August 14, 1909
If the nude is art, then, in the immortal words of Alderman Miles Bulger, art will be "on the bum" in Kansas City on and after Monday, August 16. Mark the date on the calendar.
Judge Ralph S. Latshaw administered this latest jolt to the "nude" in art yesterday afternoon in the criminal court. Incidentally, he said in no uncertain words that the nude is not art.
Photographers and art schools, who make a practice of reproducing likeness of the human form as it appears without the constraint of clothing will have to get out the fig leaves or something that will be even less translucent than the Adam ready to wear clothes.
The ruling on art in general and nude art in particular came in the case of Leon Vickers, a photographer who had a studio in the Sterling building. He advertised for girls to pose at 50 cents an hour. Then he informed some of the applicants that they would have to pose in the nude altogether and made advances toward two girls.
Vickers was tried in the municipal court, where a fine of $100 was imposed. He appealed to the criminal court, where the fine was raised to $500.
"Photographers all over the city make a practice of posing nude subjects," said the attorney for Vickers.
"If they do," said Judge Latshaw, "they will soon be on the inside of the jail bars, looking out."
"But they pose nude subjects and make sketches from the nude at the Fine Arts institute," suggested Daniel Howell, assistant city attorney, who conducted the prosecution.
"They will not do so after Monday," remarked the court, decisively. "The legislature has enacted a law, effective Monday, which covers just such cases. I am sorry, Vickers, that I cannot send you to the penitentiary. There ought to be a law under which I could do so."
However, the fine of $500 imposed on Vickers is equivalent to the maximum imprisonment fixed in the new statute. The photographer will have to go to the workhouse for a year. The new law makes the maximum imprisonment one year and the maximum fine $1,000 and provides that both may be imposed.
A further section of the new law forbids the circulation of any obscene pictures or literature. If rigidly enforced, it will have a considerable bearing on the trade in suggestive postcards, which has grown to abnormal proportions in the past few years.