By Kerri Rempp, Discover Northwest Nebraska
The Spirit of the Plains exhibit at the Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center was completed and unveiled to the public earlier this month with the addition of a coyote, a rabbit and several yucca plants. The final installations join Kola, a 7’4” buffalo.
All of the pieces in the exhibit are made entirely from cardboard, burlap and paper mache and were donated to the Sandoz Center by local artist Linda Dabbs.
Located on a traditionally empty platform above the lower level that houses the C.F. Coffee Gallery, the new exhibit fills a void in the Sandoz Center. Structurally, the platform that serves as a ceiling to the Coffee Gallery is not designed to hold much weight, presenting a challenge for any exhibit that could be located on it. Dabbs, a local artist and an adjunct professor at Chadron State College, envisioned the buffalo made of nothing more than cardboard to keep it lightweight.
Weighing in at 50-75 pounds, the buffalo, named Kola, which is Lakota for “friend,” was lifted over the railing in the Chicoine Atrium and lowered on to the platform to greet visitors in April. He was joined by yucca plants, but the remainder of the space awaited the final pieces from Dabbs.
Dabbs used cardboard donated by Ace Hardware, three-and-a-half bolts of burlap and a “massive” number of hours to complete the entire exhibit, on which she began working in December 2020. The empty platform presented a challenge due to the weight restrictions, but Dabbs was undaunted.
“I said ‘I will figure out a way,’” she said, adding one of her favorite slogans, “Art solves.”
Dabbs used her background in set design at the Henry Doorly Zoo and in commercial and theater art to create the “Spirit of the Plains” exhibit for the space that had been vacant since 2003. In addition to the donation of cardboard from Ace Hardware, Dabbs said the project would not have been possible without the help of Loriann Linder and Ema Ackerman and the patience of Sandoz Center staff members Holly Counts and Laure Sinn.
After the coyote, rabbit and other brush was installed, the group also added several fossil-threaded rocks to the exhibit to provide a finishing touch. The rocks, given to Counts’ family by Sterling Bets, are the heaviest items in the entire exhibit.
“He would be thrilled to have them in here,” Counts said. “I love (the exhibit). It’s such a great addition. It’s very much what this building is about.”