Mona Martinsen Neihardt (1884-1958) was a noted sculptress and wife of John G. Neihardt, Nebraska’s poet laureate. Her father had a successful banking career and became president of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad and was one of the financiers of the Canadian Pacific. As a child Mona attended private schools in New York and studied voice and violin in Germany. At the age of eighteen, she began taking sculpture lessons from New York artist Frank Edwin Elwell, curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She then studied for three years with Auguste Rodin in Paris.
In 1907 Mona returned to New York and read A Bundle of Myrrh, a book of lyric poems by John Neihardt of Bancroft, Nebraska. She was so impressed she wrote to the poet, initiating a six-month period of correspondence. On November 28, 1908, Neihardt met her at the train station in Omaha, and they were married the next day at the home of a friend. The Neihardts established a home in Bancroft and started raising a family. The poet built his wife a studio with a skylight for her sculpture.
The Neihardts resided in Bancroft until 1920, with the exception of one year (1912-13), when they lived in Minneapolis where the poet was the literary editor for the Minneapolis Journal. In late 1920 the family moved to Branson, Missouri. While her husband continued his literary career, Mona worked on busts of her family. She also designed “Ozark Babies” and sea nymphs and experimented with concrete while making a fountain figure for the family’s first Indian prayer garden.
From 1926 to 1931 the Neihardts lived in the St. Louis area while the poet worked for the St. Louis Post Dispatch. During this time they also maintained their home in Branson. When they returned to rural life the poet continued writing A Cycle of the West and completed Black Elk Speaks, his most famous work.
In 1949 John and Mona moved to a farm near Columbia, where the poet taught at the University of Missouri until his retirement in 1966. Mona continued to create sculptures of her grandchildren. She died in the spring of 1958. When her husband died in November 1973, the couple’s ashes were scattered over the Missouri River on the date of their wedding anniversary.