Monday, March 6, 2017
Local artist’s work chosen for book on agriculture
Local artist's work chosen for book on agriculture
ASHLAND – Paintings by a local artist will grace the cover of a book celebrating Nebraska’s agricultural history.
Gene Roncka’s work has been selected for the front and back covers of “A History of Nebraska Agriculture: A Life Worth Living,” which will be released on June 12. Presale orders are being taken Saturday, March 4 at Roncka’s Willow Point Gallery in downtown Ashland.
“A History of Nebraska Agriculture: A Life Worth Living” is written by Jody Lamp and Melody Dobson. The business partners have an office in downtown Ashland where they spend time at least once a month while on this end of the state.
The book is the first in a series of three agriculture history books written by Lamp and Dobson as part of their American Doorstop Project. The other two books will be about Montana and North Dakota.
The book tells stories of the state’s farmers and ranchers that may not otherwise be documented in print.
“Overall, the book is about Nebraska’s agriculture history from the standpoint of bringing stories to life that have been forgotten or not even written about,” said Lamp.
The book includes stories about homesteaders, a five-generation farm in Ogallala, the Grand Island horse and mule markets, the state’s dry bean industry and more.
“From Saunders County to Scotts Bluff County, we feature stories of Nebraska’s agricultural history with a whole bunch in between,” Lamp said.
Lamp and Dobson chose art created by Roncka, a Nebraska native, to connect his work with the history of farming and ranching in the state.
“In particular, we wanted to feature someone in Nebraska whose illustration and art would be forever documented and associated with this type of literature,” Lamp said.
Initially Lamp and Dobson chose a painting by Roncka called “River Bottom” for the front and back cover of the book. However, when they showed their editors at The History Press another painting Roncka had done, they were even more impressed by it.
The painting, called “Sunset on the Sandahl Home Place,” was of a farm near Wakefield that had been in the Sandahl family for 100 years.
The editors fell in love with the painting, which was commissioned by the family of Dean and Della Sandahl for their 60th wedding anniversary. As a result, the painting became the cover art for the front of the book. The editors chose to use “River Bottom” was on the back cover.
The choice of a second piece of art meant even more of Roncka’s work would be featured.
“Better that we have two of his pieces of work on the front and back cover,” said Lamp.
Mary Roncka, Gene Roncka’s wife, said her husband is pleased that his art was chosen for the book.
“He’s very excited about it,” she said.
Some of Roncka’s art is also featured inside the book. For example, a painting he did of the historic Beetison house outside of Ashland is used on the introductory page to the section on education, Lamp said.
“We wanted to feature that because the Beetisons were farmers and ranchers in that area,” she added.
Lamp is a big fan of Roncka’s work. She learned about the artist after she and her family considered moving to Ashland in 2014. They ended up moving to Mitchell to be near family instead, but Lamp and Dobson chose to open an office in Ashland.
While exploring the community, they came across Willow Point Gallery, which is located on the same block as their office.
“When Melody and I first came to Ashland, I just fell in love with Gene’s work,” Lamp said.
Little did she know, Lamp had actually been a Roncka fan for many years. About a decade earlier, her father had given her a print of Memorial Stadium that had been done by Roncka. A graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lamp loved the print, but didn’t put the name with the artist until she visited Willow Point Gallery and saw a copy of the print there.
When she stays in Ashland, Lamp enjoys spending time at Willow Point Gallery, where she has gotten to know the Ronckas well. She also eats at area restaurants and does business in the local shops when in town, which is at least once a month.
“I just love Ashland,” she said. “I call it my little Hallmark town.”
Lamp grew up in Scotts Bluff County and after graduating from UNL with a degree in journalism and minors in psychology, anthropology and history, she worked at a newspaper in Beatrice. She was hired by an ag-based public relations and advertising agency and moved to Wisconsin and later Montana, where she started her own public relations and marketing business.
While in Montana she began collaborating on projects with Dobson, who is from a fourth-generation farm/ranch operation in the northeastern part of the state. The pair has worked together for five years.
Lamp and Dobson spent about four years researching before they sat down to write the book, which took less than a year to finish.
“The bulk of the Nebraska book was written within six months,” Lamp said.
Through their American Doorstop Project, Lamp and Dobson plan to give back to local communities.
“Melody and I want to get to the point where we are philanthropists,” Lamp said.
They plan to give back to the community of Ashland during their March 4 event to celebrate the upcoming book. At Willow Point Gallery, they will offer a discounted price on pre-sale orders of their book.
Lamp and Dobson coordinated the publication of the Nebraska book to coincide with the state’s sesquicentennial in 2017. They were a part of the Statehood Day activities in Lincoln on March 1 and plan to join the community in marking Nebraska’s 150th birthday at the “Ashland-Nebraska Connection – 150 Years” celebration on March 4 at the Ashland Public Library from 2 to 4 p.m.
A book signing is also planned during Ashland’s Stir-Up celebration in July. The book will be on sale at stores throughout the state beginning June 12.
The book puts the spotlight on agriculture, a key element in the formation of Nebraska and the villages and cities that make up the state.
“We get to tell people how agriculture shaped their towns,” Lamp said.
And they get to do so with the help of a beloved local artist.
“We feel so fortunate, so honored to feature Gene’s work in this book,” she added.