The old and long-closed bank building in Matfield Green, KS now enjoys a surprising new life, as “The Bank Art Space”.

Not a location to deposit or withdraw money, but an inviting place where locals, travelers and visitors meet and the coffee is always hot and fresh, where contemporary art is on display.

The Bank Art Space is open spring, summer and fall every Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 – 5:00. And by appointment on other days, mobile 816-729-9208 or 316-217-3319.

The Bank Art Space is also an information center for people who want to see the Flint Hills not just from the highway–people who really want to discover and experience the tallgrass prairie up close in Chase County. Brochures are available describing auto tours and walks in the Matfield Green area of southern Chase County, and in the northern part of the county with Cottonwood Falls as the departure point. Good advice from locals is available.

Inside The Bank Art Space, the round table is an invitation to sit down, enjoy, and exchange views. On one of the high walls, portrait photos of Matfield Green residents shot by nationally famous photographer Terry Evans in the early 1990s hang on permanent display.

The rotating art on display is by selected artists who recently graduated from art schools in Kansas and the surrounding states, in the series “The Young Ones.”

The Bank Art Space, an initiative of the Center for Living Education in Matfield Green, is open to the public Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed during winter months.

Grid of 64 pictures of Matfield Green residents in 1993-1994 by Terry Evans

The Logo and Red Bench

Why a red bench in front of The Bank Art Space?  It’s a tribute to the building’s past.

The first moneylenders in Venice, Italy, in the late 15th century did their business in front of what became known as the “Banco Rosso,” sitting behind their table on, yes, a banco rosso = a red bench.

After 1509, money-handling institutions appeared all over Europe. In Holland and Belgium they called them: de bank (the bench); in Germany and Austria: die Bank; in France: la banque; and in Spain: el banco. The English-speaking world  adopted the now internationally accepted term: the bank.

The bank in Matfield Green had a short history. The old building stood empty for more than 50 years. In 2013, the town’s Center for Living Education took up the task to restore and revitalize what was still known as “The Bank.” This red bench is to linger and to muse about old times.

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The eye looking at you from the letter “A” in The Bank’s logo is the eye of Salmon P. Chase, after whom Chase County was named. He was a U.S. senator, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury under President Abraham Lincoln, and sixth chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. His picture graces the nation’s $ 10,000 bill. Another picture of him graces every page of this website. The logo of The Bank Art Space was designed by Mizja Haak of The Hague, the Netherlands, as a donation to the Center for Living Education.

The Center for Living Education

The Center for Living Education (CLE), a 501(c)(3) organization headquartered in Matfield Green, plays a key role in this effort to maintain and magnify Matfield Green’s vibrant community life. The CLE finds its goal in the culture of place making: creating a sustainable human habitat of quality, and strengthening the web of interrelationships between neighbors of different backgrounds who understand their mutual dependency. If the qualities of life in Matfield Green can continue to be improved, then a place will be (re)created worth caring about — a place where the value of the common good truly belongs, and where its people honor this by competently caring for their own work, their offspring, their homes, and each other.

A community is a local economy first. The two are one and the same; without one, the other cannot exist. The CLE intends to stimulate and help establish an infrastructure that encourages a new place-based economy in addition to cattle ranching, resulting in new economic opportunities for town inhabitants and attracting enterprising newcomers.

A community is also a commodity, which consists of everything the community has to offer to visitors, including its history, points of interest, services, and culture. The CLE intends to create, often in collaboration with The Gallery at Pioneer Bluffs, events that attract visitors to Matfield Green and to the surrounding “working landscape” — visitors who in different ways will support the local economy.

The tallgrass prairie is increasingly an “ecotourist” attraction, and there also appears to be a growing interest in the rural lifestyle. Through its efforts, the CLE hopes to reach out to a larger, younger public and encourage them to visit Matfield Green and the prairie often. The CLE hopes these efforts will ultimately stimulate younger generations to choose Matfield Green as an attractive place not just to resettle, but also to work with the valuable inheritance the “old timers” will leave them: the culture of place making; the lasting desire to shape and beautify the town; the enthusiastic acceptance of a role in a community with strong ties; and the intent, capability, and endurance to create a place-based economy.

