The following story appeared in the most recent issue of the UNO Magazine, which highlighted how professors are serious about play, studying how it aids learning and development, using it to teach math or to aid recovery from a stroke, or just to have fun. Read the magazine online as a Flipbook or download a PDF.
Jeremy Menard needn’t look far to enjoy his favorite artwork on UNO’s campus.
It hangs on a wall directly across from his office desk in the Weber Fine Arts building — “The History of Printmaking: The Last Printmaker” by Warrington Colescott.
Menard, curator and visual resources manager of the UNO Art Gallery, says the piece is among the fruits of the UNO Print Workshop, a visiting artist program Professor Emeritus Tom Majeski established in 1976.
“Warrington was an amazing printmaker and artist based out of the University of Wisconsin for many years,” Menard says. “He had a great satirical wit and made beautiful, beautiful etchings. They were fortunate enough to have had him here in the late ’70s doing a visiting artist project with Tom.”
If Colescott’s work isn’t your cup of tea, don’t worry; UNO can offer something for just about any artistic taste or sensitivity. Menard guesstimates that there are more than 1,000 works of art gracing UNO’s campus: paintings, sculptures, etchings, statues and more.
And not just in the fine arts building.
The College of Business Administration has more than 120 pieces in Mammel Hall, including Bronze II by internationally renowned Jun Kaneko. It was the first significant piece purchased for the building, which opened in 2010.
“It has been everything we ever wanted, and it’s generated more conversation,” says CBA Dean Lou Pol, who retired Aug. 15. “We’re so happy to have it.”
There’s also a Kaneko (“Untitled Head 2005”) in the Dr. C.C. and Mabel L. Criss Library, a 1,400-pound piece installed in 2006 with the opening of the Guinter Kahn addition. Drivers passing by on Dodge Street can see it through the library’s expansive windows.
“Without a doubt, that’s our most valuable piece,” says Dave Richards, dean of library services. “The Kaneko head is probably the big monumental piece of art that people recognize.”
It’s one of more than four dozen artworks displayed in the library. Richards is especially drawn to a student work created exclusively for the library last year. It depicts campus, UNO’s Glacier Creek Prairie Preserve, and downtown Omaha.
“It’s a three-panel mural by student Elias Lumas on the first floor of the library,” Richards says. “Floor to ceiling, beautiful, colorful. It took him a while to do it, and he did a fantastic job.”
The UNO Collection — Known and Unknown
There is no official catalogue that accounts for every piece of art across UNO. Two inventories were attempted in the 1960s and one in 1975, but all were incomplete.
In 1981, then-student Dennis Cleasby (BA, 1984) did a building-by-building search and listed close to 200 pieces on campus. That included two pencil drawings by world-famous, Kiev-born expressionist sculptor and painter Alexander Archipenko, whose work was displayed at the university in 1939 and 1949 and who lectured on campus in 1950. Cleasby also came across a signed, original drawing by Thomas Hart Benton and three prints from the original lithograph plates of works by 18th century romanticist Francisco Goya.
In 2013, Stan Schleifer, UNO’s former director of support services and risk management, estimated the total value of art at UNO to exceed $4.5 million. The figure was calculated for insurance purposes and primarily included the major pieces for which value could be assigned but not lesser works, such as pieces donated by students.
Menard says that even just considering known additions since 2013, the $4.5 million figure for the comprehensive UNO collection is likely much lower than the actual value of art on campus. Finding it all would require a tremendous amount of time and resources.
“I know there are approximately 1,100 to 1,200 pieces in the collection,” Menard says. “Many are on display throughout campus, but there are also many that are stored in various buildings throughout campus as well.”
Such a search might turn up the Archipenko drawings, whereabouts now unknown. Or it might unearth “The Provincetown Wharf,” an oil painting by Augusta Knight, the first head of the university’s art department whose family presented the work to the university in 1946.
