Several hundred people gathered in front of the Otoe County Courthouse in Nebraska City on Saturday, April 20, 2013, to witness the Grand Unveiling of An Enchanted Arboretum.  The art project was displayed for public viewing for the first time that afternoon.

While most projects focus on recruiting professional artists to create their vision of whatever sculpture that community designs, Nebraska City’s public art project brought the process into the classroom.

Since the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, teaching artist Liz Shea-McCoy of Lincoln, who serves as Project Coordinator for An Enchanted Arboretum, has visited with more than 1,000 Nebraska City students.  Shea-McCoy worked with elementary school teachers and art teachers at Nebraska City Public Schools, Lourdes Central Catholic Schools, and the Nebraska Center for the Education of Children who are Blind or Visually Impaired, to help the students learn about art.

Each student created their own design of An Enchanted Arboretum maquette. The maquettes, measuring only twelve inches in height, were mini-replicas of the six-foot stylized tree forms presented to the participating professional artists.  One student from each classroom was chosen to have their maquette design replicated onto a four-foot tree.  At Saturday’s Grand Unveiling, those students and the professional artists were on hand to present their works to the public.  
The trees are made of fiber-reinforced urethane manufactured by Icon Poly of Gibbon, Nebraska.  Kyle Vohland of Icon Poly, and his family, drove the nearly three hours from Gibbon to Nebraska City on Saturday to see the Unveiling.

“The first thing we saw when we pulled up was 200 to 300 people milling around,” Vohland said.  “We’ve been to several unveilings before, but nothing like this.”

Vohland said Icon Poly customizes three-dimensional shapes for various art projects around the United States, but the student aspect of An Enchanted Arboretum was unique to them.

“We’ve been telling our clients about Nebraska City’s project and now we have a town in Massachusetts and another one in Ohio who are planning to do something similar,” Vohland said.

Last fall, professional artists from around the region submitted their own 12-inch maquette featuring their suggested design, to be juried for project selection.  Of the 55 designs entered, 21 were chosen.  Artist Sharon Cech of Omaha was one of the selected artists.

“This is great!” said Cech, a Nebraska City native.  “I spent my childhood climbing trees in Arbor Lodge.  When I heard about this project, I knew I had to do it.”

All the trees will be displayed in Nebraska City until late September 2013.  The six-foot trees done by professional artists and high school students will be mounted on concrete bases and set into the ground in public outdoor places.  The rest of the trees, all four-feet tall and designed by students, will be displayed at various businesses throughout the community.  A map of all the locations can be found online here or at Nebraska City Tourism & Commerce.  In September, all the trees will be auctioned off at a public event.  The six-foot trees are required to stay on display in Nebraska City following the auction; plaques will note individual sponsors.

An Enchanted Arboretum is funded by grants from: The Paul, John, Anton & Doris Wirth Foundation; the Karl H. & Wealtha H. Nelson Family Foundation; the Kropp Charitable Foundation, Inc.; the City of Nebraska City (LB840 Funds); Rotary Club No. 2090; and United Way of Nebraska City.
Thanks to the News Press for covering An Enchanted Arboretum!  Check out their video of the event here!
A forest of sculptures will be unveiled in Arbor Day’s Hometown later this month.  At 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 20, in front of the Otoe County Courthouse in downtown Nebraska City, Nebraska, the Grand Unveiling of An Enchanted Arboretum debuts 72 three-dimensional stylized trees, designed by professional artists and students from first grade through high school age. 

The sculptures, manufactured by Icon Poly of Gibbon, Nebraska, are made of a cast fiber-reinforced urethane.  In lead up to the unveiling, entries were submitted by professional artists, most from the southeast Nebraska region.  Twenty-one were selected to be realized on six-foot tall sculptures. 

Unique to An Enchanted Arboretum, students district-wide were included in the public art project.  Teaching Artist Liz Shea-McCoy of Lincoln, Nebraska, worked with Doane College’s Arts Are Basic program and brought instruction on public art and art making to teachers and classrooms throughout Nebraska City.  More than 1,000 students participated, each designing their own one-foot maquette.  Of those maquettes, 47 student designs were chosen to be replicated by the student onto four-foot tall sculptures.  In addition, four high-school students have implemented their selected design on six-foot tall sculptures of their own.  Participating schools include Lourdes Central Catholic, the Nebraska Center for the Education of Children who are Blind or Visually Impaired, Northside Elementary, Hayward Elementary, Nebraska City Middle School, and Nebraska City High School.

The Otoe County Courthouse is located at 1021 Central Avenue in Nebraska City.  In case of bad weather, the Nebraska City Middle School at 909 1st Corso has been identified as an alternate location for the event.  Following the Grand Unveiling, the sculptures will be displayed for five months at temporary locations outdoors and in businesses throughout Nebraska City until they are auctioned off at a public event in late September 2013.  All six-foot sculptures will be permanently installed around the community with plaques noting individual sponsors. 

