Editor's note: The following article, with notes, was rekeyed and reprinted on August 13, 2003 in Resource Library Magazine with permission of the Nebraska State Historical Society. The article was previously published in Nebraska History Volume 16, No. 1 (January-March 1933), pp. 57-60. Images accompanying the text in the Nebraska State Historical Society publication were not reproduced with this reprinting. If you have questions or comments regarding the article, or if you have interest in obtaining a copy of the NH issue containing the article, please contact the Nebraska State Historical Society directly through either this phone number or web address:


The Nebraska FERA Art Exhibit

by Ernest F. Witte


My subject is not really art. It is current history. When future histories of the state and nation are written the period beginning March, 1933 will be given considerable study. You may not agree with the policies or program carried forward since March, 1933, but you will have to agree that the period is crammed full of experiments of exciting interest.

One of the minor programs undertaken in the winter of 933 was the CWA art project. A census of those out of work revealed the fact that many persons formerly earning all or a part of their livelihood from painting, wood carving, fancy work, and sculpture were unable to pursue their artistic careers or to find other means of livelihood. In trying, therefore, to design programs of work for those unemployed (although not necessarily on relief) which would arouse their interest and enthusiasm, the government decided to begin an art project, some of the results of which formed a display at the annual meeting of the Historical Society.[1]

Not a few people were amazed, and I still am, to learn of the number of people in Nebraska who were employed on, or interested in the art project, and of the enthusiasm developed by those so engaged. We seldom think of Nebraska as the home of much artistic endeavor and yet we discovered a wealth of talent and ability among those out of work and willing to accept employment on this art project.

Twenty-eight artists were employed on the project. They were selected on the basis of their qualifications as artists and upon their need of employment. They were allowed to select the American scene in all its phases and a surprising variety of native subjects were chosen. The project was supervised locally by Mr. Thomas R. Kimball (deceased) of Omaha, and Mrs. Wilda Chase Reeder of Fremont, to whom a great deal of credit for the success of the work is due.

The artists were classified into two groups. Those in "A" group were paid $45.00 per week. Those in "B' group received $26.50 per week. Some were trained, others untrained. One of the finest of all the pictures produced was painted by an untrained artist.

There are a number of pictures which portray early Nebraska history. It is unfortunate that members of the staff of the State Historical Society were not called upon to advise on historical details of some of the pictures since this would have increased their historical value. Among those pictures which portray early Nebraska history are:

Beard's, "The First Man to Settle Sioux City"; Myre's, "Sioux City's First School Teacher"; Stevens', "Building the Log Cabin"; Stevens', "Buffaloes"; and Lux's, "The Soddy Nebraska Prairies 1870."

Activities along the Missouri River are represented by the following pictures, all by Mr. Smetana:

"Freeing the Barge," "Driving the Ice Breakers," and "The X-3183."

A series of drypoint and aquatint etching by Mr. Byxbe are of unusual interest to most Nebraskans. These include.

"A Stump for Every Tree," "The Birthplace of Arbor Day," "But Woman's Work Is Never Done," "Morning Comes to the Range," "Chores," "The Low Hills of Nebraska," "Residence of Mr. Duroc," "Dairy of Dan V. Stephens; Headquarters of Brown Swiss Cattle," "Nebraska, Fewest Trees per Capita," and "R. F. D."

Two series of Indian heads which have aroused considerable comment are:

Ennis' "Standing Bear"; and Berk's, "He-las-kas," "Mah-gon-be," and "Last Horse."

One artist, Mr. Leindecker, used the works of Edgar Allen Poe for his inspiration, resulting in:

"Fall of the House of Usher," "Landers Cottage," "Domain of Arnheim," and "Island of the Fay."

The other pictures are all interesting, all have histories - but I wish to call attention especially to one painted by an untrained artist It is by Ruth Ratliff of Omaha, and is called "Moonlight Sonata."

Governor Bryan selected the five following named pictures which are now hanging in the Executive Mansion:

"Untitled Landscape," by Augustus Dunbier; "Rain in the Face," by Louise Ennis; "Blizzard of '88," by Sarah Green; "Nebraska Cottonwood," by Ernest Roose; and "A Landscape," by J. Laurie Wallace.

The Nebraska Emergency Relief Committee, into whose care these pictures have been entrusted, believes that no organization in the state is more fitted to receive and display these pictures than the constituent branches of the State Historical Society. They have, therefore, asked me to work out a plan whereby each county organization having suitable display space may be loaned a picture, not only for its display value, but for its historical significance in connection with an undertaking never before sponsored by an American government. Mr. Sheldon and I shall try to work out a distribution so that pictures of particular interest or significance to a given area will go to that area. It must also be borne in mind that all these pictures remain the property of the United States Treasury and can only be loaned to public institutions.

Aside from the interest in art which it created all over the country, this project has two principal historic values, namely:

1. That the government which is continually concerned with the promotion of material welfare, such as the development of better livestock, gave recognition to the creative and artistic urges of its citizens and promoted art.

