Arts Center to showcase Nebraska photographer exhibit

West Nebraska Arts Center will bring a unique collection of original photographs featuring the people and landscapes of central and western Nebraska by Hastings photographer Brett Erickson. "PlainSky, Nebraskans" focuses on the interrelationship between the landscape, structures and residents of west Nebraska.

The exhibit will be on display throughout the month of March, and will open with Erickson on hand for a reception Friday, March 1st from 5 to 7 p.m. in the gallery at 106 East 18th Street in Scottsbluff. Gallery exhibits and receptions are free and open to the public.

Erickson writes, "Our spiritual homes are seldom capable of simplification to a matter of locale; I spent my childhood in the rural, rolling landscape of central Nebraska, a carpet of summer green blades of grass masking an undulating sea of sand. In spring, mammoth thunder clouds rose in smoky pillars on the horizon, and lit by the setting sun turned funeral-black beneath their cottony tops, comforting us in our insignificance. And when the storms cleared, the incalculable multitude of starry pinpoints punctuated the black velvet of our Nebraska sky, unspoiled by lights from any city or town. Breathtaking became routine.

I have since realized the hunger of Nebraska's story cannot be satiated by any number of images, nor text, nor song: Legends such as Willa Cather, Mari Sandoz, Solomon Butcher, William Kloefkorn, and Ted Koozer have endeavored to do so, yet the earth that is the center of the Great Plains consistently proves itself too large, too complex, and too intoxicating, defying any effort to reveal completely the mysteries of its heart. But it is a magnetic pursuit for the artist, the writer, and the historian to delve deeply into the spirit of the land and its people.

In the far corner of the state, pine-speckled buttes interrupt the meandering current of hills and gullies, whispering hints of hidden ranches and isolated homesteads, while the great Ogalala Grassland stretches its wide embrace toward South Dakota and the Black Hills. Elsewhere in the storied Sandhills live a people who are shaped by the sea of grasses that cradle the volatile sands beneath, stifling the dunes' need to move, to shift, to change. Oft slighted as a land of nothingness, it is instead beauty in its most raw form, where the land itself tames the pioneer, unwilling to succumb to the domineering hand of humanity.

But towns are withering across the Great Plains, including western Nebraska. The fruits of the Kincaid Act are consolidated ranches thousands of acres in breadth, but few people remain to run them. Drought has decimated the region in recent years, forcing ranchers, many whose operations have been family-owned for more than a century, to liquidate their cattle and find work elsewhere. The short grass varieties of the High Plains, species that are uniquely adapted to survive in the arid climate, have stood dry and brown for too long.

Western Nebraska is an intoxicating place. Its landscapes are breathtaking, if one takes the time to look. Its people are genuine and generous, if one takes the time to talk. And its details are quietly handsome, if one takes the time to search. The places under the vast plains sky, and the Nebraskans who live there, are worthy of a story all their own."

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