I spent last week in Nebraska. I was invited there to teach a design workshop to other designers. Not one to turn down any travel opportunity, I went a few days early and visited with Marti Neely, a super talented designer and one of my APLD peeps.
As someone who grew up in the middle of what was once eastern hardwood forest, I was surpised by Nebraska’s neutral winter landscape. Instead of feeling dull and lifeless the prairie shimmers as the unhindered winter winds whip through it.
In Omaha, we walked through a series of sculptures that make up the Spirit and Courage of Pioneers park and celebrated those who ultimately settled and farmed there. Created by two artists, Blair Buswell and Ed Fraughton, there are geese and bison flying through and barging through buildings as well as a full sized wagon train trudging up a hill. It really made me think about the 19th century push west and what it meant to those who lived there and those who colonized it. There wasn’t a Native American to be found in the series.
We then moved on to see one of Marti’s lakeside projects. Even in the 45 mile an hour winds with shallow snow cover the elegance of her design’s structure was apparent. The sweeping curves of one section of the project echoed the shoreline uphill from the lakefront. I never occurred to me that there might be lakes in Nebraska.
The next day we drove to Lincoln to visit with plantsman, Benjamin Vogt in his garden in which was lovely despite being winter and surprising in it’s tract home development location.
My favorite part of the day was a visit to Gretna, midway between Omaha and Lincoln, to see the Shrine of The Holy Family. Inspired by E. Fay Jones’ Thornecrown chapel (1980) in Arkansas, the shrine’s proportions and curved lines are different. The local architecture team at BCDM acknowledged the inspiration from the beginning and went on to make a statement that is more prairie than forest.
Its curved lines, blond wood concrete and windswept location work in context. A limestone and turf entryway, a restored bluestem prairie, and a rill that runs from the chapel alter to the a pool and sculpture in the main building builds a powerful message.
I was happy to be there in winter when the changing light, the tans and ochres of the wood and grasses, and the buff hue of limestone paths and boulders worked in concert with each other to create a stark and arresting beauty that I expect would be difficult to find elsewhere.
I’ll be travelling again next week and hope to blog from the road. Where to this time? Paris, Fez and Marrakesh. Stay tuned.