Photo by Jay Huff
The big spurs on the edge of the lawn of First National Bank in North Platte have a big aim -- to carry dozens of small, profound messages to the Cattlemen’s Ball.
The one-ton steel spurs would fit a mighty big cowboy. Perhaps Pecos Bill could fill the boots that would be required for the super-size spurs, which are made of carbon steel. But organizers are not looking for a larger than life cowboy to wear them. They want to cover the spurs with magnetic ribbons, each one honoring a cancer victim or a survivor.
The ribbon-covered "serenity spurs" will then be moved to the Cattlemen’s Ball at the Hanging H Ranch between Sutherland and Paxton shortly before the ball begins June 7.
The hosts of the Cattlemen's Ball are Ralph and Beverly Holzfaster of Paxton and Neal Hansen of Sutherland.
The Ball is a weekend of displays of western art and culture, games, social activities, concerts and dances, with the emphasis on beef as an integral part of a healthy diet.
The Ball also raises money for cancer research at the University of Nebraska, lots of money, netting millions of dollars for the cause. Individuals, businesses, social and civic groups all pitch in.
Tickets are $75. Plus, there are donations, raffles and auctions.
The totals are impressive. The 2011 Ball raised just shy of $1.5 million.
Since the first Ball was held in Nebraska in 1997, more than $7 million has been raised.
Artist Shannon Hansen, who has tried his hand at metal sculptures in recent years, was approached about making something that would enhance the Ball.
“I was thinking about a Western theme,” he said, adding that he "mostly wanted to do something monumental.”
Hansen has pretty good grasp of the West. He grew up in Ogallala. He was in 4H and showed horses. He roped calves in high school rodeo.
Today, he is the welding program chairman for Southeast Community College at Milford and he creates works of art on the side, a blue-collar artist.
The son of the late Jim and Dee Hansen who owned Kingsley Lodge at Lake McConaughy and Georgie Oorlog of Lincoln, Hansen studied at Peru State College, Western Nebraska Technical College at Sidney and Southeast Community College at Milford.
He holds a bachelor of technology degree, and associate degrees in industrial welding and non-destructive testing.
He has taught college for 14 years.
The serenity spurs were sponsored by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska and former State Sen. and Big Springs resident Jack Mills, who serves on the Blue Cross and Blue Shield board of directors.
Money for the sculpture was derived through BCBS Board of Directors Contributions Program.
Hansen said people in Lincoln didn’t always know what to think of the spurs as he made them, which took him about 45 days.
He considered it a teaching opportunity.
“It’s important for them to realize what they are,” he said.
He said the spurs are a natural fit in most of Nebraska, and were deliberately created to be viewed from every direction.
“It’s important that the audience interacts (with art),” he said. “The sculpture encourages you to walk around it to look at it from all sides, so it’s more likely to involve a person and evoke a response.”
The spurs have the natural rusty appearance of metal that is exposed to the elements. That surface was preferred for practical as well as artistic reasons. For art, rust represents the history and earthiness of cowboys. In practice, the spurs will be picked up and moved many times as they travel to Cattlemen’s Balls for years to come, so paint would get scuffed, scratched and chipped anyway.
To take part
A person need not attend the Cattlemen's Ball to take part in the Serenity Spurs ribbons project, said Kimberley Kaschke of First National Bank.
“The Serenity Spurs provide our community the opportunity to get involved with the cause in a meaningful way,” she said.
Although the Cattlemen's Ball raises money in support of cancer research at the University of Nebraska, part of the money that is raised stays in the immediate area to support health care-related causes.
“We encourage the community to visit the Spurs while they are on display,” Kaschke said. “Reserving a ribbon not only honors the courage shown by a loved one touched by cancer, but also goes to support cancer research right here in Nebraska.”
To commission a memorial ribbon for the big spurs, contact First National Bank at 308-532-1000.
Hansen on technique
"Most sculptures start from sketches, which are uploaded to CAD modeling software, altered and then fabricated," Hansen said on the Modern Arts Midtown of Omaha website. "I work with carbon steel, stainless steel and aluminum. Surface finishes include grinding, sanding, anodizing natural rust patinas and acrylic urethane painting."
“I had the skills and knowledge to build sculpture before I developed a keen interest in art and sculpture,” he said. “I have used my technical training to express myself and explore the sculptural possibilities that compel me to make these forms. I embrace the creative process – the act of making and seeing – and leave the meaning to the viewer.”
First published in the May 22 print edition of the North Platte Bulletin.