A Needlework Tour of Nebraska

In 1976 the American bicentennial was a cause for celebration and commemoration.  Organizations and local governments of all sizes and configurations found ways to mark our country’s 200th birthday through events and projects as varied as the people living within the United States borders.  Nebraskans were no different from their fellow Americans in their desire to mark the bicentennial, and commemorative objects can be found in most of the state’s museums.


From the accompanying booklet: “In Burt County cottonwood forests, soft sandstone deposits, ample water, and fertile soil attracted the first settlement on October 6, 1854. Soon after the United States Government opened the land, each of the 32 pioneers ‘staked’ a maximum of 320 acres. In 1856, at the site of the present courthouse, the government built a ‘block house’ for the protection of the Tekamah Area Pioneers. Through the years family units have given strength to churches, schools, 4-H club work, scouting and other community activities. The county continues to lead in agriculture producing corn, soybeans, milo, wheat and livestock.” The block was designed by Mrs. Ray Cram, Mrs. Keith Litel, Mrs. Don Christensen and Mrs. Melvin Von Seggern. The needlepoint was done by Mrs. Ray Cram.

The Nebraska State Historical Society is the happy owner of the tangible results of a bicentennial needlework tapestry project that not only served to commemorate the national event, but also allowed the participants to celebrate what was unique and important in each of Nebraska’s ninety-three counties in 1976.


From the accompanying booklet: “Throughout the history of Richardson County many industries have been built through the efforts of its citizens. Pioneers were the first to make use of the land for growing crops and feeding livestock. Nebraska’s first producing oil well was drilled in Richardson County in 1939. Since then more oil wells have been drilled.” The block was designed by Tim Kean and the needlepoint was done by Mrs. Friel Kerns, Jr.

The project was organized by the Nebraska Council of Home Extension Clubs (NCHEC).  Club members from each of Nebraska’s ninety-three counties designed and finished 12 x 12 inch needlework blocks that would illustrate what was unique in each county’s history, industry, or landscape.   The idea for the project was conceived after Nebraska delegates at a national meeting heard about a similar project in Kansas. During the 1975 annual meeting of the Nebraska Home Extension Clubs, county representatives were given a piece of  12″ x 12″ canvas, a needle, stitch instructions, and inspiration. Many citizens, including school children, participated by submitting ideas and designs, and in some cases large numbers of people completed a few stitches to leave their mark on the tapestry.


From the accompanying booklet: “On October 4, 1884 Governor James W. Dawes issued a proclamation organizing Garfield County. The county’s topography is dominated by the greens and browns of the sandhills. Crops grown in the fertile North Loup Valley include corn, alfalfa, and potatoes. Burwell, home of ‘Nebraska’s Big Rodeo’ for over fifty years, is also the home of a large livestock auction which provides a market for the cattle raised in the area.” The block was designed by Mrs. Hank Greff and Mrs. Nolan Smith. The needlework was done by Mrs. Leslie DeLashmutt.

The most dominant imagery on the tapestry are cattle (featured on thirty-five blocks), corn (featured on twenty-nine blocks), and maps (featured on eighteen blocks).  Other oft-repeated images include windmills, Native Americans, irrigation practices, landscape features and Christian imagery.  Many of the blocks are quite literal and simply consist of artfully placed images representing the counties major crops, industrial output, or larger towns.  Others consist of complex landscape scenes or evoke idyllic pastoral settings.  A few are more abstract and let one well-designed image represent the county.


From the accompanying booklet: “Many aspect of life in Lincoln County are represented in its needlepoint square. Windmills, irrigation wells and canals provide water for crops and cattle. Ranching and farming operations are symbolized by corn, yucca, the cow and by the design’s green background. The Union Pacific Railroad operates one of the largest industries in the county, North Platte’s Bailey Yards. Buffalo Bill Cody’s home at Scout’s Rest Ranch is visited by people from all over the world each year. A white cross depicts Fort McPherson National Cemetery, located south of Maxwell.” The block was designed by the Fantastic Fraulines Extension Club, the Medicine Creek Lassies Extension Club and Mrs. James C. Martin. The needlework was done by Mrs. Robert Hendrickson.

Completed blocks were sent to the home of NCHEC president Reta Auble in Arnold (Lincoln County), who pieced the blocks together over a period of three months.   All Nebraska counties are represented on the sixteen tapestries with three additional blocks that feature the Home Extension Club Seal, the bicentennial logo, and the Nebraska state bird and flower. The blocks are joined together with bright blue, the symbolic color of Home Extension Clubs, and an estimated 11,700 yards of yarn were used to complete the 1,400,000 stitches represented.  The tapestry was unveiled at Scottsbluff on June 8, 1976, and then traveled the state for three years.


From the accompanying booklet: “Brown County, in north central Nebraska, is represented by a landmark familiar to Brown County residents. The railroad trestle southwest of Long Pine was built in 1905 and is one of the tallest in the state. It is an integral part of the county’s history and remains in use today. Pine Creek, well known for its fish, wildlife and recreation, flows under the trestle. Blue sky and fluffy white clouds typify not only Brown County, but the entire state.” The block was designed by the Lamplighters Extension Club and the needlework was done by Mrs. Art Fernau, Mrs. Duane Philben, Mrs. Henry Voss, and Mrs. Roy Preston.

To accompany the tapestries, a booklet was put together to, as the introduction states, “amplify the story told by the tapestry itself” that features narratives from each club about the blocks and the counties as well as a listing of the people who worked on project.


From the accompanying booklet: “Grant County, named for Ulysses S. Grant, was created in March, 1887. The county embraces 496,000 acres of sandhills dotted by numerous lakes and wet meadows. For many years those hills were considered a useless wilderness. Fortunately, cowboys trailing herds in 1879 recognized the Sandhills as ‘God’s Own Cow Country.’ Today the cowboy still rides the range, breaks horses, and ropes calves. In 1974 Nebraska’s first Old Timers’ Rodeo was held in Grant County.” The block was designed by Mrs. Deb Merrihew and the needlework was done by Mrs. Joan Sears.

The tapestry was presented to the Nebraska Center for Continuing Education on October 25, 1979, and transferred to the Nebraska State Historical Society in 1985.

–Deb Arenz, Senior Museum Curator

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