1% For Art
Given the volume of art that is added to the university — and without one person responsible to track it all — it’s easy to see how a piece could go missing. A new work comes in and an existing one is put into storage, perhaps to the confines of a dark and dusty basement.
The growth in the university’s collection during the last four decades is largely attributable to the state of Nebraska’s “1% for Art” law instituted in 1978. It mandates a minimum of 1 percent of appropriations for state buildings, state colleges and the University of Nebraska system to be used for the acquisition of works of art. Buildings must be open to public access and the law applies only to new projects exceeding $500,000 or renovation/ expansion projects of more than $250,000.
The National Assembly for State Arts Agency indicates that more than half of U.S. states have similar legislation. The Nebraska Arts Council tracks the state’s 1% for Art purchases, including more than 90 pieces of art on the UNO campus. They are listed through the council’s website.
Heikie Langdon, manager of operations for the Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center (CEC), says $250,000 was set aside for art for the $24 million building that opened in 2014. The collection, which she believes has already increased in value, represents the work of more than 50 artists. Most of them are connected to UNO or the state of Nebraska, but the art does not lean toward any genre.
“There really wasn’t a theme, because the building is meant to engage and include so many different people,” Langdon says. “It was intended to be as diverse as possible.”
Visitors can request a self-guided tour booklet, also available online, detailing the CEC’s collection and encompassing every area of the building. That even includes the garage with a 160-foot-wide mural by then-student Hugo Zamorano (BFA, 2015).
Langdon’s favorite is a 55-foot-wide Ying Zhu piece, The Reflection of Us, containing more than 5,000 tiny mirrors.
“The mirrors catch the movement of the people in the atrium so it really brings the space to life,” she says.
It might not resonate with all CEC guests, but there’s likely something that will.
“Art creates a soul for a building,” Langdon says. “I tell people, ‘There’s going to be a piece in the building that you love and there’s going to be a piece that you just don’t get at all,’ and that’s a great collection.
“It shouldn’t be so tame that everything’s ‘nice.’ You react to pieces you love or don’t like, and it’s going to be different for every single person who walks in the building.”
Buildings funded through private sources are exempt from the 1% for art directive. However, Pol says, a similar art budget was allocated for Mammel Hall, built with private funds and opened in 2010.
Visitors can download a booklet highlighting about 70 works from the CBA collection of approximately 120 pieces, 70% of them created by UNO students.
Pol names several favorites in and around Mammel Hall, including four by sculptor Fletcher Benton from his “Alphabet” series; Carl Weiss’ Outside the Box sculpture; and, a 12-foot-tall sandhill crane by his son and UNO graduate Adam Weiss (BS, 2008).
“When young women and men see the various pieces that we’ve put into the building, it starts a conversation,” Pol says. “’What the heck is that? What was the person thinking about when they created that? What about the artist?’”
Pol estimates the CBA collection to be worth roughly $1.5 million. That should grow with a forthcoming addition to Mammel Hall.
“We have a tremendous opportunity coming up,” Pol says. “We’re adding almost 45,000 square feet to our building, so that addition is going to have a number of really nice places for some additional art.”
Menard says committees have traditionally selected major art pieces for campus buildings, a requirement for 1% pieces, but “There isn’t a guiding statement that says, ‘This is specifically what we collect,’” he explains. “They determine whether it has value to the student body, to the university as a whole, and to the Omaha community.”
Other artworks have come to UNO piecemeal, though private donations or via commissions. The UNO Alumni Association has commissioned 1976 UNO graduate Stephen Roberts to create paintings of Chancellor Emeritus John Christensen and his wife, Jan, and of longtime UNO Professor William H. Thompson and his wife, Dorothy. The university commissioned him for a painting of former chancellor Del Weber and his wife, Lou Ann.
To celebrate its 100th anniversary, the alumni association commissioned sculptor Jocelyn Russell to create the Maverick Monument that stands outside the H&K Building and Sapp Fieldhouse.
