January 16, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If you’re ever strolling or driving along 13th Street near TD Ameritrade Park in NoDo, you might be surprised to recognize a familiar face or two.

Quincy Ellefson, who was 8 years old by the time of completion of Omaha’s Fertile Ground mural, starred alongside his siblings as three of the work’s models. The mural’s creator, the nationally renowned Philadelphia-based artist, Meg Saligman, handpicked them in 2008.

“[Meg] just looked at Quincy and his brother and said, ‘Oh, they’re perfect,’” Quincy’s mother, Amy, said. “She photographed hundreds of people, but ended up choosing them.” Quincy and his sister Annika are depicted holding hands in the mural. They were photographed for the mural when Quincy was 6 and Annika was 9.

The mural was completed in June 2009 as a gift to the city from the Peter Kiewit Foundation. The effort, known as the Omaha Mural Project, was coordinated by the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.

Every character in the mural, save for one important exception, depicts an actual, real-life Omahan. The dancing figure of a woman at the center of the sprawling mural is a composite representing the spirit of Omaha. At 32,500 square feet, it is among the largest such works in the nation and has become a familiar backdrop during ESPN’s annual coverage of the College World Series.

Quincy, who today is 14 years old and homeschooled, has only vague recollections of being photographed in a darkroom during the candidate-selection process eight years ago. But he does remember being photographed with another young boy.

“Whenever I look at it,” Quincy explained, “I always look for the guy that I took photos with but I can never remember what he looks like. I like seeing my brother and sister in the mural, too.”

Amy added that Keanu, Quincy’s younger brother who is now 11 years old, wasn’t originally slated as a mural figure. He was a last-minute insertion on Saligman’s whim.

Quincy’s larger-than-life persona is now one of the city’s most recognizable faces, but the actual-size, flesh-and-blood Quincy is now doubly familiar for another reason. He’s become something of a fixture on local stages, racking up an impressive list of credits that includes work with the Omaha Community Playhouse, Opera Omaha, and Nebraska Shakespeare, among others. Quincy has performed in 13 productions and has been active in film classes and modeling stints.

“I do prefer doing musicals,” he said, “but acting is a lot of fun, too. My favorite part is getting ready before a show.”

Although Quincy added that he didn’t get any special treatment (nor teasing) from friends for appearing in the mural, being immortalized in what is perhaps Omaha’s grandest hunk of public art has its own perks.

“I just kind of like looking at the mural as a whole,” Quincy said. “It’s just weird to think that that’s me up there.”

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