ROXBURY — In the early 1900s, students from the farms near Roxbury walked uphill to be taught at Olive Springs School. Built in 1885, Olive Springs School is the oldest schoolhouse that is still on its original foundation in McPherson County, but framed paintings and drawings created by artist Maleta Forsberg now hang where blackboards used to be.
Using pencil, acrylics, oils and watercolors, Forsberg creates scenes from what she sees around her — the buildings, roads, animals and trees in her own backyard.
Last used as a school in 1946, Olive Springs School was later used to hold farm tools and cattle. Forsberg and her husband bought the property in 1972.
"The farmer who we bought it from, he was getting ready to let the mail carrier tear it down for lumber," Forsberg said. "If we'd been a couple of months later, it would have been gone."
They were interested in restoring the school, as family members had attended Olive Springs as students and also taught there.
"We lived in Wichita, but my husband was raised just south of Roxbury," Forsberg explained.
Wanting to move to a rural setting, they found the 120-acre Olive Springs Farm offered not only a natural spring, and room to raise animals, but a good view of the trees and fields in the valley below.
"Being an artist, it had a wonderful attraction to me," Forsberg said.
It took several years to complete the restoration of Olive Springs School. Rough cedar planks now line the walls of the school and a colorful carpet covers the floor. The original wainscoting is still in place — and painted by Forsberg with Swedish designs. The traditional colors of red, yellow, blue and white can even be seen on the ceiling's inset tin tiles.
The gallery is decorated with school memorabilia that was passed down to Forsberg — pictures of classes from the early 1900s, teaching certificates, diplomas, graduation programs and even a school record books with notes on how much was spent on supplies and salaries. Toys, tools and housewares of the era line the walls above her artwork, and a repainted piano is placed on one side of the stage where the teacher's desk used to sit.
Each winter, Forsberg hosts an open house at her gallery — and she noted the 2018 event will be the 40th year she will welcome guests coming in through the schoolhouse doors.
Two of Forsberg's paintings — "Pioneer Sandstone" and "Kansas Energy" will be featured as part of “Kansas Through the Eyes of an Artist,” a juried exhibit opening Jan. 13 at Carriage Factory Art Gallery in Newton.
Forsberg is also a featured artist at The Courtyard Gallery in Lindsborg — a building she and her husband converted from an old movie theater.
For more information about Forsberg’s artwork and the Olive Springs school, visit http://maletaforsberg.com or call 785-254-7833.
Contact Patricia Middleton by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.