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New sculptures at The Archway recognize hard life of pioneers

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"We Stayed" - The Archway

The face of Joseph reflects the difficulty of hand-sowing seed. Ester, in the background, holds a bucket of water fetched from a nearby creek, a required task before a well could be dug on the family’s homestead.

KEARNEY — People attending last week's Nebraska State Historical Society Foundation-hosted dedication at The Archway were the first to meet Anton, Anna and their children Joseph, Ester and Elizabeth.

The pioneer family represented in four bronze sculptures by artist David Biehl, an Elkhorn veterinarian who grew up on a farm near Lexington, comprise the “We Stayed” display. It’s the newest outdoor attraction at the museum crossing Interstate 80 east of Kearney.

"We Stayed" - The Archway

David Biehl’s collection of bronze statues outside The Archway in Kearney features members of a Nebraska homesteading family of the 1880s dealing with hardships of pioneer life. The father, Anton, struggles with the heat while walking behind a plow. Biehl, of Elkhorn, grew up on a farm near Lexington.

The life-size sculptures of Anton behind a plow, Anna and Elizabeth fighting the wind to hang laundry on a clothesline, Joseph hand-sowing seed and Ester holding a bucket of water fetched from a nearby creek represent Nebraska farm families homesteading in the 1880s.

The artwork was commissioned by philanthropist Rhonda Seacrest of Lincoln.

In her remarks at the dedication and on a plaque about the exhibit that features her message, Seacrest said there are various forms of recognition for the thousands of pioneers who crossed Nebraska on their way West during the 19th century.

However, little recognition has been given to “the courageous and tenacious settlers who stayed in Nebraska, working the soil, prevailing against seemingly insurmountable odds.”

Seacreast said the family in Biehl’s sculptures represents homesteaders proudly announcing, “We stayed.”

There also are plaques next to each sculpture. In first-person messages, each character describes a hardship faced by homesteaders.

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