Sculptor Ellis Luis Burman may be an unfamiliar name to most Nebraskans, but his sculptures remain well known to visitors of Lincoln parks. Born in 1902 in Toledo, Ohio, Burman studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and later opened a studio in Omaha, where he sculpted the likenesses of several prominent citizens.
To make a living as an artist during the Depression, Burman found work with the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration. He produced several notable works at this time (1932-37). “The Arrow Maker” depicted a life-sized Sioux Indian family, done in plaster and bronze-coated. It is now on display at the Stuhr Museum in Grand Island.
Burman’s Lincoln works included The Pioneer Woman, erected on Memorial Avenue in Antelope Park; Rebecca at the Well, inspired by Bess Streeter Aldrich’s Novel A Lantern in Her Hand and located at Lincoln’s Sunken Gardens; and the cast marble War Memorial monument in Antelope Park.
Burman’s models for the soldier figures around the pedestal of the War Memorial, of course, predated World War II. The figures, therefore, represented soldiers of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I, the last conflict still fresh in the memories of Nebraskans. The pedestal was topped by a nine-foot figure representing the spirit of war and victory.
The sculptor’s best known work is probably The Smoke Signal in Lincoln’s Pioneers Park, which depicted an Indian man using a blanket to direct the smoke of a small fire. Dedicated to all Nebraska Indians, the statue was made of bronze colored poured concrete, stood fifteen feet high, and weighed five tons. A group of Omaha, Ponca, Sioux, and Winnebago tribal members took part in the dedication ceremonies of this massive sculpture on September 12, 1935.