A historian with ties to Tribland has opened a new Western art exhibition showcasing the extraordinary talents and skills of America’s most acclaimed Western artists over two centuries.
David V. Wendell, whose family has farmed a homestead south of Minden for more than 130 years, has assembled more than 50 works of two-dimensional and sculptural art from his private collection and has put together an exhibition running this summer at the Nebraska Prairie Museum in Holdrege.
The comprehensive exhibition includes images of such internationally renowned legends of Western art as Frederic Remington, Charles Russell and Thomas Moran, all with sketchbooks in their wagons following the trails west across the Midland Plains, and the most iconic scenes of the American Indian and European pioneer era .
“These artists then returned east and created beautiful depictions of the landmarks and peoples of western states that showed the world just how beautiful places like Nebraska really are,” Wendell said.
Wendell knows this from personal experience. He now lives in Iowa but spent his childhood summers in Nebraska, learning about its history and culture firsthand. He then spent time in larger cities like Chicago and Washington, DC, where he found artworks by these respected artisans and felt at home.
He began collecting pieces that he felt most closely reflected the heritage he had encountered in the Platte River Valley (and beyond), and wanted to share its beauty with residents of the land on which the artwork was based.
“These pieces made me feel at home, so now I want to bring them home to Nebraska,” he said.
He has done just that, not only with Eastern artists coming West, but also with natives of the Cornhusker State whose works are as accomplished as those of the East Coast.
One such artist is Herb Mignery of Bartlett, whose work features in the Prairie Odyssey statue in Dutton-Lainson Plaza in downtown Hastings. It depicts a western prairie pioneer, shotgun at his side and bullwhip at the ready.
Wendell particularly likes it for the realistic depiction in bronze, but also because he is related to the artist, albeit by a shirttail.
“Herb’s son Boyd lives in rural Hastings… and happens to be married to my cousin,” laughs Wendell.
Nepotism aside, the example of his sculptural ingenuity in Holdrege’s collection is a dramatic bronze of a stocky bison entitled ‘Soul of the Soil’.
Other Nebraska artists seeded in the exhibit include another favorite, George Lundeen.
Lundeen, who grew up in Holdrege, established a studio in Colorado and has become one of the leading sculptors of children’s and western scenes in the United States. His works can be seen in gardens and galleries across the country.
The masterpiece featured in the exhibition is titled “Rarin’ to Ride” and depicts a young boy dressed in chaps and carrying a saddle, ready to mount.
“It’s cute,” Wendell said. “It will remind everyone of their desire to leap up and ride across the open plains.”
Other works in the collection remind viewers of bygone days on the plains. Central City’s Todd Williams, who served as the official artist of the Nebraska Sesquicentennial, is featured with his colorful depiction of a pioneer family riding a wagon across Mitchell Pass at Scott’s Bluff.
Karen Noles of Merna is honored with an endearing portrait entitled “Teepee Tender” of a young Native American child embracing a wolf cub in the warmth of her family’s mobile home.
“You want a wolf pup too,” Wendell said with a smile.
What he really hopes, however, is that each of the artworks in the exhibition will introduce the viewer to some part of the state’s distant past, or perhaps as a reminder of your own more recent history.
“I think you’ll find something in every piece that you recognize, either of yourself or your family’s legacy,” Wendell said. “This is the history of the West, then and now, preserved for tomorrow’s generations.”
Palette of the Prairie: A History of the American West in Art runs through the end of the summer. The Nebraska Prairie Museum is located at 2701 N. Burlington Ave. in holdrege. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.
The opening hours of the museum are Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.