Dr. William Blizek, a professor of philosophy and religion who began teaching at UNO in 1970, helped select various pieces for the Arts and Sciences building. He recalls, among others, works by Omaha artist Jackie Kluver, a mural of sorts by art students created from multiple canvases, a Shakespeare Festival flag, a weaving made by the wife of a former vice chancellor, and a piece he owned and donated. Some of those pieces he can still account for today; he’s not sure where others are.
Also on display
The Weber Fine Arts Building, of course, is replete with art. Just outside its north entrance is one of the building’s most noteworthy pieces, Minneapolis-based Andrew Leicester’s “Castle of Perseverance” (1993).
“It’s a very unusual piece,” Menard says. “It’s almost like a bandshell structure. It has serpentine figures and features the faces of four presidents.” It also offers seating and serves a practical purpose. “It’s a meeting space on campus,” Menard says.
The UNO Art Gallery hosts exhibitions regularly, such as one planned for September, “Witness: The Art of Samuel Bak” featuring around 70 works by the painter and Holocaust survivor who still is producing work in his mid-80s (see story pages 36-41).
Other prominent pieces at WFAB come from UNO-affiliated artists.
“An ‘O’ from a public art project is at the north entrance, created by UNO graduate and local artist Bart Vargas. A piece by Majeski (BRFA, 1960) is on the building’s rear stairwell between the first and second floors; Heiligenstadt (“Holy City” in German), a metallic sculpture by former Professor Sydney “Buzz” Buchanan, is in the front hall by the theater entrance.
Emerging artists also can display and sell their works at the gallery’s shows and at student exhibitions.
“It’s basically up to the artists to determine which works are for sale and which ones aren’t,” Menard says. “Most commercial galleries typically take a 50/50 split with the artist. UNO is unique in that 80% goes to the artist and 20% goes back to the gallery to help fund future exhibitions.”
A short walk from the gallery, the library displays around 50 pieces of art, not including whatever is showcased in the H. Don and Connie J. Osborne Family Gallery. It opened in 2009 to display student and faculty art and other projects.
“We are really fortunate to have that gallery,” Richards says. “Its purpose is twofold: for art, but also for any other educational artistic display; it’s everything from art to artifacts.” We don’t call it an art gallery, because that open-ended term means we can use it for just about anything.”
Other notable pieces elsewhere on campus:
Alice Aycock’s Waterworks Installation (1993) behind the Peter Kiewit Institute on the Scott Campus. In a 2014 interview, Robert Carlson, then-chair of the Depart of Art and Art History, called it ““the most important piece on this campus, maybe even in the state of Nebraska.”
Toreador Red Chandelier, a handblown glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly, also in PKI
A replica of Michaelangelo’s Venus de Milo, donated by graduate Martha Page (BA, 2003) and sitting outside Arts & Sciences Hall
The Link sculpture by Athena Tacha near the Durham Science Center
There even are a handful of UNO-owned works off campus. The Joslyn Art Museum has several UNO-owned pieces on permanent loan to the museum. Among them are Stuart Davis’s “American Painting” and William Zorach’s “Spirit of the Dance” (1932), installed in the museum’s Peter Kiewit Foundation Sculpture Garden.
No matter where UNO’s art is displayed, its presence furthers the aim of higher education.
“Art sort of illustrates the better nature of human society. Art is part of the whole education process,” Richards says. “When you’re looking at it, it makes you think of things in a different way, gives you different perspectives on the world … we just want to have an emotional reaction or something that kind of piques a person’s intellectual discovery. You know, a campus is not just physics and the hard sciences and chemistry and all the STEM areas, a campus is about the whole nature of human experience. Art is a human expression.”
About the University of Nebraska at Omaha
Located in one of America’s best cities to live, work and learn, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is Nebraska’s premier metropolitan university. With more than 15,000 students enrolled in 200-plus programs of study, UNO is recognized nationally for its online education, graduate education, military friendliness and community engagement efforts. Founded in 1908, UNO has served learners of all backgrounds for more than 100 years and is dedicated to another century of excellence both in the classroom and in the community.