Cowboy art: Bartlett, Nebraska, honors native son with sculpture garden

About 40 sculptures are located at the Wheeler County Courthouse, about an hour north of Grand Island.

Growing up on a ranch in Nebraska’s Sandhills, it was expected that Herb Mignery would follow in his ancestors’ boots and become a rancher. Mignery had other thoughts. Instead of strapping on a pair of chaps and pulling on his boots, Mignery took his cowboy hat and became one of the nation’s leading western artists.

With sculptures based on his cowboy upbringing, the Bartlett native has commissioned pieces located across the United States, including a 20-foot-tall Pony Express monument in Arizona. His work is recognized by the Academy of Country Music with its “Pioneer Award.”

Wheeler County Courthouse garden

His hometown recognized Mignery with a sculpture garden at the Wheeler County courthouse. Bartlett, with a population of roughly 120 people, has about 40 sculptures, mostly miniatures, at the courthouse. Mignery created each piece.

Three Pawnee Native Americans.

The sculptures, most of them about 12 inches tall, represent life in the western United States. From Indigenous people, such as the Pawnee, to cowboys and Euro-American settlers, Mignery’s works seek to present authentic looks into people.

The sculpture garden uses the courthouse as a backdrop. Walking among the sculptures offers a look at western life through the eyes of the artist. With amazing detail, each piece includes facial expressions, as well as authentic clothing. You quickly appreciate Mignery’s artistic talent.

As a child, I wanted to be a cowboy. In fact, my nickname in my hometown of Kennard was “Cowboy.” I imagine it had something to do with me always wearing a cowboy hat, boots and a holster with a six-shooter. Sometimes, I wore a dual pistol holster.

Started drawing in army

Mignery, born in 1937, first tinkered with drawings while in the army, and continued to work in the medium before casting his first sculpture in 1973. Since then, he’s created dozens of bronze sculptures.

Mignery has been considered one of the best cowboy artists in the United States, receiving a multitude of awards, including induction into the Cowboy Artists of America. He’s also a member of the Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame.

Round-up time.

Located about an hour north of Grand Island in central Nebraska, art and western enthusiasts will enjoy the trip to Bartlett.

Among Mignery’s recent works, O’Neill, Nebraska, dedicated a sculpture he made of John O’Neill, who founded the northeast Nebraska town. Known for its annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration, locals believed it was time to honor O’Neill, an Irish immigrant and Union officer during the Civil War. O’Neill’s descendants attended the dedication, which also recognized Mignery for his work.

The 85-year-old artist splits his time between Nebraska and Colorado.