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2014 Spring Conference Highlights

2014 Spring Conference Highlights

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

This year’s conference-goers were treated to three days of gorgeous Nebraska summer, exciting performances, thought-provoking art, and entertaining speakers.

The conference opened Thursday with a day of scholarly presentations on Cather, her contemporaries, and the literary environment. We welcomed topics on not only Cather’s prairie landscape, but her urban and eastern landscapes, the role of nature in the work of Cather’s contemporaries, new work in ecocriticism, ecofeminism, critical plant studies, and pedagogy. Sue Maher, Tom Lynch, and John Price talked about their recent nonfiction publications related to landscape and literature, and memoirist Julene Bair, author of the critically acclaimed The Ogallala Road and One Degree West talked about her most recent writing projects.

After a full day of papers and presentations, we enjoyed the beautiful evening at the historic Burlington Depot with music provided by Formerly Three of Kearney and the Red Cloud Lions’ Club manning the grills for a traditional summer barbecue.

Friday morning we welcomed our Norma Ross Walter and Antonette Willa Skupa Turner scholarship winners and their families to the Red Cloud Opera House, where the winners read their papers, fielded questions from the audience and were given their awards. The Norma Ross Walter Scholarship award winners were: 1st – Grace Iaquinta, Lincoln East, 2nd – Abigail Feden, Papillion-LaVista, and tied for 3rd – Mary Theresa Wahlmeier, St. Cecilia (Hastings) and Iona Newman, Central (Omaha). Abigail Feden was also the winner of the Antonette Willa Skupa Turner Scholarship. 

On both Thursday and Friday afternoons, Nebraska forager Adam Hintz led a tour of the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie, educating visitors on edible prairie plants. For those who preferred to stay inside, documentaries were shown in the Red Cloud Opera House about our Great Plains Heritage.

Conference-goers were also able to see some of the work beginning on the Moon Block, the future home of the National Willa Cather Center. The architects’ renderings and floor plans were made available to participants, so that they might see the future home of our archive. Spring Conference is the perfect time for us to bring out some of our archival treasures, including quilts belonging to the Cather family, books and notes from the Cathers, historic photographs, and Willa Cather’s personal items. The completion of the NWCC will make it possible for items like these to be safely on display more often for visiting readers and researchers.

Photographer Peter Brown and the multimedia artist Catherine Meier were on hand to talk about their work late Friday afternoon. Brown, whose exhibit West of Last Chance is currently on display in the Auditorium, spoke about the process of creating the exhibit with well-known Great Plains author Kent Haruf. Catherine Meier spoke about her exhibit It Happened Here, currently on display in the Gallery of the Red Cloud Opera House. Both exhibits showcase the stark beauty of the Great Plains and grasslands and speak to Cather’s literary landscapes of Nebraska. A book signing with all of our authors and photographers followed the artists’ talks.

Clay Jenkinson delivered the conference’s keynote address, discussing the important writers of the Great Plains and lauding Nebraska’s literary heritage. Jenkinson’s comments touched on Hamlin Garland, Willa Cather, John Niehardt, Larry Woiwode, O.E. Rolvaag, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Lois Phillips Hudson, Kent Haruf, Wright Morris, and diarist Rachel Calof, before Jenkinson brought the crowd to its feet with a story about his grandmother and the making of pickles. It was one of the most memorable moments of the conference.

Saturday, as tradition dictates, opened with kolaches and coffee in the Opera House, followed by a service at Grace Episcopal Church. Reverent Charles Peek. In the Opera House, the Passing Show panel—comprised of Daniel Deffenbaugh of Hastings College, Tom Lynch of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and John Price, University of Nebraska-Omaha, and moderated by Regis University’s Daryl Palmer—discussed the ways that the physical landscape has impacted their own work and how the literature of landscape can affect today’s readers. A lively question and answer session followed.

The annual Saturday lunch featured a number of Nebraska dishes, as we hosted a traditional Thresher’s Lunch. Runzas, beef and noodles, mashed potatoes, homemade bread and jams, cookies, cakes, and cobblers filled up our conference-goers and kept them energized for an afternoon of Cather sites.

The 2nd annual Wildflower Walk took place on the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie Saturday afternoon; due to weather conditions, we had fewer and different flowers than we have in the past, but thanks to much-needed rain overnight, the prairie was lush, the sky was filled with beautiful clouds, and the larks, dicksissels, and sparrows serenaded our participants with song.

We also featured two local artists and an arts group whose work speaks to sustainability and the environment. Dr. Amy Springer, who operates Sweetwater Glassworks, discussed some of her art projects that include the use of recycled glass in her studio in downtown Red Cloud. Textile and natural materials artist Jane Marie spoke about and displayed her work in the Harling House, while University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Kari Ronning discussed historical quilts on display. Some of Red Cloud’s best quilters were on hand to give a demonstration of their work, as well.

Saturday night’s banquet featured Nebraska beef, regionally grown organic vegetables and fruit, and Nebraska wine. After dinner, Executive Director Ashley Olson presented the family of longtime Willa Cather Foundation supporter Barb Sprague with the Miriam Mountford Volunteer Award; we missed Barb throughout Spring Conference—she had been our organist at Spring Conference services at Grace Episcopal for years, and she was a great friend.

Spring Conference concluded with Illusion Theater’s award-winning production of My Ántonia. We had heard wonderful things about this group’s production of Cather’s Nebraska novel, and we were thrilled that it surpassed all our expectations! The 90-minute adaptation very successfully captured the spirit of Ántonia Shimerda and moved many in the crowd to tears. Illusion Theater is based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. This excellent production was directed by Michael Robins, with adaptation by Allison Moore and score by Roberta Carlson.

Once again, we recognize our many sponsors for making possible the excellent programming at Spring Conference: Thomas Reese Gallagher; David Porter; UNL Cather Project, Roberta and James Woodress Fund; John A (Jay) Yost and G. Wade Leak; Virgil and Dolores Albertini; Marion A. Arneson; Bahr Vermeer Haecker Architects; Dr. Gary Cook; Gary Thompson Agency, Inc.; Richard C. Harris; Hastings College; Heritage Bank; Frederick J. and Diane Kaufman; Ruth and Jim Keene III; Glenda J. Pierce and Jeff Kirkpatrick; Sharon Kohout; Paul R. and Lynette Krieger; Charles and Nancy Peek; LIPS Printing; Dr. Susan N. Maher; C. Kay Stahly; John and Ardis Yost; The Chicken Coop, Downtown Grand Island; William Dunfey; Marie George; Oregon Trail Equipment, LLC; Ann Romines; Claudia Stravato; Red Cloud Chief; Starke Round Barn Historic Site.

For more Spring Conference photos,  CLICK HERE.