- Associated Press - Saturday, December 5, 2015

YORK, Neb. (AP) - Todd Williams has 40 more paintings to complete in his “Painting the Legacy of Nebraska” project to honor 150 years of statehood.

The good news: Williams, a Central City native and professional artist, has 90 paintings finished and until 2017 - Nebraska’s Sesquicentennial year - to complete the last 40.

Williams was in York to talk about his commission to paint a timeless commemoration of all 93 Nebraska counties (some counties will have more than one, thus the 130 total).

Williams was also in town for the unveiling of the nine paintings sponsored by Cornerstone Bank. All nine pieces will eventually be returned to their owner, Cornerstone, whose chief executives will exhibit them where they choose.

Kelly Holthus of Cornerstone said the idea of sponsorship, “Was presented to us as part of Nebraska 150. We do have banks in 14 counties,” he said, including the nine counties whose works will be exhibited for the public in the main bank’s lower level gallery sometime after the first of the year.

“We are fortunate they asked us to be involved,” Holthus said.

The York News-Times (https://bit.ly/1l9mspK ) reports that a huge celebration of Nebraska Statehood Day at the Nebraska State Historical Society in Lincoln on March 1, 2017, will debut all 130 of Williams’ paintings to the public en masse. Following a traveling exhibit across the state, Holthus said the bank’s decision is that its nine Nebraska classics will, “Go to live in the counties where they are from.”

Williams was graduated at Central City High School in 1985. He obtained his Associate’s Degree in fine art at Central Nebraska Community College in Columbus, then earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the Kansas City Art Institute where he studied painting and illustration.

An artist internship with Hallmark Cards in Kansas City during his senior year there led to a position as a staff artist for Hallmark and, later, DaySpring Cards, a subsidiary of Hallmark.

Williams left DaySpring in 2002 to pursue a professional career in fine art. He said he is represented by seven galleries “from Seattle, Washington to Naples, Florida.” The list includes two galleries in Texas and another in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Williams said it was while working with the Merrick County Historical Society at Central City in 2012 he first learned of the Nebraska Sesquicentennial that was, at the time, still five years in the future.

The Nebraska 150 Foundation gave its blessing to Williams’ brain child project and sponsors such as Cornerstone Bank were invited to support the massive undertaking with their resources. The foundation was represented in York this week by Amanda Mobley Guenther, administrative coordinator.

Her job, Mobley Guenther said, is “making sure this exhibit can travel statewide” after the Sesquicentennial celebration in early 2017. Her duty is to “make sure people can see this artist’s rendering of their county.”

Williams said about half of the 130 paintings are sponsored. How to underwrite one or more of the remaining pieces is a topic he will happily discuss with anyone interested in supporting Nebraska’s 150th birthday in that way.

Sponsorship inquiries are best made to either the artist’s website or that of the Nebraska 150 Foundation. Online addresses for both are at the end of this story.

The artist said he lets “Painting the Legacy of Nebraska” take him where it wants him to go; in this case 93 very different directions.

“If there is a sponsoring agent” such as Cornerstone, “they select the subject,” he explained.

That’s not to say he doesn’t have plenty of ideas himself, though; in the case of Valley County he had three concepts in mind. The Cornerstone branch manager in Valley “suggested the Loup River,” said the artist, who promptly set his three ideas aside and created a pastoral scene of a canoe paddling silently and alone down the tree-lined Loup in glorious light.

Williams said he’s become a familiar face in county historical societies across the state, too, as a result of deep research the project demands.

As for the paintings, he said,” The frames themselves are works of art,” each one handed gilded with 23 carat gold leaf. Every painting is over-sprayed with archival varnish and carries a museum quality engraved title plate. The varnish renders them impervious to virtually everything except fire and, oddly, plain water. The latter, he said, would be far more damaging even than acid.

“I wanted everything to be top quality,” said Williams, who promises, “The paintings are going to outlast all of us. They will be here in 150 years” when Nebraska celebrates 300 years of statehood.

Framing is done by a variety of craftsmen, each an artist in his or her own professional world.

The frames, Williams said, come with price tags that run to $1,000. All 93 paintings of the large size depicted in the accompanying photos are valued at $10,000. The 37 paintings above and beyond the 93 large ones come in two smaller sizes.

An art book containing all the images will be released in September 2016, prior to statehood day the following March.

Happily, however, there is no need to wait that long. Anyone can own a collectors’ item from the “Painting the Legacy of Nebraska” masterworks project immediately. A large, high quality 2016 calendar is available for purchase online now at www.nebraska150.com .

Counties featured on the 2016 calendar are: Frontier, Pierce, Thayer, Box Butte, Lincoln, Douglas, Phelps, Thurston, Fillmore, Clay and Brown.

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Information from: York News-Times, https://www.yorknewstimes.com

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