2. That it developed an idea which not only allowed these individuals to earn their daily bread, but stimulated interests and ambitions in their own field and took them out of the despair of the spirit.

The following Public Works of Art Pictures were taken from the NERA offices to the State Historical Society for exhibition purposes, October 4-5, 1935:[2]

Catalog No./ Name / Artist

154 Buffaloes Ernest Stevens, Neligh

153 Building the Log Cabin Ernest Stevens, Neligh

67 A Portrait Edwin Truman, Omaha

92 He-las-kas H. A. Gustav Berk

162 (?) The Covered Wagon Ernest Stevens, Neligh

64 Standing Bear Miss Louise Ennis, Omaha

91 Mah-gon-be H. A. Gustav Berk, Omaha

94 Last Horse H. A. Gustav Berk, Omaha

170 Workers Harry Krieger, Hastings

147 The X-3183 Louis W. Smetana, Omaha

36 Freeing the Barge Louis W. Smetana, Omaha

89 High Sierras, Morning Augustus W. Dunbier, Omaha

84 A Portrait J. Laurie Wallace, Omaha

157 Cycle of Life Sarah Green, Lincoln

160 First White Man To Settle Sioux City R. E. Beard, Moville, Ia.

159 Sioux City's First School Teacher H. 0. Myre, Sioux City, Ia.

143 The Dugout Gladys Marie Lux, Lincoln

104 The Soddy Nebraska Prairies 1870 Gladys Marie Lux, Lincoln

168 Map of Nebraska Lillian ibser, Lincoln

176 A Tree Lillian Ibser, Lincoln

24 Colonel Cunningham William E. Gilbert, Omaha

17 Keene Abbott, Rep. of Literature William E. Gilbert, Omaha

20 Child of Seven, English-Colonial Ancestry William E. Gilbert, Omaha

95 Forest Scene from Hansel & Gretel Robert J. Brinkema, Omaha

25 A Stump For Every Tree Lyman Byxhe, Omaha

4 Miss Manchester's Musical Program for Homeless Men Elizabeth Olds, Omaha

152 The Preacher's Message to the Homeless Men Elizabeth Olds, Omaha

82 Black Jack at the Transient Shelter Elizabeth Olds, Omaha

116 The Wagon Frank Grattan, Stanton

115 Early Pioneers Frank Grattan, Stanton

141 Still Life of Indian Art Lillian Ibser, Lincoln

150 Island of the Fay Albert H. Leindecker, Scotia

32 Chores Lyman Byxhe, Omaha

26 The Birthplace of Arbor Day Lyman Byxbe, Omaha

137 Fall of the House of Usher Albert H. Leindecker, Scotia

148 Landers Cottage Albert H. Leindecker, Scotia

149 Domain of Arnheim Albert H. Leindecker, Scotia

110 Byrd Albert H. Leindecker, Scotia

139 Silence Albert H. Leindecker, Scotia

146 Cargo of Ballast - Louis W. Smetana, Omaha

179 Moonlight Sonata Ruth Ratliff, Omaha

29 Woman's Work is Never Done Lyman Byxbe, Omaha

145 Driving the Ice Breakers Louis W. Smetana, Omaha

163 Westward Albert H. Leindecker, Scotia

136 Peer Gynt Robert J. Brinkema, Omaha

100 Otoe Indian Reservation Sarah Green, Lincoln

30 Morning Conies to the Range Lyman Byxhe, Omaha

73 Northwestern Elevators Herschel Elarth, Omaha

55 Be Careful Ernest Roose, Omaha

.56 improve Yourself Ernest Roose, Omaha

15 Mulatto, 18 Years Old William E. Gilbert, Omaha

72 Preliminary for Nebraska Dynamos Herschel Elartli, Omaha

140 Historical Map of Nebraska Harry Krieger, Hastings

49 They Won-You Must Raymond Johnson, Omaha

42 The Challenge Raymond Johnson, Omaha

39 A New Era Raymond Johnson, Omaha

40 Liberty Raymond Johnson, Omaha

51 Onward Raymond Johnson, Omaha

174 Buffalocs H. A. Gustav Berk, Omaha

158 Wall Plaque Carl Gloe, Omaha



1. See list of pictures appended.

2. These pictures, which were on exhibition at the annual meeting of the Historical Society, form but a small part of the paintings and artistic work done by this project. In addition to the artists listed here, the following artists worked on this project: Ellis Luis Burman, Lincoln; Rose Cohen, Lincoln; Elizabeth Dolan, Lincoln; Robert Gilder, South Omaha; Hellie G. Gleason, Omaha; Morris H. Gordon, Lincoln; Cecil L. Jolliff, Omaha; and John T. Robertson, Omaha.


Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Nebraska State Historical Society in Resource Library Magazine.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 11/20/10

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

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