An Enchanted Arboretum is funded by grants from: The Paul, John, Anton & Doris Wirth Foundation; the Karl H. & Wealtha H. Nelson Family Foundation; the Kropp Charitable Foundation, Inc.; the City of Nebraska City (LB840 Funds); Rotary Club No. 2090; and United Way of Nebraska City.

Details about the project including selected artists and photos can be found at, on the An Enchanted Arboretum Facebook page, or by contacting Project Coordinator Liz Shea-McCoy at or Tom Farrell at
When the American Printing House for the Blind hosts its annual convention in Louisville, Kentucky, later this year, Nebraska City’s An Enchanted Arboretum public art project may be featured.

Students from the Nebraska Center for the Education of Children who are Blind or Visually Impaired (NCECBVI) participated in An Enchanted Arboretum, making one-foot cardboard maquettes of the tree-shaped structures designed for the project.  In March, NCECBVI staff sent three of the maquettes to the nation-wide American Printing House InSights art competition.

“The maquettes associated with An Enchanted Arboretum were a great fit for the American Printing House InSights competition for this year,” said NCECBVI principal Audrey Graves. 

NCECBVI has participated in the InSights competition for several years.  In the past, one NCECBVI student has received a 3rd place award and another received an Honorable Mention.

Graves said nearly 500 pieces are art from blind or visually impaired students throughout the United States are submitted to the InSights art competition every year.

“The project needs to be the student’s work,” she said.  “The student needs to do the majority of the work by themselves.  Some are done with lots of teacher help; those aren’t eligible for this competition.”

Winning students will be notified in May and invited to attend a special banquet at the American Printing House annual convention.  At the banquet, each winning student is recognized and their art work is displayed.  A representative from the American Printing House is responsible for describing every detail of the piece of art for the blind or visually impaired guests.  Winning students also receive a cash prize.   

“We usually chose art pieces from things they’ve done throughout the year,” Graves said.  “Since the students have done so much work on An Enchanted Arboretum this year, it was easy to choose the maquettes as the project.”

Art teachers at NCECBVI include Ms. Gerdes, Ms. Zahn, Mr. Lockwood, Mrs. Farris, and Mrs. Schomerus.             

NCECBVI purchases most of their school supplies through the American Printing House, including braille and large-print books, teaching materials, and other supplies.
One goal of a public art project is to bring community members together.  With Nebraska City’s An Enchanted Arboretum, that goal has been realized and expanded upon.

An Enchanted Arboretum will introduce 25 six-foot tree-shaped sculptures made by professional artists and high school students from Nebraska City Public Schools and Lourdes Central Catholic.  In addition, 47 elementary and middle school students from the above mentioned schools and also the Nebraska Center for the Education of Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired – located in Nebraska City since the late 1800s - have been selected to create four-foot models of the same tree shape.  Using mostly acrylic paints, the chosen students have been working on their four-foot trees for the past month.

At the middle school level, the students arrive before school or stay after to complete their work.  At Hayward Elementary and Lourdes Central Catholic, students are given a few hours here and there to paint, often with the help of parent and other adult volunteers.  Concerned about the logistics of their students completing their trees on time, teachers and administrators at Northside, Nebraska City Public School’s early elementary building, hatched a different plan.

Twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays, the eleven selected Northside students are bused to the Nebraska City High School for an hour of art.  The time corresponds with a high school art class and instead of having the students work alone to finish their trees, the high school art students are mentoring the young children.  

“I love to see the older students and the younger students working together,” said Northside principal Tony Little.  “I knew this project was going to be an amazing one, but this is a benefit I wasn’t expecting.”

In addition to fostering relationships, the work between the high school students and six- and seven-year-olds allows the younger generation to learn more about the application of art.  Developing a lifelong love of art is one of main components of the Doane College-sponsored Arts Are Basic program, which spearheaded An Enchanted Arboretum.

All the trees, both professional and student-made, are scheduled to be unveiled on Saturday, April 20th, 2013.  At 1 p.m. on the lawn of the Otoe County Courthouse* in Nebraska City, a total of 72 trees will be shown to the public for the first time.  After the unveiling, the trees will be placed in specific locations throughout the community for a six-month time period.  In September 2013, all the trees will be auctioned off, with a stipulation that the six-foot trees remain in Nebraska City.

More information about An Enchanted Arboretum may be found at the Facebook page 'An Enchanted Arboretum’ or by emailing Project Coordinator Liz Shea-McCoy at

*Rain location is the Nebraska City Middle School.