, he was a statesman, he was a beautiful person.”
Krewson and King are enjoying the opportunity to do what Krewson called “simmering” — discussing potential ideas for future works of art dedicated to Mark Twain that will be surprise additions to the collection.
“There will be some more beautiful pieces of art coming to the museum,” Krewson said.