A Picture of a Picture
Originally posted Apr 05, 2013
The State Law Library is in many ways the “hidden treasure” of the Nebraska State Capitol. And for me the crown jewel in that treasure has always been the mural over the entrance – inside the Library – “Spirit of the Prairie” by Elizabeth Dolan. It is so perfectly evocative of a time and place, in this case, the decade of the thirties out on the plains of Nebraska. The woman who gazes east with a toddler in her arms and another child and a dog at her side engages our imagination. We wonder what her thoughts are as she looks to the distance on a wind-blown Nebraska day in the midst of the Great Depression. We wonder what the future holds for her, her children, and yes, even the dog. The mother is perfectly attired and the prairie landscape is perfectly captured. For that matter, the dog also is perfect. A collie-shepherd mix, I well remember when every other farm yard in Nebraska was home to one, and they were great dogs…quiet, obedient, affectionate, and good with cattle.
The late Ralph Riefstack and I once pulled one out of the very middle of the Harlan County Reservoir. He had reluctantly been left behind by his family when it was time to leave to return to their home in Kansas, and they couldn’t find him. When Ralph and I spotted him from a considerable distance, he was attempting to swim the three miles across the lake and would never have made it. He was pretty close to done for when we hauled him into the boat, and he curled up on the floor, totally exhausted. We delivered him to the south shore marina, and he was subsequently reunited with his delighted family. Something that I’ve always been proud of.
Because of all of these things and what I find to be the mural’s nostalgic tone, I had long searched for a print or poster of “Spirit of the Prairie” but could never locate one. So, I decided to see if I couldn’t make my own by photographing Dolan’s mural. I first tried it from the floor of the Library, and it didn’t work at all. The parallax involved made Dolan’s work look as though it was narrower at the top than the bottom or maybe leaning backwards. I realized that to have a chance of making a decent photo of it, I needed to set the shot up from the back of the room on the balcony that surrounds it.
Eventually, I got around to lugging a tripod, a camera, and a medium telephoto lens over to the Law Library and took a number of shots, playing with exposure and composition. The result is “Prairie Mom” which is no more than a picture of a picture. No creativity involved – maybe just a modicum of technical expertise.
Whatever, folks seem to like it. The Capitol gift shop sells it and has reordered it twice in quantity. Also, I recently contributed a copy, matted and framed in a rather ornate gold frame, to the annual CASA fundraising dinner, where it brought $250 in a silent auction. That event got me to thinking that, even though it is not outdoor photography, we needed to get it up on the website where people who wish to do so can obtain their own copy.
I hope you like it... and if you do, give 99.99% of the credit to Elizabeth Dolan. I’ll be quite pleased with whatever’s left.
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