By accepting this inheritance, younger generations will preserve and sustain the health of this small town and help guarantee it will remain vibrant and “on the map” into the distant future.

Important initiatives

Renovation of The Bank was the first of a new series of initiatives that the Center for Living Education decided to undertake in Matfield Green. For many years, The Bank has been sitting quietly along Highway 177 on what officially is Reed Street. The building’s owners, Charles and Marilyn Wooster from Topeka, bought it at the same time they acquired the old country store next door, which they restored as a home while keeping the old cabin –the first building in Matfield Green, from 1857— intact. The cabin’s log walls are still visible on the inside of the house, where the Woosters spend as much time as they can. This “Frontier Store House” may be rented for weekends or vacations.

The Woosters graciously gave the CLE permission to use the bank building for 10 years, free of rent, if the CLE would renovate the building and use it for purposes serving the community. They also donated  money to help with the renovation, poured a new sidewalk, and graded the lot.

Now The Bank is renovated, the CLE plans to organize all kind of events for the community and to attract visitors to Matfield Green. Stay tuned!

Matfield Green

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Matfield Green, located on the Flint Hills National Scenic Byway (Kansas Highway 177), may have only 50 residents, but is unique among communities in Chase County and elsewhere in rural Kansas.

The situation in Chase County mirrors that of most rural Kansas counties. Even though many cities in Kansas saw some growth in the past 10 years, the State of Kansas as a whole lost more than 10% of its population during that time. As the populations of many small towns dwindled, homes were boarded up or began falling to ruin, and businesses closed.

Most of Chase County’s old settler towns have been almost deserted for several years; some are completely gone. Only Matfield Green and two other towns are still “alive” (the other two are county seat Cottonwood Falls, pop. 900, and Strong City, pop. 250). Of these three towns, however, surprisingly only tiny Matfield Green is a real growth community.

More than 17 new families and individuals have arrived in Matfield Green since the late 1990s, including eight within the past three years. The town has experienced modest growth even as many of its longtime inhabitants are reaching very old age.

A thumbnail history

Matfield Green had a good beginning in the 19th century, growing to include about 350 residents and many businesses. In its heyday, the town had a bank, a grocery store, a livery, a blacksmith shop, a mill, a hotel, a hardware store, a lumberyard, and, eventually, two filling stations. It also had its own schools.

The oil and gas industry and cattle ranching were the dominant economic factors fueling Matfield Green’s growth. Nearby oil and gas fields brought many workers and their families to live in and around the town. While cattle ranching didn’t bring large numbers of people, it created a “working landscape” with qualities to be valued, including not only its physical geography but also the impact it has left over time on the community. Ranching remains the area’s chief economic factor today.

After its promising start, the town lost many inhabitants and most of its businesses after World War II, including the businesses related to the oil and gas industry.

Matfield Green experienced a short revival in the late 1990s, thanks to the arrival of newcomers inspired by The Land Institute of Salina, KS. The institute bought and repaired several Matfield Green houses and the grade school building and, for a few years, held educational conferences in the school. Eventually, however, The Land Institute pulled out of Matfield Green to focus on its perennial agriculture experiments in Salina.

A second revival started in 2006 and is continuing, aided by the establishment of the Pioneer Bluffs Foundation and subsequent restoration and opening to the public of the historic Pioneer Bluffs ranch headquarters near Matfield Green. The two-story ranch home now houses a contemporary art gallery and exhibition show space as well as the foundation’s headquarters. Matfield Green’s current revival also has been fostered by a new generation of newcomers arriving from as far away as Kansas City, Chicago, Salina, New Mexico, and the Netherlands. Seven private homes are available for weekend or vacation rental; they attract more and more visitors from afar for longer periods.

The longtime townspeople and ranchers as well as some of the newcomers are, with a few exceptions, an older population. Most of them, though, are still actively participating in the quite vibrant community life. Together, the present townspeople intend to create a solid base for the town’s continuation as a lively community.