By James W. Hewitt
In 2005, the Friends of the Center for Great Plains Studies opened their first annual Great Plains Invitational Art Show and Sale at the Great Plains Art Museum. The show had three purposes: to draw attention to the museum and its $10 million regional collection by attracting a larger audience, to showcase the work of young, upcoming or established regional artists, and to raise funds for acquiring new artwork that will enhance the mission of the museum.
This annual art show and sale has become one of the most successful fundraising ideas promulgated by the Friends. The show offers those in attendance an opportunity to meet some of the most preeminent regional representational artists working today (artists who have a national reputation and following and who may not usually have work in galleries in this region), to see a wide representation of their work, and to have the chance to purchase affordable art from the artists. In addition, visitors have the opportunity to support the mission of the museum, since a portion of the purchase price of each work of art is tax deductible as a contribution to the museum.
While the art show and sale was conceived as an opportunity for art lovers in the Lincoln area and beyond, it also was designed to give new patrons a chance to broaden their artistic horizons with access to new artists, while giving those artists an introduction to potential clients. The success of the show has been visible through a steadily increasing audience and sales, enthusiastic participation by a core group of regional artists, and affirmative interest from new artists. Funds raised from this show have been used to buy significant works from participating artists as well as other works that expand the value and breadth of the collection.
The Friends will present their fourth annual invitational art show at the Great Plains Art Museum, 12th and Q Streets, in Lincoln, Neb., with a “First Friday” public reception on May 2 from 5 to 8 p.m. Anyone interested in viewing outstanding representational art should plan to attend. All of the artists will be present to greet visitors and discuss their works at the opening reception. The show will remain on display through May 11.
'Most of the artists whose work will be displayed have participated in more than one of the past shows, events that have met with critical acclaim and enthusiastic acceptance by the viewing and collecting public. Artists who will participate this year include painters Michael Albrechtsen, Wendy Hall, Raymond Knaub, Gerry Metz, Andrew Peters, James Rey and Todd A. Williams, and sculptors Dan Garrett, Cammie Lundeen, George Lundeen, Del Pettigrew, Martha Pettigrew and Gail Sundell.
One final aspect of the show is worthy of mention. Each year, one of the participating artists is selected for an artist-in-residency and comes to Lincoln in advance of the show to work on a major piece or pieces of art in a temporary studio setting in the gallery or lobby in full view of visitors who wish to view the creative process. Local school classes visit the museum to interact with the artist through a question-and-answer session. The completed artwork is then displayed at the show and later accessioned into the museum’s permanent collection.
Michael Albrechtsen will be the 2008 Elizabeth Rubendall Artist-in-Residence, April 22-27. He will create two original paintings of Nebraska landscapes. Albrechtsen has established a successful career painting oils that convey an impression of a location rather than a detailed account of the scene. He bases his studio paintings on oil sketches, watercolor studies and photographs taken on location, since his plein air paintings are limited to the warm-weather months or to travel occasions.
Painter Andrew Peters was the first artist-in-residence in 2006, and sculptors Del Pettigrew and Martha Pettigrew served as artists-in-residence in 2007. A video of the sculptors creating clay figures and the process of casting those figures in bronze was made for a traveling art education program. A grant from the TierOne Charitable Foundation established the TierOne Bank Artist-in-Residence Outreach Program at the museum. This funded program helps support the museum’s outreach of the video and classroom-ready curriculum, which will travel to central and western Nebraska towns and schools during the 2008–2009 school year.
The Friends have existed since the 1980s as a support group for the research and publication activities of the center and the acquisition and exhibition of art for the Great Plains Art Museum. When the Friends were originally formed, the art collection was housed on the second floor of Love Library on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus, while the center’s administrative and publication offices were located in Oldfather Hall.
The museum struggled to maintain and increase visitation through innovative displays of its permanent collection as well as traveling shows of regional interest, but was hampered by a lack of campus visitor parking, a lack of exterior visibility, and probably a reluctance on the part of some potential viewers to negotiate a path through somewhat unknown territory populated by hordes of students. The Friends board of directors, assisted by the current director of the center at that time, approached Chancellor James Moeser concerning the possibility of finding a new home for the collection. Moeser, while acknowledging that a new location was both necessary and desirable, reiterated that the university had many priorities, and any new venue would have to be privately funded.
Officials of the University of Nebraska Foundation were aware of the need for a more accessible location for the museum and a new home for the center. Through the leadership of foundation president Terry Fairfield and the generosity of William and Betty Ruth Hewit, the foundation planned and constructed a new home for the museum, the Lentz Center for Asian Art, and the offices of the center on a small piece of property owned by the foundation on the southwest corner of 12th and Q streets. In the fall of 2000, all three groups moved into Hewit Place, which is not only an accessible and easily available building, but also is located next to Que Place Garage, a public parking facility.
To enhance the building and draw attention to its art museums, an outdoor bronze sculpture of a young woman pioneer, “No Turning Back” by Veryl Goodnight, was presented to the Great Plains Art Museum by William and Sandra Condon in memory of Mr. and Mrs. George W. Condon, and sited north of the building.
In 2004, the Friends commissioned George Lundeen to create a multi-figure bronze sculpture, “On the Trail of Discovery: Commemorating the Journey of Lewis and Clark, 1804-1806.” This impressive artwork, which welcomes visitors by “pointing the way” into the building, was sited on the east side of the building.
And thus, the wonderful new space now occupied by the Great Plains Art Museum came into being. The new spacious galleries allow for more exhibition space on the main floor, extensive storage space in the lower level, and a large research library and offices on the mezzanine level. The number of visitors seeking out the exhibits has increased as more people learn of the museum.
In addition to the annual art show and sale, the Friends have raised funds to support the museum and center through annual memberships, which offer a subscription to either of the Center’s scholarly journals, Great Plains Quarterly or Great Plains Research
. The Friends have commissioned works of art by such well-known artists as the late Ted Long, Herb Mignery, Cliff Hollestelle, Keith Jacobshagen and George Lundeen. Money raised by the sale of limited editions of the commissioned art has been used to buy a number of works for the museum’s permanent collection.
Step inside the Great Plains Art Museum on May 2 and experience an outstanding array of regional artistic creativity. In addition to regular and large-size work, all of the artists will bring small works to attract first-time art buyers. Don’t miss it!
The Great Plains Art Museum is located at 1155 Q Street on the corner of 12th and Q Streets, Lincoln, Neb. Normal operating hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 1:30 to 5 p.m.; closed on Mondays and university holidays. For more information, call 402-472-6220.