By SARA GIBONEY
KEARNEY – Gary Zaruba made it his mission to showcase Nebraska art – specifically the distinctive art created during the 19th century when so many pioneers were journeying across the state.
“A Nebraska art collection is unique in that Nebraska is unique,” Zaruba said. “Particularly in the 19th century during the 1850s through 1860s when all of these individuals from back East were traveling across the state on various trails. A lot of international and national artists were traveling with them. I thought that was a unique phenomenon.”
Zaruba, who taught art design for nearly 40 years at Kearney State College and the University of Nebraska at Kearney, was involved in the creation of the Nebraska Art Collection, which eventually became the Museum of Nebraska Art.
In recognition of his dedication to MONA, Zaruba is being honored with the creation of the Gary E. Zaruba Endowment Fund, which will allow for the purchase of 19th century art and improvements to the library. The museum is working to raise $125,000.
In addition to art, the endowment will help make improvements to the Gary E. Zaruba library, which includes new carpet, cabinets, window seats and a table and chairs.
“I’m humbled and astonished that this is happening,” Zaruba said. “I’ve used it as a career-long goal to try to create a Nebraska art museum. The fact that the board members would come up with a fund endowment is a tremendous honor.”
A native of Fullerton, Zaruba earned a bachelor’s degree in art from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, a master’s degree from Kearney State College and Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He began teaching at KSC in 1965, and has been professor emeritus since 2004.
Zaruba helped establish the Nebraska Art Collection in 1976.
When MONA opened in 1986, Zaruba was named director/curator. Between 1990 and 1993, he served on the fundraising committee for the renovation and expansion of the MONA building. He’s been an instructor for the MONA Docent Program since it began in 1986, and a board member and now emeritus board member for 37 years.
Every Monday, Zaruba spends time in the MONA library working to catalog materials related to Nebraska artists.
Zaruba’s specific interest is in 19th century art. In 2006, he helped acquire six important 19th century pieces for MONA. He then founded the Bison Society for individuals who share this passion for art from this era. The MONA Bison Society provides financial support for purchasing art of this period, engages speakers with 19th century expertise, and encourages research of the era.
“This endowment will allow MONA to purchase 19th century art on a regular basis,” said Marilyn Hadley, campaign committee co-chairperson. “The value of art from this era is increasing, and this endowment will help us to meet the financial challenges of enhancing our 19th century collection.”
Beginning shortly after the turn of the 19th century, Old Nebraska Territory became the gateway to the American West, attracting European and Colonial explorers to the Great Plains. Artists accompanying these expeditions were inspired by the landscape, wildlife and culture of the Native Americans they encountered. Using sketches and studies made along the trail, the artists of that period returned to their studios and recorded their encounters and adventures through prints and paintings.
“This endowment will go a long way to make sure we can plan for purchases in the future,” Hadley said.
MONA is the only museum dedicated to collecting and preserving, exhibiting and interpreting Nebraska’s visual arts heritage.
Source: Marilyn Hadley, 308.293.4681
Writer: Sara Giboney, 308.865.8529, firstname.lastname@example.org