Mignery Sculpture Garden – Bartlett, Nebraska - Atlas Obscura

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Mignery Sculpture Garden

Bartlett, Nebraska

This town of 100 people has approximately one bronze sculpture for every two residents. 

Sponsored by Nebraska Tourism
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“You don’t choose art, art chooses you,” artist Herb Mignery told Nebraska Stories in 2020. “You may try to redirect it… but it’s just something that has to be done. It’s just an itch that you have to scratch.” Growing up in the small town of Barlett, Nebraska, Mignery’s connection was to the land and those who worked it. His bronze sculptures, fluid and full of movement, reflect his ranching upbringing and the lore of the early American West. 

Though life brought him around the globe, his love of his hometown and what it represented never left him. In 2002, he donated his piece Silent Leather, which features a life-sized horse and rider, to the Wheeler County Courthouse. The gift began with a phone call to Mignery’s old friend Bob Nichols, who now serves as caretaker for the garden. “One day, Herb called me and said come out to Loveland [Colorado], I want to give you a bronze.” Nichols thought the courthouse lawn was the perfect spot to display the work. “Herb saw what we did with it,” Nichols told KOLN radio. “And he said you need some more. So, we’ve gotten bronzes from him every year since 2002.” 

Twenty years later, the collection, known as the Mignery Sculpture Garden, has over 50 pieces—that’s a lot for a town of around 100 people. It has the most bronze sculptures, per capita of any place in the world. Though most of the pieces were donated by Mignery, several came from collectors who saw the project and wanted to contribute. 

Works include The Letter, a piece that shows a cowboy in repose reading a letter, and The Mayor of Second Street, a cigar-smoking man that Mignery says was inspired by “a busybody he knew back in Nebraska who would pontificate from a street-side bench.” Some are life-sized, but most are much smaller, resting on heavy plinths that dot the courthouse grounds. All told, there is approximately $700,000 worth of bronzes in the garden. 

His long history as an artist focused on the American West has earned him a place in the Cowboy Artist Hall of Fame in 1985, an honor that was shared with his wife Sherry. “My wife does everything but the sculpting,” he told a crowd at a 2019 ceremony dedicating six new sculptures for the garden.  

Though raised by generations of ranchers, Mignery knew that his life would take a different path. “I love the ranch life, roping steers, roping cattle, and horsemanship,” he told Nebraska Stories. “I loved that part of it, but it was the loneliness, I don’t know, it was just not the life for me and I knew it wasn’t.” But with his art, he was able to capture an element of that life, a moment in time for the people he grew up with, and a love letter to his region’s past. “My legacy,” he continued. “Will probably be a sculpture garden in a little town in the middle of Nebraska and I’m more than satisfied with that.”

Know Before You Go

The old Wheeler County Courthouse, built in 1918, is itself a national historic site. Today it is used as a museum run by the Wheeler County Historical Society.

This post is sponsored by Nebraska Tourism. Click here to learn more.

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