Willa Cather and Material Cultural Exhibit – Part of the NEA BIG READ!

  • Date(s): Monday, September 17th 2007 - Friday, September 28th 2007
  • Time:
  • Location: Niobrara County Library

“And now her power to think seemed converted into a power of sustained sensation. She could become a mere receptacle on the hot stones outside her door; or she could become a continuous repetition of sound, like the cicadas.

” . . . what was any art but an effort to make a sheath, a mould in which to imprison for a moment the shining, elusive element which is life itself,–life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose? The Indian women had held it in their jars. In the sculpture she had seen in the Art Institute, it had been caught in a flash of arrested motion. In singing, one made a vessel of one’s throat and nostrils and held it on one’s breath, caught the stream in a scale of natural intervals.”
~The Song of the Lark

Photographer’s Comments

Willa Cather came to the world of writing at a critical time in the arts–a time when French impressionist painters, in particular, were experimenting with light to change dramatically the way we see objects. In seeking the power of light to capture an image in a given moment, these artists magnified ordinary objects and transformed them into the extraordinary. In the same way, Cather, it seems to me, used her power as a writer to suspend action within her narratives in order to transform images, magnifying and setting them apart from the common. This is part of her art–her genius.

The Cather Foundation and the Nebraska State Historical Society possess extensive collections of artifacts connected to the life, times, and writing of Willa Cather. Some objects are too valuable to display publicly; others too fragile; and some of the artifacts fit so neatly into the historic buildings that they are obscured. This photographic exhibit is intended to highlight a select few of these objects and denote their relevance to Willa Cather and her writing.

As a photographer, I am constantly making choices. In this exhibit, I had the choice to employ the simplicity and power of black and white photography. This would have made my task much easier. However, I have always been fascinated with Cather’s use of color. She led a colorful life. She wore colorful clothing. She embodies objects, landscapes, even people in terms of color. In framing artifacts important in Cather’s life, color, it seems to me, is both inviting and necessary.

I have been humbled by the task set before me and thankful that I possess an extraordinary camera that, in effect, often thinks for me. I own a computer that can alter light, form, and color at the touch of a key. It is no easy assignment to capture an object in the transforming power of light–light that is never the same and always fleeting. The manipulation of this ever so temporal factor is the primary tool of the photographer in the process of artistically altering objects in extraordinary ways. I have the advantages of technology in this manipulative process; how amazing it is that Cather was able in her descriptions to embody the essence of light, form, and color through simple, carefully chosen words that to this day astonish the world.

Betty Kort

The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. The NEA presents the Big Read in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and in cooperation with Arts Midwest. “The Big Read: Wyoming reads My Antonia” is a project of the Wyoming Center for the Book, in partnership with Wyoming libraries and the Wyoming School-University Partnership, and with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, Wyoming Community Foundation and the Kellogg Foundation.