Nebraska State Historical Society Blog Archive


Image of Wm. A. Wolfe from the Omaha World Herald, Sept. 5, 1920.


The Mystery of the William A. Wolfe Atlas Collection

Forty years ago on August 1, 1977, I started my career in the library of the Nebraska State Historical Society.  The Library was located on the second floor of the building at 1500 R Street, with the Reading Room (current Capitol View Room today) being the main focal point for research.  At that time the public was still allowed to conduct research in one library stack level.  The first thing I learned was that part of my job included responding to genealogical research inquiries.  The Alex Haley movie Roots in 1976 had introduced a new generation to researching their family history.  Unlike today with the use of so many online resources, those doing research beyond Nebraska were still using various sources that were not always readily available.  For example, computers were just starting to be used to index the various old U.S. federal census records before 1860.  A company produced various printed indexes for the U.S. census records from 1790 to 1850.  The...
  Image of Wm. A. Wolfe from the Omaha World Herald, Sept. 5, 1920. Fast forward to June 2017.  Linda Naticchioni contacts the Nebraska State Historical Society about a collection of maps that her great-grandfather Wm. A. Wolfe, a banker from Beatrice, was reported to have accumulated in his life time. The major source of reference was an Omaha World-Herald article dated September 5, 1920 in which a reporter had written an article about the valuable set of original maps and atlases that he had in his private collection.  The collection was already deemed valuable at that time and included atlases that were reported to be extremely rare.  He allowed the public to use his collection, including William Jennings Bryan, and he expressed his intentions to turn over the collection to the Nebraska Historical Society.  Mr. Wolfe, however, passed away from influenza in May of 1921. Wolfe left a wife and daughter who continued to live in the home where his reported collection was in a...

Doane Powell with wall of masks


Saving Face

Unusual objects have a way of showing up for treatment at the Ford Conservation Center. So in some ways the 69 masks by Nebraska artist Doane Powell were no surprise. But a little bizarre? Maybe. The Nebraska History Museum collection of mid-20th century faces, both famous and infamous, were made from a wide range of materials--including leftover lingerie! Fortunately Powell left a detailed book on how to make masks, complete with step-by-step instructions and diagrams. He described himself as a “Cartoonist. Portrait Painter. Sculptor. Art Instructor. Art Director. Lecturer.”  Powell had many talents, but conservator he was not. His wide range of layered paper masks were widely used for social events, theater productions, advertising, masquerades and early tv shows. The daughter of Powell's assistant donated them to the Museum and the staff brought them to the Ford Center for treatment as the evidence of their use was clear. 60+ years of hand grime and environmental residue...
  The Ford Center staff approached this project like we do every other one: 1) What can we do to stabilize the piece, to ensure it is structurally sound and to prevent further damage? 2) How can we best clean the surface?  3) What can we do to compensate for any aesthetic damage and return it to closer to its original intended appearance?  In this case, we examined each of the masks and came up with a general many-step treatment plan: consolidate any loose paint or fragments   vacuum the masks with a brush and a net over the nozzle, just in case any pieces came loose  clean the surfaces, testing the paint surfaces and using extreme caution so as not to disturb the original materials humidify warped masks either locally or in a humidification chamber  mend and fill tears or losses    inpaint repairs to visually integrate with the surrounding area.    

H. A. Brainerd. From Portrait and Biographical Album of Lancaster County, Nebraska (1888).


Timeline Tuesday: Brainerd and Furnas at the Fair

H. A. Brainerd. From Portrait and Biographical Album of Lancaster County, Nebraska (1888). In 1926 journalist and Nebraska press historian Henry Allen Brainerd (1857-1940) recalled his attendance at the Nebraska State Fair in 1886 or 1887 when it was held at Lincoln. Brainerd, a native of Boston, had come to Nebraska in the early 1880s. Staging the fair was the responsibility of the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture, of which Robert W. Furnas was longtime secretary. Brainerd said: "One instance of that early day is vividly before me and I never enter the fair grounds, and I have attended the most of them since that time, but what it comes to my mind. I went to the fair and entered the office of the secretary, and after a cordial greeting which was always Mr. Furnas' custom, he remarked-'Wait a minute, Brainerd, I want to show you something.' After he had finished with the party to whom he was talking he took his hat and told his clerk, Harry Shaffer, that he would be back...
The state fairgrounds, looking south from the Amphitheater, 1888. NSHS RG3356-3   "I gazed on the hog and answered 'Yes!' but compare that hog with the first prize winner of today [1926]. The hog referred to would not have weighed over 400 pounds, if he did that, [and] he was raw and rangy, but he took the first prize. And so with the horses, the cattle, the sheep, and all the exhibits of this wonderful fair that has just passed, where thousands of people attend, where automobiles bring the guests from all states in the union, where the natives come in trains loaded to the gun'ales; and by auto until there is not room on the grounds to receive them and arrangements are not far distant when greater facilities must be provided for the reception of the guests.   "Monday, it is said, was the banner day in all the history of the fair. 75,500 people and 12,500 automobiles passed the gates. . . . Of course there may have been more, for it would be impossible to get a...

