Look for these hidden symbols on River Market’s Lewis and Clark mural

High on a boom lift in the heat of the summer, a Kansas City artist is touching up one of his old murals. José Faus has been repainting portions of the Lewis and Clark mural in Kansas City’s River Market neighborhood since early July. Faus was one of three artists commissioned to create the mural for the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 2004. It stands more than a hundred feet high and about fifty feet wide, occupying the side of River Market Antiques.

In 2020, tuckpointing repairs to the building erased portions of the painting. So Faus was asked to touch it up fifteen years after painting it with fellow artists Jesus Ortiz and Alisha Gambino.

Faus said he’s enjoying restoring the mural and reminiscing about his experience painting it—but the mural represents a “problematic history,” Faus says. “We were very aware of that when we did the mural,” Faus says, “so there’s some sly things that we put into it.” The painting depicts a general scene of the explorers along the Missouri River, but it’s not meant to be located in Kansas City. Sacagawea, who is pictured in the painting, did not join the expedition until the travelers reached present-day North Dakota.

Here are four small details to note in the mural, which hint at the artist’s view of the expedition.

  1. On the right-hand side are William Clark and Merriweather Lewis, standing above Sacagawea, Sacagawea’s son and York, Clark’s slave. The latter are positioned below Lewis and Clark as a symbol of their second class status, Faus said. They even sit on the same level as Seaman, the dog who accompanied the group on their expedition.
  2. In the center of the mural, people involved in the expedition are seen taking items from the land and loading up their ship. Faus described this as foreshadowing. “Eventually there was going to be a lot more taking,” he said.
  3. On the left-hand side of the painting, Toussaint Charbonneau, Sacagawea’s husband, is seen walking toward the group carrying a turkey and a rifle. Faus said the turkey represents the first Thanksgiving and how, if not for the hospitality of the natives, the colonists might not have fared as well.
  4. At right, overlooking the scene, Clark’s thumbs-up pose glorifies the actions occurring and the future bounty to be taken.

Social Media

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to our newsletters

Kansas City magazine keeps readers updated on the latest news in twice-weekly newsletter. 

On Tuesdays, Dish brings you food news and our critic picks. 

On Thursdays, The Loop offers exclusive news reports and our curated events picks.