The Barada Hills of Nebraska came to the Platte River Valley on Saturday evening, Sept. 16.
About 50 members and guests of the Bone Creek Museum of Agrarian Art gathered then at the former District 10 school house in the valley near Linwood. They came to celebrate art, poetry and song that relates to life in a unique region of rolling hills in southeast Nebraska.
Watercolor artist John F. Lokke and poet Jan Chism Wright, both from Brownville, were featured artists at the museum’s second annual fundraiser known as Cornfest.
Paintings by Lokke and poetry by Wright regarding the Barada Hills are currently on exhibit at Bone Creek’s North 40 Gallery in David City.
The display and Saturday’s event is an effort by the museum to share specific details of the Barada (pronounced Bear-a-dah) Hills and to show how its landscape and history can resonate with many other rural locations across the Great Plains.
The Barada Hills center around the small town of Barada, population about 25, in Richardson County and extend north into Nemaha County. It is generally an area of loess-deposited bluffs rising up from along the Missouri River that is now sparsely-populated.
The town and hills were named for Antoine Barada, the son of a French count and an Omaha Indian princess, whose reputation for his size and strength gained mythical proportions during the time he lived in the community.
Starting about 14 years ago, Lokke and Wright began a collaboration to capture the Barada Hills in both a visual and expressive way, possibly before much of the area’s history and topographical features are lost to time.
Lokke is a native of Omaha, where he received a BFA degree from the University of Nebraska-Omaha in 2001. Until moving to Brownville and opening his first studio nine months ago, he had taught art in a gallery at Wichita, Kan.
“I’m finally getting my old life back,” Lokke said. “I’m finally close to what I’m interested in, he added.
In addition to being a career artist, Lokke is a naturalist and amateur herpetologist (someone who studies snakes and reptiles).
Lokke actually looks at his watercolor paintings of the Barada Hills as a way to pursue his passion for the study of creatures like the Timber Rattlesnake.
The breed was once common to the Barada Hills, but their population has dwindled after much of their habitat was destroyed by such human activity as quarry mining.
The matching-up of Wright’s poetry with Lokke's paintings has resulted in a more-complete portrayal of the Barada area.
“Jan is interested in what’s up and over, while I’m more down and under. It’s sort of a ying-and-yang thing,” he said.
Wright and her late husband, Dr. David Wright, had first moved from Houston, Texas, to a farm north of Barada, in 1997. She has been writing about the area ever since and operates a book publishing firm called Wright Press.
A native of Houston, Wright received a BBA from the city’s university while taking creative writing courses. However, her background until retiring to Nebraska had been 25 years in the banking business.
“This was not just not a change of place, but a change of mind,” Wright said. “Before coming here, I had never driven down a crushed rock road,” she added.
“I can’t draw my way out of a paper bag. But I can paint a picture with words,” Wright said.
Lokke and the Wrights originally met at a Nebraska City lecture and their mutual desire to tell others about the Barada Hills eventually grew into a full blown partnership.
One of the better examples of their collaboration, both a painting and poem now on exhibit at Bone Creek, is entitled “Deep in the Barada Hills.”
“I hope (the viewer) can see how hot it was that day when we visited that place,” Lokke said.
With his watercolors of its topography, Lokke illustrates how the Barada Hills are a series of steep hills and valleys through which and around wind a series of mostly dirt or crushed rock roads. Along them are located rustic farm houses or Barada’s one remaining business store.
“Unlike Indian Cave State Park, which is near-by, the area is beaten-up, forgotten, rough, sprawling and uninhabited — that’s the Barada Hills,” Lokke said.
“I write what I see and feel, and I hope people can relate to that,” Wright added regarding her written depictions of the Barada Hills.
Her poems include topics such as abandoned farm houses occupied by feral cats, the end of the work day for local farmers, and how all rural roads in the region have now been given street addresses.
Neither Lokke or Wright believe that their respective art styles will have any impact on the future of the Barada Hills. It won't bring in more tourists, or reverse a trend in which the region is slowly losing its farm population.
“It’s more of a matter of freezing it in time,” Lokke said.
“We want people to get the feel of the area before it’s lost,” Wright added.
Those attending the District 10 celebration were given a demonstration of Lokke’s work in creating a watercolor art piece.
Afterwards, Wright recited her poems from a recently-published book featuring her and Lokke’s artwork of the Barada Hills. It is now available at Bone Creek Museum.
Music during the event was provided by Jeff and Mary Barker of Shubert. Their instruments included an accordion provided by Msgr. Robert Roh of Falls City, a native of the Abie area.
The Barada Hills art exhibition at Bone Creek Museum will run through Oct. 22