Tag Archives: Fertile Ground

Quincy Ellefson

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.”

Public Art Primer

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Chris Wolfgang

One thing never in short supply in this city of ours is public art. Downtown Omaha in particular has a vast collection of pieces—some you’ve surely seen and some that are tucked away. Keep your eyes open this summer for these few pieces in particular and impress your friends with how much you know about public art downtown.

Pioneer Courage Park and Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness Park
14th & Capitol and all four corners of the 16th & Dodge intersection

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Both owned by First National Bank, these installations span the width of several blocks. Follow Blair Buswell’s and Edward Fraughton’s pioneers, covered wagons, oxen, horses, and mules through Pioneer Courage Park, watch as they scare off bison who run along 14th all the way to Kent Ullberg’s Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness at 16th where Canada geese (each weighing approximately 200 pounds) seem to fly around the intersection, through walls, buildings, even traffic light poles.

The Garden of the Zodiac
Old Market Passageway, 10th & Howard

On the second floor of the Old Market Passageway (itself a unique artistic and architectural element of Downtown Omaha) are several bronze heads mounted on stone bases. This Garden of the Zodiac was sculpted by Evas Aeppli and represents the 12 signs of the Zodiac. Aeppli also created the Fountain of Erinnyesdiac in the lower level of the Passageway across from the V. Mertz restaurant. These three abstract metal heads, which each spew water, represent the Furies: Alecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone, all vengeful demi-goddesses of Greek mythology.

Nebraska Centennial Glass Mosaic
The outside of the Woodman building, 18th & Douglas

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Tom Bartek completed this work in 1967. The mosaic scenes depict Native Americans, pioneers, and Omaha being settled. In 2012, at the age of 80, Bartek released Retrospective, a collection of his works, in three galleries. You can learn more about the mural’s creation at omahamuralproject.org.

Fertile Ground
Eastern wall of the Energy Systems, Inc. building, 13th & Webster

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If you’ve been in the North Downtown area since 2009, you’ve seen Fertile Ground. This 70-foot-tall mural spans 328 feet wide—the length of a city block. It is the largest piece of public art ever installed in Omaha. It’s also the largest mural in the nation to have a single financial backer, the Peter Kiewit Foundation, which funded the piece as a gift to the people of Nebraska and the city of Omaha.

The Omaha Mural Project: Fertile Ground was coordinated by the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, which selected Meg Saligman as the artist. Saligman compiled Omaha’s story—past, present, future—in a unique back-to-front approach. Instead of a typical left-to-right treatment, the chronology pushes past events to the background and brings more recent events into the foreground. The painting took a year to complete—June 2008 to June 2009.

The Road to Omaha
TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, 1200 Mike Fahey St.

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You may have seen this piece recently, either in person or on television. This bronze sculpture by artist John Lajba is often a focal point during the NCAA Men’s College World Series every June. The sculpture of baseball players was given to the city by local organizing committee College World Series of Omaha, Inc. The Road to Omaha was completed in 1999 and made the move from Rosenblatt Stadium to TD Ameritrade Park Omaha in 2011.

For more information about public art in Omaha, visit publicartomaha.org.