Nebraska Moments

By Donald R. Hickey; Susan A. Wunder et al. | Go to book overview

31. Nebraska’s Visual Feast

In the summer of 1942, thirty-two-year-old Wright Morris and his wife Mary Ellen decided to travel by car from Pennsylvania to California. Wright had been making trips across the country since he was a teen growing up in Nebraska. World War II was being fought, and having been rejected by both the navy and the army Wright turned to photography and writing as his life’s vocation. The death of his father in 1941 had also made Wright desirous of tracing his family roots and finding his own sense of place. Armed with a Guggenheim Fellowship to help pay for expenses, off the couple ventured.

Wright Morris visited his Uncle Harry and Aunt Clara Morris in Norfolk. Wright wrote that his return to his origins left him “drugged by feelings that both moved and disturbed me.” He decided not to take pictures then but to return. He made a “pact with the bygone,” resolving to record for posterity what he would eventually call The Home Place, a highly praised photo-text of his early years in central Nebraska. “By the time we left,” wrote Morris, with “the setting sun burning on the windshield, I was committed to the recovery of a past I had only dimly sensed that I possessed.” This moment in time would result in a lifetime of questioning of place and identity for one of America’s and Nebraska’s greatest creative artists.

From its very beginnings, Nebraska has been the subject of the visual arts. The earliest Americans carved cave etchings and recorded winter counts on buffalo hides. Scenes, portraits, and intricate designs adorned the material culture of Native Nebraskans. The first European Americans to journey across Nebraska also took note of its beauty and recorded its physical features. Lewis and Clark sketched alongside their journal entries, marking their various flora and fauna finds, as did later expedition leaders.

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