If you live in Nebraska or have seen the ads, you know the state is celebrating a yearlong 150th birthday. If one goes to www.ne150.org one can see all the venues one can become a part of to help Nebraska celebrate this monumental anniversary – from volunteering, to getting more fit and even to expanding your artistic view of this great state by artists’ tribute in the ‘Nebraska By Heart’ project. This is a public art project much like the Chicago Cows and the Tour de Lincoln Bikes. Several years ago, prior to all rural schools closing, Cherry Co. had 18 rural schools paint fiberglass ‘Itty Bitty Bulls’, one of which was outside then state senator Deb Fisher’s office. Artists will celebrate Nebraska as America’s Heartland during this the state’s sesquicentennial year. Overall sponsors of this project are Lead Up (formerly Boys Hope Girls Hope) and the Sadie Dog Fund. The hearts are now on display in Lincoln, then taken to the Salt Dogs stadium for the October 6th auction. Proceeds from the heart sales will help fund the overall sponsors as well as individual sponsoring organizations. Beginning cost for each heart estimated at $3000.
A call went out last year to artists for submission of how they would paint a fiberglass heart on a base in the shape of Nebraska, overall height 6 foot, weight 100 pounds until mounted on concrete bases which will then weigh 500 pounds. “There were 224 proposals sent in, 83 were selected,” stated Roberta Barnes, art instructor for 23 years, 22 in the Stapleton school system, and this her first at Broken Bow school. Barnes lives with her husband Randy on private land surrounded by the Nebraska National Forest near Halsey. She is also a member of the Wild Rose Art Gallery (WRG) in Broken Bow and has her works in several other galleries in Nebraska, including the Burkholder Project gallery in the Haymarket district of Lincoln.
The proposals had to be submitted last fall. Selected artists received their hearts after the first of the year for her and the other two hearts she is part of with the deadline to finish May 1. Working with fellow WRG members, Tressa Haney, a ranchwife from Oconto and Paul Loomer, retired Broken Bow art instructor, they painted a heart titled ‘Solomon Butcher’, dedicated to the world renown pioneer photographer. Butcher captured life of the homesteaders and early pioneers in Custer county. This heart was at the WRG being painted by the three.
Barnes also encouraged her new students in Broken Bow to submit an entry. Under her tutelage, senior art student, now graduate, Abby Olson designed ‘Pieces of Nebraska’ and had several of her classmates and underclassman assisting her in the Friends of Abby Olson submission. This heart and Barnes’ own heart have taken up space in her classroom. Olson’s design theme is that of a patchwork quilt, showing iconic symbols of Nebraska.
Barnes’ heart is titled ‘Western Gothic: Big Skies and Big Hearts. The patron for her heart is Duane R. Tappe in honor of his “big-hearted wife,Diana,” he explained. Barnes own words about her heart “Nebraska has many diverse regions. One of the larger areas of Nebraska, the Sandhills, encompasses the north and west central regions of the state. I think of this region as one of Nebraska’s best kept secrets. Most travelers speed along I-80 and never get a chance to experience the splendor of the Sandhills.
The Sandhills region embraces a culture all its own. It’s the beginning of the west where the cowboy way of life is common to all who live there. Many ranches are managed and operated by a team;,, the husband and wife. They work side-by-side through the good times and the bad times.
The front side of the heart parallels the concepts expressed in Grant Wood’s American Gothic. The ranching couple is saddled up in front of the barn ready for the day’s work. On the backside, the day is represented through an early morning scene of moving cattle to new pastureland. The base of the sculpture highlights the livestock brands from the Sandhills region. Hiding in the base reminiscent of a sandhills’ pasture, a newborn calf is hidden.”
Barnes combined her two thoughts for a title into one ending with ‘Western Gothic: Big Skies, Big Hearts.’ “The first was Western Gothic which, as mentioned earlier, relates to Grant Wood’s American Gothic. The second choice was Big Skies and Big Hearts, because it describes the expanse of the sky and the nature of the people that live their lives in the Sandhills region.
These three hearts are on display with the other 80 throughout Lincoln. The Pieces of Nebraska by the art students is close to the International Quilt Center; WRG’s heart is beside the Communication center on East Campus of UNL. Barnes’ Western Gothic is in the Pinnacle Bank arena area between the Haymarket and the US post office. “My dream is to have a local organization raise funds to purchase the Western Gothic and bring it home to Thomas Co. At minimum, $5000 should be raised.”
The Thedford Art Gallery, downtown Thedford, on NE Highway 2, is proud to answer Barnes’ call for fundraising. If you would like to help in securing this piece of Sandhill art for generations to enjoy, send contributions to Thedford Art Gallery, POB 23, Thedford, NE 69166 or send directly to Security 1st Bank, POB 288, designate it for the Heart Art/ co Thedford Art Gallery. If unable to purchase, all funds donated will be used for the betterment of the gallery and educational workshops.
Please help us get this 365/24/7 tourist attraction and art history back to the hills that inspired artist Roberta Barnes to create this heartfelt labor of love.