Hundreds of students and parents crowded into the Nebraska City High School Commons on Monday, March 4, 2013, to view over 1,000 trees designed by Nebraska City students.

Every student in Nebraska City, including those from the Public Schools, Lourdes Central Catholic, and the Nebraska Center for the Education of Children who are Blind or Visually Impaired, worked on their own special project as part of An Enchanted Arboretum.  Students learned about line, form, and color, and, in some cases, modeled their designs on the work of a famous artist.  

Amy Allgood is a parent of five students at Lourdes Central Catholic.  She was excited to attend the Student Showcase.

"What an awesome event!" Amy said.  "I'm glad my girls were able to be a part of this.  NCECBVI had amazing trees and the teacher at that table was so good with girls, talking to them about how her students created their trees.  I had given my girls the 'Hands Off' rule as we walked up to the table, but the teacher encouraged them to touch the art!  It was just a great night!"

The students with winning maquettes have already started to work on four-foot models of their trees.  Those trees, along with 25 six-foot trees currently under production by professional artists and local high school students, will be unveiled on the Otoe County Courthouse lawn in Nebraska City on Saturday, April 20, 2013.  All the trees are set to be auctioned off in the fall.

An Enchanted Arboretum is a collaboration between the Nebraska City schools; Arts Are Basic, a partner program of Doane College; the Arbor Day Foundation; the City of Nebraska City, Icon Poly Studio, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts; Nebraska City Tourism and Commerce; and the Nebraska City Area Economic Development Corporation.  This project is also supported by numerous local funders.

Nebraska City's An Enchanted Arboretum art project aims to bring art into the daily lives of students.  A unique part of An Enchanted Arboretum is its inclusiveness. 

Since 1875, Nebraska City has been home to the Nebraska Center for the Education of Children who are Blind or Visually Impaired.  The school, known as NCECBVI, is home to blind, visually impaired, and multi-handicapped students from infants up to age 21.  

As part of An Enchanted Arboretum, each student at NCECBVI has had the opportunity to create their own one-foot maquette.  Many of the students have chosen to work with textiles, allowing them to feel their tree come to life.  One student mixed sand with his paint to create an extra dimension.  Yet another student is covering her maquette in braille, repeating different tree-themed words.

The maquettes created by students at NCECBVI will be on display at the Student Showcase scheduled for Monday, March 4, 2013, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Nebraska City High School.  A few students will be chosen to share their vision on a four-foot tree to be unveiled on April 20.

To learn more about NCECBVI, visit their website at www.ncecbvi.org.

The goal of most public art projects is to create an open space where the general public can enjoy and be inspired by art.  It is an inclusive and enriching experience for both the artists and communities involved.

For the past few months, Nebraska City’s public art project, An Enchanted Arboretum, has done something extraordinary within this realm.  In addition to commissioning 21 life-sized stylized trees for regional artists to design, An Enchanted Arboretum has touched more than 1,000 local school children.

Every student in Nebraska City, including those from the Public Schools, Lourdes Central Catholic, and the Nebraska Center for the Education of Children who are Blind or Visually Impaired, has worked on their own special part of An Enchanted Arboretum.  Throughout the 2012-2013 school year, artist and Project Coordinator Liz Shea-McCoy of Lincoln has visited with Nebraska City students, encouraging and instructing them as they create their own one-foot tree maquette.  Students have learned about line, form, and color, and, in some cases, have modeled their designs on the work of a famous artist.  They have also received help from their classroom teachers who completed a three day workshop under Shea-McCoy in August of 2012. 

Chloe Higgins is a 7th grader at Nebraska City Middle School.  When asked about the project, she replied, “I think the Enchanted Arboretum project is really cool.  It’s a chance for kids to create something that will actually make a difference.  I liked how we focused on one specific artist and that artists inspired our designs, so everybody will have a wide variety.  Working with Liz Shea-McCoy was really fun and it was interesting to hear a real artist’s input.  All the kids in my class really got into it, even some of the kids who don’t usually enjoy this type of thing.  This project was really fun and I’m glad I got the chance to participate!”

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An Enchanted Arboretum is a collaboration between the Nebraska City schools; Arts Are Basic, a partner program of Doane College; the Arbor Day Foundation; the City of Nebraska City, Icon Poly Studio, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts; Nebraska City Tourism and Commerce; and the Nebraska City Area Economic Development Corporation.  This project is also supported by numerous local funders.
Thoughts on An Enchanted Arboretum
By Nebraska City Middle School Art Teacher Mike Little.

