Nebraska's story told in art

Artwork can tell a story in three different ways — through the artist creating it, through what’s happening in the artwork or through the context of when or how the artwork was created.

It’s the way artwork speaks, said Jill Wicht, the education director of the Museum of Nebraska Art (MONA) in Kearney.

MONA’s collection connects the art of Nebraska with the people of Nebraska and the stories of Nebraska.

“We tell the story of Nebraska through the art of Nebraska,” Wicht said.

She was the featured speaker for Wednesday’s “Munch and Lunch” series presented by the Moonshell Arts and Humanities Council. The noon hour art presentation was at the Grand Theatre in downtown Grand Island.

Wicht brought with her a painting by Grand Island artist Grant Reynard. Titled “Gallery Discussion,” the piece depicts two people viewing an abstract painting hung in an art gallery.

Reynard is one of the many modern era artists featured at the Kearney art museum, Wicht said. The museum was fortunate enough to acquire 3,000 Reynard pieces, including artwork as well as art materials he used in his New Jersey studio.

The modern era includes artists who were born in Nebraska and were active during the “regionalist” movement. It covers the 1910 to 1945 time frame, she said.Other modern era artists include the Oregon Trail book illustrations created by Thomas Hart Benton; a self-portrait of Aaron Douglas, the first African-American to graduate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1922; Terence Duren of Shelby; Wright Morris of Central City; and John Falter of Falls City, who created more than 140 covers for the Saturday Evening Post.

But MONA has much more in what the Legislature declared in 1979 as the Nebraska Art Collection. Wicht said Nebraska is one of only three states with an official art collection of pieces created by people from the state or representative of the state.

MONA has pieces from the explorers era of 1819 to 1880 when artist adventurers were journeying across the Wild West and documenting the animals, plants, scenery and people seen there. They include bird paintings by John James Audubon; depictions of Native Americans hunting buffalo along the Platte by Titian Ramsey Peale; a romanticized prairie scene done as a field sketch on the plains by Albert Bierstadt; and a South Platte scenery painting by Worthington Whittredge, who regarded the Nebraska plains as more beautiful than the Colorado Rockies, Wicht said.

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