Lingua Franca Finds Inspiration In the Great Plains and Willa Cather's Writing

As part of their “Nebraskaland” collection of hand-embroidered boutique clothing, Lingua Franca announced the release of their “Willa Cather Collection” on International Women’s Day, March 8. Their Willa Cather-inspired capsule was created in partnership with the National Willa Cather Center and Penguin Random House. Twenty percent of proceeds from the sale of items in the collection will benefit the National Willa Cather Center’s efforts to promote the author’s legacy through education, preservation, and the arts.

“Fashioning Willa Cather quotes to clothing is such a creative way to celebrate her work,” said Ashley Olson, executive director of the National Willa Cather Center. “We’re grateful to the Lingua Franca team for supporting our mission through this unique partnership.”

"It is always a thrill when we find that a company outside the publishing world has as much enthusiasm for our great authors as we do,” added Suzanne Herz, publisher of Vintage Books & Anchor Books. “We could not be happier to see Lingua Franca highlight Willa Cather's work. What a stylish way to support writing and reading!"

The collection aims to memorialize the writer's prose, while conjuring the mystic beauty of Nebraska’s prairies with hand-stitched embroidery and handmade crocheted embellishments. The portfolio was shot in the fall of 2021 on Nebraska models at founder and designer Rachelle Hruska MacPherson’s grandparents’ home in Ceresco, Nebraska as well as on the Hruska Family Farm, in Ulysses, Nebraska.

Recently, we asked Rachelle more about her latest collection.

How did you discover Willa Cather and her writing?

I (like every Nebraskan) learned about Willa Cather through school-assigned readings of O Pioneers! and My Ántonia. But, it wasn’t until later, as a New Yorker, that I came to understand the extent of Cather’s work and the impact it had on the world outside of my home state.

The more I’ve gotten to know Willa Cather, the more I’m impressed with her fierce individualism and prose. I knew that memorializing her words on the pieces in this collection would be a perfect fit.

What is it about the Great Plains, and Red Cloud, that you share with people who’ve never been here before?

The more I travel, the more I come back to the uniqueness of the rolling hills of the prairies in Nebraska. There’s such a poetic calmness to the palette, and it’s really unlike anywhere else in the world.

You’ve mentioned the similarity of the places lived between you and Willa Cather, a century later. In a macro way, what do you think has remained the same about these two very different places of New York City and Nebraska?

Both places have shaped me in remarkable ways, as I’m sure was the case with Willa. In Nebraska, the prairies are still very much intact and remarkably unchanged, I imagine, from her time spent there. In the West Village, you still find a community of artistic people from all over the world living in a neighborhood of cobblestone streets and mom and pop drug stores. In a sense, the small town nature of the village is very “Nebraska” in this way. Now that I think about it, the West Village is more similar to Red Cloud, Nebraska than to midtown Manhattan.

Are there other parallels?

Before becoming a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Cather left the vast landscape of the midwest for NYC. While working as managing editor for McClure’s Magazine, Cather lived (with her companion, Edith Lewis) and wrote out of an apartment at 5 Bank Street. Cather's West Village home, I was delighted to discover, is directly across from The Waverly Inn—my husband's restaurant and our family's stomping grounds—and just a stone’s throw away from where I now sit writing this. In short, I felt connected to her in having two very distinct homelands—the prairies of Nebraska and the bustling village of NYC—which are pretty much the furthest apart as far as these things go.

As a fashion designer, what do you think is the impetus for the "retro prairie" look of the past few years that the Lingua Franca “Nebraska Collection” certainly evokes?

I think as the world becomes more and more digitized there will continue to be a yearning towards simpler times, and designers drawing from the past. In particular, in sustainable fashion, using old textiles and the crafting techniques of our grandparents’ era has become very much en vogue.

What inspires you to give back to nonprofits like the Willa Cather Foundation?

I love that Lingua Franca has been able to give back to hundreds of causes over the last five years. Because Willa Cather was such an impactful writer to me, it’s a joy to support the foundation in her name and to share her work with people that may never have heard of her before.

Lingua Franca is generously donating 20% of the proceeds from the Willa Cather Collection to the Willa Cather Foundation. For more information: Lingua Franca • Instagram @LinguaFrancaNYC

Rachelle Hruska MacPherson was born and raised in Lincoln, Nebraska and graduated from Creighton University in 2005. She is co-founder and CEO of and Lingua Franca.

Vintage Books & Anchor Books, a division of Penguin Random House, publish the entire collection of Willa Cather’s writings in paperback. They are available online from our National Willa Cather Center Bookstore, at Lingua Franca, and wherever books are sold.

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