November 24, 2014

Art junior creates mural for Ponca Tribe

Rikki Neumann, a junior art major, has created a mural for the economic development company owned by the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska. The project was completed through a “Self as Subject” art class offered through the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts.

The class is about self-discovery through art, and students get to express something about themselves in a way they have never done before using whatever is their medium or emphasis.

Neumann’s project, along with work by other students in the Self as Subject and a clay sculptures classes, will be featured in a celebration event, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 11 on the second floor of Richards Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

Neumann’s mural, located at 28th and O streets in Lincoln, is seven-and-a-half feet tall by 50 feet long.

“I’ve never done anything this big before at all,” said Neumann, whose emphasis is in ceramics. “I haven’t even taken a painting class yet, but I’ve always just loved to paint. The challenge is filling the space without making it look too busy and having a main focal point.”

The project began last summer after Neurmann talked with a friend who worked for Osni Ponca.

“I was just thinking about the side of their building and how great of a wall that would be to make a mural on,” Neumann said.

She met with O.J. LaPointe, the president and CEO of the company, and described the imagery she was interested in creating. After some discussion, they agreed on a theme of “Honoring the Past, Building the Future.”

“That’s what their building is all about—building jobs for Natives in Lincoln and Nebraska,” Neumann said.

The left side of the image represents the past and the land that is still there.

“At the Niobrara by the river, they have a place where the Ponca Tribe does their powwows,” Neumann said. “It’s a really important place for them, so I decided to do that scene on the left side.”

The middle image is a Native American woman, who represents Mother Earth. She is reaching out to an eagle in the sky, which represents Father Sky.

“Mother Earth and Father Sky are communicating on this vision they have for the future to keep a positive light on Native people in Nebraska,” Neumann said. “She’s looking up at the eagle, and there’s going to be these abstract lines running from the eagle’s eyes to her eyes and then to the cityscape.”

The cityscape, on the right side of the mural, represents the future.

Although not related to the Ponca Tribe, Neumann discovered last summer that her great-grandfather was a Cherokee.

“That made me want to connect with the indigenous side within me,” she said.

Neumann began painting the mural in September and was expecting to complete it by the end of November. She has spent approximately 10 hours a week on the mural. She teaches classes at Art Planet, and the director made it a class requirement to have the students help with the mural. She also received assistance from various local hardware stores that donated supplies. Havelock Ace Hardware was particularly generous.

“I called them up and told them what I was doing, and the owner said just come in and pick out some materials,” Neumann said. “I went in there, and he asked what I needed. I told him I had a list, and he just started putting things in a basket and filling it up. I thought it was great.”

Eddie Dominguez, associate professor of ceramics, is proud of the work Neumann has done on the mural.

“Rikki is not only an outstanding student, but she is also a single mom, who created and carried out a large-scale community project,” Dominguez said. “A project of this size and scope is an amazing task for anyone, but for a single mom and full-time student to find time to accomplish this is simply very impressive.”

Dominguez said he has never had a student take on a public art project of this scope before.

“She is a sincere young artist, and her own artwork deals with family, celebration and memory, and she’s still developing,” he said. “She is a hard worker, is interested in volunteerism, visits the Food Net and has volunteered at a boxing club for young people. As her professor, I supported and encouraged her, and I’m very proud of a student like Rikki, her ambitious nature and this accomplishment.”

During the course of the project, Neumann made a point to talk with student volunteers about the imagery and the history of the Ponca tribe.

“It’s important for people to know that and respect that,” Neumann said. “I think one of the things I’ve done with this mural is to educate people about this culture being here, and then maybe that will create some type of spark in them to find out more or reach out to this group in the community.”

She thinks it’s important for youth to be involved in a project like this.

“The youth are our future,” she said. “And if we give youth artists a chance to learn from something and a chance to be a part of a community project, then they’ll feel like they have some type of purpose, and they can use their talents for good. I used to volunteer at the Lincoln Boxing Club, and I volunteered at City Impact and some of the community learning centers. I just know how much of a need there is for urban youth to have positive influences in their life outside of their home. I think that’s one of the reasons I want to continue doing this.”