Editor’s note — The following story includes opinions of the author.
By Jessie Reestman
It was a little after 3 o’clock in the afternoon on Tuesday, Oct. 1, when I headed west on Highway 70 to Bartlett. My windshield wipers danced in unison to the all too familiar sound of the rain on my windshield as I traveled to my first assignment as an employee of The Elgin Review. I was going on location to the Herb Mignery Sculpture Dedication.
About the dedication
Due to the rainy conditions, the dedication was relocated from the Wheeler County Courthouse Sculpture Garden to the Wheeler Central Gymnasium. The east side of the gym was filled floor to ceiling with family, friends, fans, and even a first time news reporter.
The event was coordinated by Herb’s life long friend, Bob Nichols, a native to the area. Bob is also one of the individuals Mignery credited with appreciation for the continued care of the Sculpture Garden.
Bob and Herb grew up one-fourth a mile apart, with only 10 days separating their youthful 81 years. They entered grade school together, as well as army basic training. Bob smiled when describing his dear friend,”Herb is the greatest guy you ever knew, he thinks everyone is great, I told him, everyone can’t be great, Herb, but Herb just smiled and said,’ I only remember the one’s that are.’ “
After hearing about the strong bond that many miles and time could not sever, I realized there could be no better person than Bob to welcome home Herb Mignery, Wheeler County’s favorite son.
He entered the gym with camera crews following close behind. Mignery’s life’s story, including his early beginnings in Wheeler County will air on NET in January. Herb stood mid center of the gym behind six beautiful bronze sculptures that will join the 32 others already on display at America’s Largest Bronze Sculpture Garden in Bartlett, Nebraska.
With a microphone in hand and smile on his face, Herb began telling his story. I only had to listen to a few words to realize how fortunate I was to be sitting in the audience.
Herb is not only a gifted artist and sculptor, but also a gifted story teller. With wit and humor, he shared stories of his life and encouraged attendees to ask questions. He proved himself approachable by simply stating, “ There is no such thing as a stupid question, however, there is such a thing as me giving a stupid answer.” The audience laughed and just like that, the door for questions had been opened. I never once heard him give a stupid answer. Honestly, it seemed as though every response he gave should have been documented and saved for placement in some book of future inspiring quotes. For instance, I asked him,” if he could be remembered for only one pieces of art, what would that be?” I guess I was trying to find out if a particular piece of art had lasting sentimental value or did he create a piece to remind himself of a extra special person, place, or time in his life. Herb looked me in the eye and told me that was a pretty tough question and would be very difficult to pick just one, but he could pick two. “The two pieces of art I most wish to remembered by are……my two children.” Being a mom, that response got me. I never expected that answer, and yet it answered my criteria. I was astounded by this 81 year old man’s sincerity and quick wit. Others in the audience continued with questions, but for just a brief moment, I found my focus shifting from his tales to his hands, a sculptor’s hands. I noticed his long, thin, well manicured fingers. I noticed his pale, thinning skin, and thought what a gift those hands were to not only himself and his family, for the life it had provided, but also to so many others, including the community of Bartlett.
Herb, like many growing up in the Sandhills, knew the ins-and-outs of ranching and could have easily continued a 100 plus year family tradition in ranching. Instead he drew from his childhood experiences on the ranch to become a cowboy artist, a very famous cowboy artist. He and his wife, Sherry (Shavlik) Mignery were inducted into the Cowboy Artist Hall of Fame in 1985. Although Herb is the credited sculptor, he explained, “My wife does everything but the sculpting, Guys, she does everything.” The Mignery’s sculptures have graced the stage of Country Music Awards, they can be found in parks all across the United States, and are adored by collectors nationwide. The Mignery’s currently reside in Loveland, Colorado but are always comforted by returning to their roots. In the final moments of the ceremony, Herb described coming home as, “You know it’s like being in that cold room. You are in that cold room, then you get to go back to your warm bed. That’s what it is like coming back to Nebraska.”
Reflecting on the day & the artist
On my drive home, I just kept thinking how glad I was to have attended to this dedication. I have known of Herb Mignery for quite some time. I remembered studying his paintings on the local bowling alley wall. My favorite personality on that wall was a tall dark haired lady hurling the ball down the lane wearing a tight, tight sweater accentuating her …. small waist. I always thought she resembled my own Aunt Sharon Donner. It was fun to give names to those faces. However, I think I most associated the name Herb Mignery to a painting that hung in my father’s office throughout my childhood. It was titled “Old Timer” and featured a tough, weathered looking cowboy.
It was after my father’s passing, I decided to take it down and replace it with something more my style, like leopard print anything. Well, I think it’s time to once again display the “OLD TIMER” painting. Although, I can’t say I’ve quite developed a deep appreciation for western art in my home, I have definitely acquired a deep appreciation of this artist.