There are places on whose ground you probably expect to see works of art—ancient pieces of art, collector’s items, something new from the foundries found around the country such as in Loveland, Colorado-where some of our local/regional artists bring their visions into something tangible. A couple of homes here in Kearney-look for a later entry here-have some splendid works, often done by local artists.
Friends who have been to the American “castles”-Hearst in San Simeon or Vanderbilt in Carolina-come home talking about what they’ve seen there, and a recent University of Nebraska at Kearney publication featured some of the public art available in our city.
But lots of folks make a gallery of their yards. We call it simply yard art—the grounds of homes of those who have populated their yard with one form of art or another. Maybe you drive by one every day without taking much notice.
I once taught a class for an American Studies program in our greatest life-long learning institutions NOT INCLUDING schools, colleges, and universities. It featured libraries and other archives, museums, galleries, and zoos. Now I wish I’d added to that another category-neighborhood yards.
This, then, is a feature about “yard art”-yards that are highlighted by objects that attract interest-yards that are truly locally grown.
In locales such as Mississippi or Vermont, they call what you see “folk art” and you see lots of places that show it, decorate with it, buy it, sell it, and sit on the porch and tell tourists all about it – here, we mostly just let the yards speak for themselves.
The yards in this entry all come from the town center on either side of and not far from the train tracks. There you can see everything from modern abstract forms to little windmills and bird houses and old tires colorfully painted. You might see banners and decorated bird baths, plows or old wagons or cycles, standing flamingos, or artificial flowers. I see them and am reminded of Nebraska poet Ted Kooser-who has read often in Kearney. His office in Dwight occupies an old grocery story whose windows are chockfull of artificial flowers-his business card says he is an artificial florist.
Some of these yards are to be found in immaculately kept premises and as highlights to large spaces of landscaping. Others are in less pristine surroundings, maybe now a bit rundown or purposely junky-a statement in itself. Many display items found in lots of garden shops-my favorite being a child on a bench-a miniature version of the larger and more unique sculpture in Harmon Park. Almost always, the source of the art is eclectic—some the creation of the home owner, some commissioned, some simply found, or like so much of what we possess, kept instead of discarded. Kudos to Nick Keizer, one of the local artists whose work has been commissioned to grace a yard, for example the diamond shapes in one yard were commissioned from Nick Keizer to be reminiscent of a dilapidated ‘50s motel, joining the two tall uprights in the same yard that a previous owner had installed.
Whether the art matches an art-deco home or obscures an older standard construction two-story or bungalow, they catch your eye and remind you that little brightly colored objects or items that caught someone’s eye came home to surround the family and please the passers-by. At some times of year, the Yard Art competes with holiday decorations—all part of the same impulse to add shape and color to our lives.
By Chuck Peek with thanks to Frannie Mattson for her help.