Public Art in Lincoln

by Sriyani Tidball, photography by Tom Tidball

For many decades, public and private funds have added impressive art to the city making Lincoln an art lovers’ haven. The massive amount of public art around Lincoln has become something that makes this city unique. Lincoln boasts about all the public art in their city, as it is something that is a part of the very fabric of life in Lincoln. So, let’s take a trip around the city.

UNL Campus has many sculptures

The Sheldon Sculpture Garden, located on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, features 30 unique and distinct sculptures from the early 20th century to the present. Dedicated in 1970, the garden originally covered 2.5 acres. Outstanding pieces of modern and contemporary sculptures have been installed in the garden as well as across the campus. These world-class sculptures, created by artists from around the world, continually interest UNL students and staff as well as visitors to Lincoln. The most popular sculptures in the Sheldon Sculpture Garden include Torn Notebook by Claes Oldenberg and Coosje van Bruggen, Old Glory by Mark di Suvero, and Greenpoint by Richard Serra. For a map of the sculptures and for more information, visit sheldonartmuseum.org. Other sculptures on campus include David Smith’s Superstructure Four, an amazing stainless-steel work; Tony Smith’s Willy and Prismatic Flake near the Alumni Building on R Street, and Variable Wedge, an abstract close to Westbrook Music Building. These are only a few of the sculptures that grace UNL’s campus. 

In 2004 the Friends of the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln commissioned sculptor George Lundeen to create a multi-figure sculpture, On the Trail of Discovery, commemorating the journey of Lewis and Clark, 1804-1806. The bronze sculpture features explorers Lewis and Clark, a Native American guide and boy, and the expedition’s Newfoundland dog. It commemorates a pivotal moment in American history and guides visitors into UNL’s Center for Great Plains Studies.

A stunning, fairly new, and creative Native piece is the Chief Standing Bear sculpture, part of a $9.6 million redesign of Lincoln’s Centennial Mall. Sculptor Ben Victor set the bar high. He wanted his 11-foot bronze sculpture of Standing Bear—the Ponca chief whose 1879 trial established that Native Americans are “persons within the meaning of the law”—to be at a very high level of artistic beauty, which it definitely is. The latest Native piece also on Centennial Mall, designed and produced by Ben Victor is that of Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte, the first Native American physician in the history of the United States. More on the two Native sculptures on page 100.

Eddie Dominguez, an associate professor of art at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, envisioned Redwall, a collection of 383 individual ceramic tiles that nearly covers an entire wall in the Lied Center for Performing Arts’ newly added Lied Commons. To show that the work represents a community, not a singular artist, individuals who created the tiles remain anonymous. Children and students created many of the tiles, ranging from images of flowers to footballs. 

Downtown and the Haymarket is also laden with art and sculptures

In 1912 Nebraska’s great orator William Jennings Bryan spoke to a crowd of thousands at the dedication of the bronze statue of Standing Lincoln. The masterpiece, created by famed Daniel Chester French, was constructed using public and private funds. French, one of America’s leading sculptors collaborated with architect Henry Bacon, to provide the perfect setting at the entrance to the state capitol with the Gettysburg Address carved into the granite backdrop, and Lincoln depicted as just having finished that memorable speech. It is still one of the famous pieces of public art in our city and loved by everyone.

A 45-foot-tall metal sculpture, Harvest, with its ever-changing colors, shines in the plaza in front of the Pinnacle Bank Arena in the Haymarket area. The abstract sculpture with lights illuminating upward—both interior and exterior—was designed by Portland, Oregon artist, Ed Carpenter. Harvest evokes a sheaf of wheat, or a fountain. All the materials are sensitive to light and its illumination gives it a 24-hour presence. The dichroic glass used by Carpenter “reacts in a marvelously mercurial way to light,” as the colors change from every angle.

Ascent, a sculpture in Tower Square on 13th and P streets, was installed by German steel and glass workers in the heart of downtown Lincoln. The large glass spire lights up at night like a magical tower of color. Created by renowned Japanese sculptor and Omaha resident Jun Kaneko, it consists of sand gardens, and concrete concentric circles that surround the five-story, multi-colored, lighted glass tower. The 1.15 million, 57-foot-tall glass tower, was fabricated in Germany and transported to Lincoln.

A local favorite is the bronze sculpture Watchful Citizen portraying a man sitting on one side of a bench with plenty of room for a passer-by to stop and rest next to him. The sculpture in Lincoln’s Haymarket near Lincoln Station at 7th and Q streets is a popular spot for photo opportunities.

A 15-foot tall, photomural by Lincoln artist Larry Roots covers the skywalk above S. 12th St., between O and N streets. Featuring individuals of different age, gender and ethnicity, the mural emphasizes Lincoln’s diversity. Not too far away is Groundwater Colossus, a fabulous giant brick head, at Union Plaza Park. It consists of more than 300 individually shaped bricks stacked in concentric circles, layer upon layer, using over ten tons of red clay. The masterpiece stands in the middle block of Union Plaza, between P and Q streets. This was created by New York City sculpture artist James Tyler.

Other parts of Lincoln also house public art

Pioneer Park in southwest Lincoln has a number of sculptures, in the midst of nature. Take a walk on the wild side and enjoy the bronzes situated all over the 668 acres of tall grass prairie, woodlands, wetlands and streams at Pioneer Park. Enjoy the eight miles of hiking trails that wind through various habitats sharing amazing art along the way. One of my favorite sculptures at the park is The Smoke Signal, by Ellis Burman, installed 80 years ago. The sculpture is a memorial dedicated to the Nebraska Native American tribes. Its dedication in 1935 was attended by over 100 Native Americans, including chiefs from the Omaha, Winnebago, Sioux, and Ponca Tribes, who in full dress sat on their horses atop the hillside facing the setting sun. 

Situated near Nebraska Wesleyan University’s fine arts buildings, Calling Away symbolizes the uniting of the fine arts: art, music, and theatre. Calling Away was created by 1950 by sculptor Dan Peragine and is made of blue welded steel. 

Artists Elizabeth Stanley Wallace and William Schlaebitz created the sculpture in 1993. Another well-known bronze honors the pioneer women of Nebraska, sculptor Ellis L. Burman’s Pioneer Woman rests in the Memory Garden at 33rd and Melrose. 

The Bicentennial Cascade Fountain is a concrete water feature placed near one of Lincoln’s busiest intersections, South 27th Street and Capitol Parkway. The fountain, created by artist Larry B. Group, is a tribute to teachers and how they influence the youth of Nebraska. 

In 2003, the Lincoln Arts Council spearheaded what is considered Lincoln’s first major public art project. Designed to draw attention to Lincoln’s 131-mile trail system, the Tour de Lincoln featured 71 bicycle sculptures located throughout the city’s parks, businesses, private residences, and, of course, bike trails. That year the bicycles were auctioned as a fundraiser, although many remain in their original locations for permanent display. This was followed by 69 pieces of star-themed artwork graced Lincoln during 2006, which benefitted the Lincoln YWCA. And in 2017, the Nebraska Heart public art project, where 89 Hearts were displayed and auctioned on Haymarket Park’s covered concourse. And most recently in 2018, it was followed by the Serving Hands public art project displaying 39 different pieces of art around the city. Serving Hands was a public art project celebrating the 50th anniversary of Campus Life.

These are just a few of the public sculptures in Lincoln. The museums are full of amazing art too. Take time to read the Art Gallery story on page 80 for more information about the art that enhances the city. Lincoln is truly a city full of art. 

For exact location of these amazing pieces of art, check the Lincoln Arts Council’s website: publicart.artscene.org/ 

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