Lincoln’s Incredible Public Art
by Sriyani Tidball
For many decades, public and private funds have added an impressive collection of public art to the city, making Lincoln an art lovers’ haven. Museums, galleries, and public art has become something that makes Lincoln unique.
The University of Nebraska Lincoln has a host of public art making this a fun place to take a walk and enjoy the art. The Sheldon Sculpture Garden, located on the campus at 12th and R streets, 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 well-known artists from around the world, continually inspire UNL students, staff, and visitors to Lincoln. One of the famous pieces of art here, is the Floating Figure, by Gaston Lachaise.
The most popular sculptures on the campus include the 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 worth checking out 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 UNL 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.
Eddie Dominguez, professor of art at UNL, envisioned Redwall, a collection of 383 individual ceramic tiles that covers an entire wall in the Lied Center for Performing Arts’ Lied Commons. The work represents the local community, not a singular artist. The individuals who created the tiles remained anonymous, creating tiles, ranging from images of flowers to footballs.
Lincoln’s downtown and Haymarket area is also laden with art and sculptures. A 45-foot-tall metal sculpture, Harvest, with its ever-changing colors, shines in the plaza in front of the Pinnacle Bank Arena. The abstract sculpture with lights illuminating upward—both interior and exterior—was designed by Oregon artist, Ed Carpenter. Harvest depicts 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 “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 and engaging favorite is the bronze sculpture Watchful Citizen portrayed by 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 is in Lincoln’s Haymarket near Lincoln Station (7th and Q Street) and is a popular spot for photo opportunities. A block away, the Iron Horse Legacy, a stunning brick mural, by Lincoln’s native artist Jay Tschetter is also located at the Lincoln Station.
A 15-foot tall, photomural by Lincoln artist Larry Roots covers the skywalk above S. 12th Street, 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.
Pioneer Park in southwest Lincoln has many sculptures in the middle 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. Enjoy the eight miles of hiking trails that wind through various habitats sharing amazing art along the way. Smoke Signal, by Ellis Burman, installed 80 years ago is still a favorite. 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 regalia sat on their horses atop the hillside facing the setting sun. Mountain Monarch, by Rich Haines, stands at the Pioneers Park north entrance, off West Van Dorn Street. This sculpture is one of two at Pioneers Park that make the top 10 most valuable list of public art in Lincoln.
Situated near Nebraska Wesleyan University’s fine arts building, Calling Away, made of blue welded steel, created in 1950 by sculptor Dan Peragine, symbolizes the uniting of the fine arts: art, music, and theatre.
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. Not too far away in one of Lincoln’s most popular attractions, the Sunken Gardens, Reveille is a cast metal sculpture created by Dr. Wayne Southwick. Reveille depicts an angel blowing a trumpet and was inspired by the artist’s wife getting their children out of bed. One of the newest sculptures also located in the gardens is a beautiful bronze of a young girl with a sketchbook. This was made in honor of the late Beatrice ‘Mike’ Seacrest.
Centennial Mall has a couple of fabulous bronzes on either end of the mall. A stunning, and creative piece of Native Chief Standing Bear, is a part of the $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 the level of artistic beauty as that of French’s Standing Lincoln by the State Capitol building. In 2021, Ben Victor installed his second piece, the incredible, bronze sculpture of trailblazing Nebraska Native American physician Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte on the other end of Centennial Mall in a space next to the Scottish Rite Temple across from the State Office building between L and M streets. While you are on Centennial Mall, take time to visit the State Capitol and enjoy the amazing art inside this architectural monument.
In 2003, the Lincoln Arts Council spearheaded what is considered Lincoln’s first major public art project. Designed to draw attention to Lincoln’s 85-mile trail system, the Tour de Lincoln featured 71 bicycle sculptures located throughout the city’s parks, businesses, private residences, and bike trails. In October 2003, 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. This public art project, which benefitted the Lincoln YWCA. As the years passed another public art project was implemented in 2017, the Nebraska Heart public art project. All 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 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: www.lincoln.ne.gov/City/Departments/Parks-and-Recreation/Parks-Facilities/Public-Art