The Homesteader’s Campfire

James Penney

Oil on Masonite

The Homesteader's Campfire by James Penney

About this piece

The artistic theme for the vestibule is “Gifts of Nature to Man on the Plains”.

The Homesteader’s Campfire depicts a pioneer family making a campfire in front of a Conestoga wagon with horses. The Homestead Act led to rapid population growth after the civil war. The act started a wave of immigration across the state that brought the population from 29,000 to 1 million in just 20 years. This growth helped Nebraska become the first new state after the Civil War.

The three murals inside the vestibule were finally painted in 1963, despite being a part of the original vision for the Capitol.

About James Penney

James Penney was born in St. Joseph Missouri in 1910. He is an artist known for landscapes, botanics, murals, and the modernist genre. He began his formal art education at the University of Kansas where he graduated in 1931. After graduation, he moved to New York City and studied at the Art Students League. During the WPA Federal Art Project, he was hired to complete numerous mural commissions.

Due to his experiences during the Depression, Penney had a knack for recycling discarded objects back into works of art. This instinct became the envy of latter-day ecologists. In 1963, he won a national competition to paint the murals in the vestibule of the Nebraska State Capitol.

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