Omaha’s public art worth the viewing

Omaha public art

From the Missouri riverfront to western Omaha, the city has taken an interest in its public art displays.

Omaha has joined the trend of other cities in offering its residents and visitors artwork outside of museums.

As visitors cross the Missouri River from Iowa on Interstate 80, they are welcomed by a set of Union Pacific trains.

Kenefick Park Trains

Along the riverfront, the famed “Labor” sculpture stands between the popular Lewis and Clark Landing to the country’s longest pedestrian bridge crossing two states – the Bob Kerrey Bridge.

Labor sculpture

The Landing area is home to several summer festivals, but the Labor sculpture comes into play as party of Septemberfest – a celebration of Omaha’s labor unions and workers. Several informational signs are located along the riverfront.

The sculpture – by artist Matthew Placzek – also gained fame three years during the Great Flood of 2011. At the height of the river’s flooding, a hand holding a hammer became a symbol for measuring the height of the flood waters along the Landing area.

Omaha flood 2011

Heartland of America Park is home to the majority of the city’s war memorials.


The largest on display is the World War II memorial. It depicts the sacrifices made by Americans during that war. A man hugs his family, I imagine as he readies to depart for battle. A little kid stands alongside a wagon and renders a salute.

Heartland of America Park memorials

A woman stands wearing overalls, taking on a job in support of the war effort.

A few feet away is the Airborne paratrooper memorial.

Paratroopers memorial

Another iconic downtown sculpture feature recognizes Nebraska’s pioneer past.

The Pioneer Courage Park sits among several tall buildings. The artwork by Blair Buswell and Edward Fraughton recognizes the spirit of Nebraska’s early pioneers.

Pioneer Courage Park

The park consists of several pieces – wagons drawn by oxen, people walking alongside, as well as a cowboy atop a horse. He stands on top of a hill overlooking the other travelers.

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Up the street a few blocks is Joslyn Museum. In its sculpture walk are two statues of Native Americans. These pieces recognize the history of Midwestern tribes.

Joslyn Sculpture Park

Across the street from Omaha’s TD Ameritrade baseball stadium is “Fertile Ground.” It’s one of the nation’s largest public art murals. It is 32,500 square feet. The Kiewit Foundation donated the artwork to the city in 2008. It recognizes the history of Omaha. It used actual people in the paintings.

Fertile Ground Mural

On the north side of town stands a statue honoring Omaha’s role in blues music. A trio of performers stands in Dreamland Plaza.

Heading south, Omaha shows its Hispanic flavor with the Tree of Life. Nearby is a mural recognizing life in Omaha.

Tree of Life in South Omaha

Using old grain elevators as the canvass, a group of artists told stories or sent messages. Emerging Terrain organized the art on 26 silos that are not used any more. The art display sits prominently off Interstate 80. Some of the art tells the history of the area. Some send messages about energy. Whatever the message, the art work is impressive.

Art on grain elevators

Scattered throughout the city a few years were J Doe sculptures. Non-descript body statues were painted with various scenes or colors by several artists. Other cities do similar campaigns – Sioux City used the dog from Lewis and Clark’s expedition. Other cities have used bison and fish.

J. Doe sculpture

In midtown Omaha, the city recognizes one of the greatest race horses in history. Omaha was a winner of the Kentucky Derby decades ago. A sculpture recognizes the horse, which was buried in the old Aksarben horse track area.

Near the Aksarben area sits the University of Nebraska at Omaha. In recent years, the school has made a concerted effort to enhance the campus area with artwork.


On the main campus stands “Knowledge” by Littleton Alston.

Near the former football stadium named after him, a small sculpture honors former coach Al Caniglia. He was the all-time winningest coach for the Mavericks for decades, until Pat Behrns eclipsed him earlier this century. Without a football program for three seasons, the field is now home to Mav soccer.

Al Caniglia

On the Aksarben campus, the school has placed several pieces.

One of my favorites is a crane in a group of cattails.

Crane in cattails

Other pieces include modern pieces.

UNO took a creative approach to a bike rack by using school colors and the athletic Mav logo.

UNO bike racks

Heading to west Omaha, Valmont Industries has a cool sculpture at its Omaha office. Valmont is a maker of irrigation pumps and has an international client base. Thus, its Omaha office displays flags from countries with clients.  In front sits a sculpture with the globe atop of a neat base.

Valmont Industries

Boys Town is an internationally home for boys and girls. It gained fame in its early days when Father Flanagan opened a boys home to help wayward kids. The story was memorialized in the Oscar-winning movie, “Boys Town,” starring Spencer Tracy and a young Mickey Rooney.

He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother statue

The statue that welcomes visitors to the campus is also probably just as famous – a boy carrying another on his back. Its name – “He Ain’t heavy, He’s My Brother.”

Farther west, Scheels sports store at Village Pointe shopping center even got into the public art foray.

The store has sculptures of four presidents outside the store – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan.

Abe Lincoln statue at Scheels

Omaha’s public art traverses the landscape. From the history of Omaha to recognizing business, Omaha has taken a keen interest in sharing its art.

Next time you are out and about in town, or any town or city for that matter, take a few minutes and recognize the art being shared with us.

Sand in the City