Kearney bachelors newspaper article


Timeline Tuesday: The Bachelors' Protective Union of Kearney

When the Bachelors' Protective Union gave a gala reception for two of its newly married, former members and their brides in March of 1890, the social club for young, single business and professional men was already well known in Kearney. Formed in November of 1888, the club took for its motto "Divided We Stand, United We Fall," and held many of its social functions at Kearney's Midway Hotel. The Kearney Daily Hub said on March 6, 1890:
From the Kearney Daily Hub, September 25, 1889.   Solomon D. Butcher depicted the cigar stand inside Kearney's Midway Hotel, which hosted many social events sponsored by the Bachelors' Protective Union. NSHS RG2608-2628 "The brotherhood, as its votaries delight to call it, has become very popular among society lovers, as was very evident last night from the many smiling, happy faces of the tenderer sex. It has been a time honored custom among the bachelors that when one of their members stepped aside to take a peep at the other side of life-the matrimonial side-this breach of faith is punished by visiting upon the offender the punishment of dining and evening [sic] him." The gathering was held at Kearney's Midway Hotel, where the guests were seated at a table forming the letter "U" to designate the matrimonial unions of the two former club members. "Till nearly 11 o'clock the epicures feasted upon raw oysters on the half shell and other delicacies of the season," after which...

Assistant Objects Conservator Rebecca Cashman works on one of the Doane Powell masks


Flashback Friday: What’s more ghoulish than a historic mask of a long-dead celebrity?

What’s more ghoulish than a historic mask of a long-dead celebrity? Any mask of a long-dead celebrity with wrinkles, tears, missing ears, or discoloration – or at least that’s how the conservators at the NSHS’s Ford Conservation Center feel. “The large spots of discolored adhesive make it look like he has leprosy or something,” says Rebecca Cashman, Objects Conservator. The objects lab at the Ford Conservation Center in Omaha is currently busy with 30 masks that will soon be part of the “The Strange and Wonderful Masks of Doane Powell” exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum. In March, these masks will replace the first group of treated masks currently on display. That way, the masks aren’t subjected to the rigors of being on display for the entire ten months of the exhibit. The Doane Powell masks have been a huge group effort for the Ford Center. While each conservator usually works on projects related to his or her specialty (paper, paintings, or objects), the masks...
Kenneth Be, painting conservator at the Ford Center, is shown with a John Falter painting.   Paper conservator Hilary LeFevere and conservation technician Megan Griffiths work on paper objects at the Ford Conservation center.   Cashman works on a Doane Powell mask at the Ford Conservation Center. As a result, conserving these objects requires a one-of-a-kind approach to clean and repair each mask. “There are about 70 masks and they’re not all painted with the same media,” Cashman says. She picks up a mask of early 20th century entertainer Sophie Tucker and points to Sophie’s lips. “In some cases we think actual makeup, like lipstick, was used to color some of the lips. ,” Cashman says. “We have to be very careful.” At the beginning of the project, Cashman carried out extensive testing on a group of masks to gain a sense of cleaning methods and repair materials that could be safely used to treat them without interfering with the original materials. Lab technicians Megan...     

Legacy of Nebraska: Paintings by Todd Williams


The Legacy of Nebraska Exhibit Opens 6:00 p.m. March 1

Exhibit Opening at Nebraska History Museum Nebraska will celebrate 150 years of statehood throughout 2017, but the birthday bash at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln starts at 6:00 p.m. Wednesday, March 1.  “The Legacy of Nebraska: Paintings by Todd A. Williams” will open to the public on Statehood Day. Nebraska-born artist Williams spent five years creating paintings that depict historic, geographic, and figurative elements from each of the state’s 93 counties. He worked with historians, sponsors, and leaders in each county to identify significant subjects for the project. Some counties inspired more than one painting. A total of 124 pieces will be on exhibit through June 4 at 131 Centennial Mall North, Lincoln. In addition to the March 1 opening from 6:00-8:00 p.m., the museum will be open late on Friday, March 3 from 4:30-7:00 p.m. as part of Lincoln’s First Friday Gallery Walk. The museum is open daily except state holidays free of charge. Call 402-471-4782...
Summer Tour This summer parts of the exhibit will tour to Grand Island’s Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer (June 17-August 20), and Omaha’s Gallery 1516 (September 1-October 15). Regional selections will be simultaneously exhibited at Bone Creek Museum of Agrarian Art, David City; Homestead National Monument of America, Beatrice; Gallery 92 West, Fremont; Dawson County Historical Society Museum, Lexington; and the West Nebraska Art Center, Scottsbluff throughout the rest of 2017.


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