The extensive support for the Nebraska City Enchanted Arboretum public art project brings to the forefront an unparalleled demonstration of civic pride and community involvement.  Along with professional artists, nearly every Nebraska City student, grades K through 12, public and parochial, are engaged in the project.

As an art specialist, I witnessed tremendous growth among the mostly elementary classroom teachers participating in the three-day summer workshop conducted by Project Director Liz Shea-McCoy.  We were all learning something new.  But as the days went by, you could sense the comfort level rising within the group as people were asked to produce and discuss artwork as it related to an artist of their choice - exactly what they would be asking their students to do once the school year began.  The transformation was remarkable.  Teachers who were initially reluctant in their own art skills on Day One were now working through their lunch break on Day Three, eager to share their ideas with the group.  Their enthusiasm and confidence would no doubt serve their students well in the months ahead.

As the Nebraska City Middle School art instructor, I began to see students take ownership once the Enchanted Arboretum as a public art project was introduced to them.  In my classroom, we called the project the Tree of Expression.  In my mind, it was easier to say but I also wanted to make the point that while we may be studying a specific artist, it was more about the student bringing something of themselves to their design and how it might relate to their community.  In conjunction with their own interests, I asked the students to visualize where they would like to see their sculpture placed if it were selected...and to imagine it in that place twenty years from now.  Students at various levels, from high-achievement to at-risk, embraced the idea of how cool that would be.  For my part, I was envisioning the possibility of an impactful, if not life-changing, experience for some of them.

In all, the Enchanted Arboretum represents an investment.  It not only serves as a conduit for enhancing the local economy, but it also engages our youth as civic stewards in a unique way -- ways that may have only been achievable through the power of art.  For that, a humble debt of gratitude is owed to those civic and business leaders who had the vision to initiate and stay the course with this project as an opportunity for our students and community.

-- Mike Little, NCMS

Below are suggestions from Icon Poly regarding the maquettes.  Any questions can to directed to Icon Poly - iconpoly@com-ne.com - as they have been extremely helpful in every way throughout the Project and are always happy to be involved during the creative process.

1. Lightly sand entire surface with 100 – 220 grit prior to painting.  This sanding is more to clean the surface, not to remove the prime. Do not oversand.  If primer is flaking, wipe with denatured alcohol or a painters tack cloth.  Re-priming is not necessary unless your paint of choice recommends it.  In that case follow paint manufacture’s instructions.

2. Wear plastic gloves when doing this and when touching the raw sculpture after sanding.  This will keep oils from your hands off the surface which could cause an adhesion problem when painting. Do not wear latex gloves because of the powder residue that would remain on the sculpture.  Icon Poly suggests loose fitting, food handler gloves.  They are available at Sam's and possibly at Walmart. Icon Poly purchases theirs from a food supply company.

3. If any primer flakes off when sanding, sand back to where the primer is stuck, abrading the raw resins.  Then re-prime that area.  They suggest using any brand of Gesso and almost all paint manufactures have a primer.  IMPORTANT - DO NOT USE AN OIL BASED PRIMER  AND MAKE SURE IT IS AN EXTERIOR GRADE PRIMER (i.e. Rustolium, Kilz, Zinner, Krylon).

4. Using acrylic paints is HIGHLY recommended.  Most brands work fine - even the acrylic craft paints from Hobby Lobby.  They recommend staying away from oil paints if you do not have a lot of experience with them.  If you have specific questions please contact Icon Poly. 

5. If a drill is needed for embossing or any other creative reason, Icon Poly suggests a dremel type rotary tool.  They are available at Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowes and Menards.

6. If an artist plans to cover the entire surface with materials other than paint, in the case of tile or mosaic work, an artist should request an UNPRIMED sculpture immediately following selection notification.  Artists interested in mosaic surfaces should contact Icon Poly for information for best adhesives, grouts, and sealers.

7. When attaching items with adhesive be sure to sand or rasp down into the material of the sculpture.  Do not glue to the primed surface.

8. If attaching items, they recommend using physical attachment (i.e. screws, bolts) in conjunction with adhesive attachments when possible, using both together to create a much more durable piece. A moldable material called Apoxie Sculpt is available at http://www.sculpturedepot.net/clay-wax-tools/clay.htm which is similar to the look and feel of the fabricated urethane tree. If you intend to change the structure or add to the structure, please contact Icon Poly for Guidance.

9. They highly recommend structural urethane adhesive when bonding things to the sculpture.  Several companies make these such as 3M, U-Pol and Norton.  These are normally found at auto body supply stores.

