It was Cozad’s turn to showcase its historical, cultural and artistic jewels for the Nebraska Museums Association annual conference.
About 50 people came from across the state to attend the two-day annual conference Tuesday and Wednesday.
Some convention attendees toured Dawson County-area museums and points of interest on Tuesday afternoon.
In Cozad, they visited the Robert Henri Museum and Historic Walkway and other public places with art collections. There was a meet and greet at the 100th Meridian Museum later in the evening.
The group went to Cozad High School to see the extensive collection of artwork that hangs in the school’s hallways, classrooms, offices, cafeteria and library. While pricier pieces are placed up high, most of the framed art is at eye level, said Cozad resident and 100th Meridian Museum Director Judy Andres.
It is a Cozad tradition, dating back to 1961, that each graduating senior class buys a piece of art to donate to the school, said 12th-grade English teacher Jann Kloepping. She oversees the artwork. Additional works are donated as memorials or loaned to the school for display.
Kloepping compiled a sampling of the art from the school’s 105-piece collection in the school library for the NMA tourists and gave a brief presentation.
“Nobody can believe, No. 1, that we have the extensive collection that we do and two, that they’ve never been vandalized,” Kloepping said. “The kids respect them.”
She is the one who keeps a master list of works, maps artworks’ placement in the school and arranges public programs.
“We have so many works of art that it is fun to get to show them,” she said.
The collection includes some works by renowned artist Robert Henri, whose childhood home in Cozad is now a museum, Andres said.
Henri lived in Cozad from age 8 to 17 and his father, John Cozad, was the town’s founder.
Henri was named Robert Henry Cozad at birth, but changed his name, as did other family members, to help his father avoid detection after he left town suddenly in 1882 after a questionable death. Henri’s link to the town wasn’t known until 1956, 27 years after his death.
The Robert Henri Museum has a collection of Henri sketches thanks to an anonymous donor, museum Director Jan Patterson said. The museum was once a hotel and the Cozad family home. The name changed to the Hendee Hotel when the Cozad family fled.
Patterson said many people are intrigued by Henri’s humble and secret early life.
The Homestead Bank also was a tour destination because it also houses art and has one of the largest collections of bronze sculptures in the area. Sculptures and artwork are found throughout the bank, even in the janitor’s closet, Andres said. The pieces are part of the personal collection of the Young family.
The Wilson Public Library is another Cozad site with artwork, mostly the works of Cozad artists. Library Director Laurie Yocum said the library created a brochure that can be used for self-guided tours.
NMA members meandered through the library to see the art placed within the genealogy room, computer lab, boardroom, conference room, children’s area and hallways. The art owned by the library includes works by Miles Maryott, Art Ballmer and Harry Brunk.
It owns a painting by Harry Brunk that was featured on the cover of the Quarter Horse Journal magazine and have declined offers to sell it. There also is a life-size bronze sculpture in the children’s area, “A Heritage of Love and Learning,” by Tom White. It was commissioned as a memorial to former teacher Judy Svajgr by her husband, Al.
NMA members also toured the Dawson County Historical Museum in Lexington, including behind-the-scenes areas such as the archival storage.
“One of the things I’m particularly proud of is our photographs,” said museum director John Woodward, although he said many are unsorted. “There’s a silver lining to this. We have a lot of volunteers who come in to try to identify the people and places of the photographs. Every name is a small victory.”
The museum also has the Dawson County assessor books from 1887 to 1906, which is a boon to researchers because they cover an 1890 gap when census records were destroyed. The group also visited the Heartland Museum of Military Vehicles.
Sites visited in Gothenburg were the Pony Express Station, Gothenburg Historical Society and Sod House Museum.