It’s been written that the United States knows Nebraska because of Willa Cather’s books. Born in Virginia in 1873, Cather came to Nebraska with her family at the age of 9, and wrote about the struggles of settling the wild prairie. Her books so artfully described the rolling countryside that readers virtually touched and smelled the tall red grass that swayed in the Nebraska wind.
It’s suspected that many of the characters who populated her books — which included “My Antonia,” “One of Ours” and “O Pioneers!” — were inspired by the people of Red Cloud, where she lived before her career carried her away. Before she died in 1947, literary critics placed her on the same level as some of America’s best-known authors, including Hemingway, Faulkner and Wharton.
Red Cloud is justifiably proud to be the place that inspired and motivated the author, and the small town of 1,300 residents — with lots of help from Cather fans across the nation — has ambitiously venerated its most famous resident. Cather’s childhood home has been restored, as have other important structures and places, including a tract of native prairie, the town’s historic opera house, and, most recently, a pair of adjoining buildings that make up the National Willa Cather Center.
The NWCC was made possible by a $7 million campaign to restore and adaptively reuse the downtown buildings, which reopened in 2017 as a cultural center dedicated to the famous Nebraska author.
NWCC hosts a variety of events and exhibits that open a window into life on the prairie and the era in which Cather lived.
If you have not visited Red Cloud and the NWCC, an art show that opens soon may be the excuse you’ve been waiting for.
Pawnee Art of Oklahoma — an exhibit of four Native American artists — is on display through Nov. 11 at the Red Cloud Opera House Gallery.
Conducted with health and safety considerations in mind, the exhibit is significant for a number of reasons, especially because the Pawnees occupied south-central Nebraska before they were removed to Oklahoma in the 1830s.
In recent years, tribal members worked with The Archway to organize events that exhibited the food, costumes, music and dancing that have passed down through generations of Pawnees.
The NWCC art display is described as “colorful, symbolic and thought-provoking because it illuminates the Native American experience from each artist’s unique vision and background.
An online virtual exhibit is available at WillaCather.org, but for Cather lovers, students of history or those who are interested in Native American culture, an in-person experience is highly recommended.
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