Bartlett, Nebraska, on the edge of Nebraska’s scenic Sand Hills, has to have the most bronze sculptures per capita of any community on Earth.
The village of 117 people currently displays 32 Western-themed sculptures produced by Herb Mignery.
Mignery (pronounced “minery”) grew up just outside of Bartlett, which is about 70 miles north of Grand Island, and is now based out of Loveland, Colorado. (Loveland, by the way, might have the most sculptors per capita, including Nebraska natives George and Mark Lundeen.)
This week, Mignery will travel to Bartlett to add six more works to the sculpture garden, which is located around the Wheeler County Courthouse. There’s a formal dedication ceremony scheduled Tuesday at 4 p.m. The entire collection is worth nearly $1 million.
“It’s really unbelievable what Herb has done for us,” said Bob Nichols, a lifelong friend of the artist, who raised the money for the sculpture display and gives guided tours.
Sign up for The World-Herald's afternoon updates
Receive a summary of the day’s popular and trending stories from Omaha.com.
The sculpture garden began 17 years ago, and Mignery, now 81, has added to it steadily.
Mignery said that it was a way for him and his wife, Sherry (a native of the Elgin/Clearwater area), to bring “a little fun” to a rural area where people “don’t have the time or desire to go to a museum.”
The new works include a woman collecting buffalo chips on the prairie and a pot-bellied, cigar-smoking man titled “The Mayor of Second Street,” which Mignery said was based on a busybody he knew back in Nebraska who would pontificate from a street-side bench.
Mignery tried to semiretire a couple years back and sold his studio thinking he was too old to keep climbing ladders to produce large sculptures.
But now the artist is back renting studio space, finishing up a sculpture for the City of Vail, Colorado, and a 12-foot-high St. Michael for a new Catholic church planned in Fort Collins.
“We’re in glide mode,” Mignery said. “We’re approaching that eternal airport, but they keep moving the runway.”
* * *
There are collections of John Deere tractors, and then there’s Dwayne Johnson’s collection of John Deere tractors.
Johnson, who lives north of Columbus, has meticulously restored 14 of the distinctive green-and-yellow tractors with the “put-put” sounding engines. Nine of his restorations were of such high quality that they earned a special designation — “certified expo quality” — by the Two-Cylinder Club, a national organization devoted to the preservation of John Deere tractors.
“He’s a perfectionist,” said Johnson’s wife, Toodie.
Auctioneer Jon Stopak said that one of the tractors, a rare 830 Wheatland tractor from 1960, “probably looks better than when it was first out of the factory.”
Online bidding on Johnson’s tractors began earlier this month, with bidding, through Big Iron Auction, to conclude Wednesday. The tractors range from a 1935 John Deere A to a 1970 John Deere 2520, with some rare models expected to bring bids of more than $20,000. There are also some high horsepower tractors, like the 830 Wheatland, which he has compared to “sitting atop a Greyhound bus, its hood is so long.”
Johnson grew up on a farm, and his brother always used John Deere tractors. Dwayne, meanwhile, launched a tool-and-die shop that could fabricate every part imaginable.
He said that at age 80, he’s ready to part with his tractors, which he used to drive in area parades.
“I’ve had my fun with them,” Johnson said.