10. After your Tree is complete, whatever the finish, you must apply an automotive grade clear coat or equivalent product recommended for protection for UV and exterior elements. Three coats encouraged.  Always follow application instructions on the project you select.  Be sure to test for compatibility in an inconspicuous area prior to clear coating the entire sculpture. 

Some materials mentioned above will be available for purchase when artists pick up their 6’ tree or directly through Icon Poly. Pricing and estimated needed quantities are below:

Clear Coat
4’ Student Trees
U-Pol spray - approximately 2 cans per tree @ $15.00 each
Clear Shield brush or spray - 1 quart per tree @ $33.00
6’ Professional Artist Trees
U-Pol spray - approximately 4 cans per tree @ $15.00 each
Clear Shield brush or spray - 2 quarts per tree @ $33.00 each

Please note that brush-on clear coat is encouraged to ensure even and complete coverage.
Industrial Adhesive
Adhesive $32.00 tube, what you are using it for will depend on how much you need.  
Just over a month or so into our call for artists, we've compiled a short list of questions that are regularly asled in the inquiries we receive. If you don't find the answer to your question below, please call at (402) 601-6113 or email the project coordinator, Liz Shea-McCoy.

Q: Can I make my own maquette(s)?
A: Unfortunately, no. Although we understand that everyone submitting proposals would be capable of making their own maquette, we require that all submissions be in the form of a purchased die-cut cardboard maquette. We feel it is important to keep submission consistent for objective selection to be made.

Q: Can I submit additional drawings and images to show the examples of the actual materials, textures, surfaces, and details of my proposed design?
A: Yes! Although these additional submission materials are not required, you are welcome to submit images, drawings, textural samples, etc. that will aid the jurors in fully understanding your vision for your tree. Hard copies of any additional materials must be provided. Images received on discs or via email will not be accepted.

Q: Can I fabricate my own 6' tree of another material, like wood or steel?
A: No. Your final tree must be the cast fiber-reinforced urethane one provided. However, you are welcome to propose to attach other materials to the urethane with both a physical and adhesive bond.:

Q: Will the final 6' trees be for indoor or outdoor display?
A: All of the 6' must be finished with materials suitable for outdoor display. All permanent installation points (TBD) will be outside locations within the city limits of Nebraska City.

Q: Is that really what the base is going to look like?
A: No. Because of this your design should end where the truck of the cardboard maquette meets the square base. If you plan to add additional 3-D components to your tree they must attach to the tree itself and not the base.

Q: I don't live close enough to Lincoln or Nebraska City to pick up a maquette. Can I have them mailed to me?
A: Yes! Please send your mailing address with a check ($7 per maquette requested) payable to the Nebraska City Public Schools Foundaiton to Tom Farrell, PO Box 518, Nebraska City, NE, 68410. Postage is free of charge.
Not only do we love Icon Poly because of the quality of forms they are producing for our public art project, but also because they are proving to be fantastic collaborators throughout this process. They have put together a list of suggestions for artists to explain some of the best ways to work with the urethane material. It also lists the appropriate adhesives and clear coats to use to make sure an artist's final tree will stand the test of time - and the Nebraska weather! Download the suggestions for artists. Artists are also welcome to contact Kyle or Danielle at Icon Poly via phone at (308) 468-9411 or email with questions. Small samples of the fiber enforced urethane material are available, and they'd love for you to visit their shop if you happen to be in the Gibbon area - just call ahead!

The full-scale stylized tree design created for An Enchanted Arboretum is made of a combination of urethane with a fiber reinforcement.  Each tree measures 6' in height and 5' in width and weighs about 125 pounds. The tree will be initially attached to a temporary square wooden base for stability purposes and ultimately connected to a concrete base for final installation.

A panel of non-committee affiliated distinguished jurors will be selected by the Enchanted Arboretum committee to select the 21 winning maquettes. Each selected artist will receive a stipend to assist with costs associated to producing the final piece. Artists will also receive 40% of the final auction price of their full-size tree.

The photos below are of the half size model carved by Icon Poly from standard styrofoam. The material that the final trees will be cast in has a very smooth surface (unlike the styrofoam) and will come pre-primed. The material is easy to work with (sanding, drilling, adhesion), has little to no odor, is healthier to work with than fiberglass, and is incredibly strong.
Notice that the shallow facets of each branch - the real thing is not as flat as the maquette!
Overall height=6', Overall width=~5', Thickness of each branch=~4" at joint, 1" at tip, Thickness of material throughout=1/4" near joint, sold along edges and at tips