History museum

Add Your Own Art to the Gallery at the Missouri History Museum’s New Architecture Exhibit

After just one evening of visitors to the STL coloring gallery of the Missouri History Museum, the black-and-white outlines of notable St. Louis buildings and house styles are already starting to look more colorful. The Fox Theater marquee features technicolor lettering and personal touches – a house number on the two-family apartment, “Born here in 1973” scrawled near the Homer G. Phillips Hospital, a pink Christmas tree in a gingerbread house window – slowly appear around the space.

This is just the beginning of a transformation that will continue throughout STL coloring, which opens August 20 and runs through spring 2024. Visitors are invited to use 16 shades of dry-erase markers (just about everything but yellow and black) to fill dozens of coloring pages the size a wall presenting the current and former monuments of Saint-Louis.

As they do, public historian and content manager for STL coloring Andrew Wanko hopes they will be inspired not only to share their artistic visions, but also their memories and experiences with the buildings and house styles on the gallery walls.

“We want this exhibition to bring people together in a new and fun way that we hope will lead them to have conversations with each other,” he says. “As people color these buildings with family and friends, they’ll start talking about the buildings they love in the city, or parents will tell their kids about the house they grew up in. We’re trying to spark those conversations and deepen community connections through something that, on the surface, is a lot of fun and whimsical.”

Thirty local buildings and landmarks and 21 examples of local house styles line the walls, telling the story of the town and why it looks – or once looked – the way it does. Local illustrator Rori! spent around 14 months sketching the outlines, capturing the intricate details that make these buildings so special. For some, like Union Station, there were plenty of images she could draw inspiration from. For others, like Tony Faust’s Oyster House, the artist had to extrapolate. Although the Broadway and Elm fine dining establishment was once St. Louis’ most famous restaurant, the museum was only able to find two images of the building for Rori! work from.

“We gave him as many historical and current images as we could find,” says Wanko. “She was very creative in coming up with some of these perspectives that she had to mentally construct…she kind of worked using her talents as an illustrator.”

In addition to the many buildings waiting to be colored on the walls, STL coloring also features a theater showing landscapes and cityscapes of the past and stations full of architectural artifacts. One area features stained glass and answers the often asked question of why so many homes in St. Louis feature stained glass. A corner invites visitors to touch different types of bricks to better understand their origins, their manufacture and their uses. The original plans for the Gateway Arch are displayed on a wall next to some of the competition entries he beat, including an option inspired by the moon landing. A set of filing cabinets reveal architectural drawings of buildings that are and might have been, their lines raised so the intricate sketches can be felt, as well as seen.

“It’s architecture in the broadest sense,” says Wanko. “It’s not just the finished structures. It’s also very small pieces of buildings, the way architects think and design – we kind of cover a little bit of everything. We wanted a very mixed approach so that there has something for everyone. If you’re looking for the more traditional “artifact in a display case” presentation, we certainly have it. But also, if you want to doodle as wildly as possible on the walls, this is something you very rarely done in a history museum.”

Coloring STL opens August 20 at the Missouri History Museum. Free entry. Find a schedule of opening weekend events at mohistory.org.