A bronze sculpture of American author and Shenandoah Valley native Willa Sibert Cather (1873–1947) is now part of the landscape at Winchester’s Museum of the Shenandoah Valley (MSV).
Created by Littleton Alston (b. 1958), the sculpture has been installed in The Trails at the MSV, a 90-acre art park surrounding the galleries building on the Museum campus.
In 2019, Littleton Alston won the commission to create a bronze sculpture of Cather to represent Nebraska in the National Statuary Hall Collection at the U.S. Capitol. The sculpture was unveiled in the Capitol on June 7, 2023. Littleton Alston is the first African American artist to have a sculpture in Statuary Hall.
A twin of the Capitol bronze, the MSV sculpture is an additional cast from Alston’s original model. The acquisition and installation of the sculpture was made possible by the generosity MSV supporters and Clarke County residents John and Marjorie Lewis.
Approximately seven-and-a-half feet tall, the sculpture is set on a large limestone rock found on the MSV landscape. In the weeks ahead, the area surrounding the sculpture will be seeded with wildflowers so that next spring blooms of black-eyed Susans, wild bergamot, and three different types of golden rod —a flower native to Virginia and the state flower of Nebraska—will surround the sculpture.
Alston depicts Cather at around age 40, on the Nebraska prairie, grasping a walking stick as she strides forward. In her left hand, Cather carries a pen and sheaf of papers. The novelist’s handwriting appears twice on the statue: in her signature on the base of the sculpture and in a passage from My Ántonia copied on the papers she carries.
Willa Cather was born in 1873 in Back Creek Valley—near Gore—in Frederick County, Virginia. At the age of nine, Cather moved with her family to Nebraska, where they later settled in Red Cloud. After graduating from the University of Nebraska, she worked as an editor and journalist while writing poetry and short stories. In 1906 she settled in New York City, which became her home for the remainder of her life.
Cather is known as one of America’s most influential and celebrated authors. Much of Cather’s writing, including the novels O Pioneers! and My Ántonia, portray life as she experienced it while growing up in the grass country that surrounds Red Cloud. Other works include One of Ours (1922, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize), Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927), and Shadows on the Rock (1931). Her final novel, Sapphira and the Slave Girl (1940), is set in her native Virginia.
Those interested in seeing the sculpture are invited to visit The Trails at the MSV. The Willa Cather sculpture is located off a new section of trail behind the galleries building near the entrance to the Wetlands Boardwalk. A free-admission park, the Trails is open daily from 7 a.m. until dusk. The Willa Cather sculpture is located off a new section of trail behind the galleries building near the entrance to the Wetlands Boardwalk. A free-admission park, the Trails is open daily from 7 a.m. until dusk.
A regional cultural center, the MSV is located at 901 Amherst Street in Winchester, Virginia. The MSV includes a galleries building with permanent and rotating exhibitions, the Glen Burnie House, seven acres of formal gardens, and The Trails at the MSV. Additional details are available at www.theMSV.org or by calling 540-662-1473, ext. 235. –END–
About Littleton Alston:
Born in 1958 in Petersburg, Virginia, Littleton Alston grew up in Washington, DC. He studied at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and attended Virginia Commonwealth University, where he majored in sculpture. Alston earned an MFA from the Rinehart School of Sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art. In 1989 he was admitted to the artist residency program at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, Nebraska. He maintains a studio in Nebraska and has been a professor of sculpture at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, since 1990. Alston’s portrait busts and statues are included in public and private collections throughout the United States, and in 2019, Littleton Alston was selected by the state of Nebraska to create the sculpture of Willa Cather for the U.S. Capitol. Alston is the first African American artist to create a statue for the National Statuary Hall Collection.