The sculptor that beautified Nebraska’s capital

You may not know sculptor Ellis Luis Burman’s name, but if you’ve explored Lincoln’s parks at all, chances are you know his work.

Sculptor Ellis Luis Burman working on his sculpture, The Smoke Signal. 1934

Sculptor Ellis Luis Burman working on his sculpture, The Smoke Signal. 1935

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.

Burman's most notable sculpture, The Smoke Signal, in Lincoln's Pioneers Park.

Burman’s most notable sculpture, The Smoke Signal, in Lincoln’s Pioneers Park.

Burman's War Memorial in Antelope Park.

Burman’s War Memorial in Antelope Park.

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

You May Also Enjoy

Sewing the Flag

Sewing the Flag

Buffalo Bill’s Big House

Buffalo Bill’s Big House

Marker Monday: The Seedling Mile

Marker Monday: The Seedling Mile

About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.