CHADRON – The Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center will host a show of about 50 pieces by Rachel Brownlee, from Wednesday to May 21. Most of the items will be charcoal drawings, however, the exhibit also features a few oil paintings, one watercolor, some calligraphy, and a steam punk style leather skirt and corset.
Brownlee, a great-great niece of Mari Sandoz, graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a degree in Information Technology Innovation in 2015. The self-taught artist and contract software engineer lives on the JHL cattle ranch north of Ashby with her husband and young daughter.
She will be available to speak with the public during three artist-in-residence sessions 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Sandoz Center: March 23, April 6, and May 11.
Holly Counts, who organized the exhibit, said Brownlee’s artwork is like the life and books of Sandoz, depicting western themes.
“Her work also includes Old World and fictional pieces, all of which are done in great detail. Rachel’s leatherwork comic-con outfit is reminiscent of Mari's love for fashion and brown attire," Counts said.
Brownlee was home schooled with her six siblings on her grandmother Celia (Sandoz) Ostrander’s Pine Creek Ranch about 20 miles south of Rushville. Celia is Mari’s niece.
“There was no art education program so I just started drawing horses. One of my sisters had a how to draw horses book. She gave me a drawing pencil and that was kind of the start of my career,” Brownlee said. “It was such a special pencil that I almost never used it. I still have it.”
She said her artwork focuses on displaying the nitty gritty side of agriculture.
“Most of the time I feel like this lifestyle is portrayed quite pastorally. I feel the real value of displaying agriculture artistically is the depth of meaning behind it, which is the wrinkles, the sweat, the chipped spurs, the rusty bits, and that's what I try to portray in extreme realism. That’s my end goal,” Brownlee said
She had visited the Sandoz Center several times in the past, and called a few months ago to ask if there was interest in hosting a show of her work. In addition to completing commissioned pieces, she does software consulting, has a software product she developed, and helps on the ranch.
“It’s really neat to bring the current generation of Sandoz talent into this Center. Celia is 94 and talks about Mari all the time. She’s very concerned with maintaining both the history of Mari and the reputation of the family,” Brownlee said.
—Tena L. Cook, Marketing Coordinator