Art junior creates public arts project for Ponca Tribe of Nebraska

Rikki Neumann's mural, in progress, at 28th and O sts.
Rikki Neumann's mural, in progress, at 28th and O sts.

Art junior creates public arts project for Ponca Tribe of Nebraska

calendar icon18 Nov 2014    

Rikki Neumann
Rikki Neumann
Lincoln, Neb.--Rikki Neumann, a junior art major from Lincoln, Nebraska, has created a mural for Osni Ponca, L.L.C., the economic development company owned by the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, as a public arts project and class project for her Self as Subject art class.

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

Neumann’s mural, located at 28th and O sts. in Lincoln, is 7 ½ by 50 feet.

“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. Neumann had a friend who worked for Osni Ponca, L.L.C.

“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.

Neumann met with O.J. LaPointe, the president and CEO of Osni Ponca, L.L.C., 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 Pow-Wows,” Neumann said. “So that’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 back 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 there help with the mural.

“That helped a lot,” she said. “I’ve had 10 of those students come out to work on it.”

She also received assistance from various local hardware stores, who 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.”

Associate Professor of Ceramics Eddie Dominguez 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.”

Neumann appreciated Dominguez’s support.

“That means a lot coming from Eddie because he’s my idol,” she said.

Neumann has been interested in art for her entire life.

“I always like to tell people I was born an artist,” she said. “Ever since I was a little kid, I loved to paint and draw and make things with my hands.”

She continued with art classes at Lincoln High School, and then went to Los Angeles to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising for a year and a half before returning to UNL to study art.

“I think having that design education and the fine arts education put together helps in a way that I’m more of an entrepreneur now and not just a fine artist,” she said.

She likes the idea of public art.

“It’s a place where everybody can see it, and I want to use my art to educate people,” Neumann said.

The students who helped her with the mural from Art Planet also learned something while they worked on the mural.

“I gave them a little talk about what the Ponca Tribe is and how indigenous people still live here,” she said. “It’s important for people to know that and respect that. 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.”

Information about Neumann’s mural will be included in a celebration of the work of students in Dominguez’s Self as Subject class and clay sculptures class on Thursday, Dec. 11 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on the second floor of Richards Hall. The event is free and open to the public.