The Legacy of the Nebraska Art Association

Project Editor:Kimberly Golden, UCARE, 2007

Table of Contents

Articles of Incorporation for the Nebraska Art Association
Benjamin Robert Haydon
Frank M. Hall, Dedication of the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery


Haydon Art Club

A lively interest in art has been maintained continuously in Nebraska since it became a state in 1867. In Lincoln, the state capital, art organizations have flourished, with the first long-lasting, successful organization being the Haydon Art Club. On May 3, 1888, 67 men and women gathered at the University Chapel to form a Society of Fine Arts. The group declared an ambitious mission "to study and prepare papers on art, to form a collection, to acquire a suitable art museum, to encourage young artists, to interest public school children and 'to attract industry and keep abreast of a growing city,'" as reported by the Nebraska State Journal. The group selected the name Haydon Art Club, in honor of a popular British painter of the time, Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846). The Haydon Art Club prospered with many members and annual exhibits featuring contemporary art.

Club Aligns with University

The organization was linked permanently to the University of Nebraska when member and artist Sarah Wool Moore joined the University staff as a teacher of Fine Arts. From that day forward the University has been allied to the advancement of the arts and the University's School of the Arts was affiliated and grown into the present Hixon-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts. The organization probably exhibited and bought contemporary art due to their budget and to the growing interest in creating a state identity that could easily be woven into the common threads of artistic interest at the time in the United States.

A photograph of the flyer for the NAA First Exhibition: The Wise and Foolish Virgins, by Karl von Piloty, Dec. 1888 DOI: 2007

NAA First Exhibition: The Wise and Foolish Virgins by Karl von Piloty, Dec. 1888

Becoming the Nebraska Art Association

Lincoln's interest in the visual arts thrived as the twentieth century dawned. Responding to the interest in the visual arts, the directors of the Haydon Art Club met for the last time on March 6, 1900, and voted to expand into a statewide organization called the Nebraska Art Association (NAA) of which Frank M. Hall became the first president. The NAA became an official organization through their Articles of Incorporation, recognized by the Secretary of State of Nebraska George W. Marsh on December 17, 1902. Even though the new name suggested a statewide program, its activities were confined mostly to the community of Lincoln until the second-half of the twentieth century due to shortage of funds to expand.

Establishing a Home for their Collection

Part of the original mission of the Haydon Art Club was to acquire an art museum and that tenet remained critical to the Nebraska Art Association and the University. The original campus library (now Architecture Hall) was a site of early NAA exhibitions and, eventually, a second-floor wing was dedicated to the art department and an art gallery. Upon the completion of Morrill Hall in 1927, the art gallery was moved to the third floor of that building, where it remained for more than 30 years. Many art lovers found a haven in the NAA and university collections during that time. One person who enjoyed the beauty and enrichment during World War II was Mary Frances Sheldon. At her death in 1950, Sheldon bequeathed her entire personal fortune, nearly $1 million, and her personal collection to the University for the purpose of building an art gallery designed by an international renowned architect. The gift went into a trust to her brother, Adams Bromley Sheldon, who doubled the estate over the next seven years. Upon Bromley's death in 1957, 45 percent of his own estate was added to the museum fund. With Mary Sheldon's very generous donations and in her honor, the NAA constructed the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, designed by architect Philip Johnson. The Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery was formally dedicated on May 16, 1963. About a decade later, a sculpture garden was added adjunct to the building to showcase a historical development of American sculpture. Since that time outstanding sculptures have been installed across the University of Nebraska– Lincoln City and East campuses, providing students, staff, and visitors access and interaction to outstanding works of art. With a state-of-the-art facility to house their collections and a museum open to the public with no charge, the NAA secured its status as a major organization for the arts in the region.

A photograph of the reception of the Dedication of the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, May 1963 DOI: 2007

At the Dedication of the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery

Association Shows Importance and Influence in Whole State

In 1973, the NAA made more effort to become a statewide organization by supporting the I-80 Bicentennial Sculpture Project, which provided large roadside sculptures along Interstate 80 to celebrate America's Bicentennial. Even though the project proved to be controversial, due to the avant-garde nature of the sculptures and lack of Nebraskan artists included, the project was completed in 1976 with eight sculptures spread across 500 miles of the plains of Nebraska.

List of Artists and Works involved with I-80 Bicenntennial Sculptural Project
ArtistTitle of ArtworkLocation on I-80
George BakerThe Nebraska Wind SculptureKearney westbound
Richard FieldThe Memorial to the American BandshellPlatte River eastbound (Omaha)
Bradford GravesCrossing the PlainsYork westbound
Linda HowardUp/OverOgallala westbound
Anthony PadovanoNebraskan GatewayBrady westbound (North Platte)
John RaimondiErma's DesireGrand Island eastbound
Hans Van de BovenkampRoadway ConfluenceSidney westbound
Paul Von RingelheimArrivalBlue River eastbound (Seward/Milford)

Serving Nebraska in New Ways

Building a successful legacy of the NAA, the organization developed its educational programs with a goal to share its art with other Nebraska communities. To obtain this idea, they created the Sheldon Statewide program in 1987. Sheldon Director George Neubert gave his approval to share the important Sheldon Art Gallery collection with the state of Nebraska and approved of a position to be created to coordinate the new program. Their goal was simple: to create an exhibit that demonstrated an important theme in art annually and to have it viewed by as many Nebraska communities as possible. This program was started in 1987 to serve Nebraska communities by sharing American art from the museum's permanent collection. Exhibits travel over the course of a year to eight to twelve communities in Nebraska.

A photograph of museum educator Karen Janovy giving Statewide exhibit Tour, published in Pender Times, March 3, 1988 DOI: 2007

Museum Educator Karen Janovy Giving Statewide Exhibit Tour in 1988

A Leading Art Association for the Twenty-First Century

Today the Nebraska Art Association is a thriving organization that supports many favorite events and programs such as "Jazz in June." The Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery has grown to become regarded as the fifth best university art collection in the United States with its many donors and supporters such as the Woods family of Lincoln. The gallery has even pioneered new efforts to bond the association with the University of Nebraska– Lincoln further by creating College Nights events, creating a collegiate art organization called the Art League, and offering internships and grants to students to discover the museum profession.