Willa Cather statue unveiled at U.S. Capitol

June 7, 2023, 5 p.m. ·

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Alston's statue features a passage from Cather's famous novel My Ántonia written into the statue's notebook, according to the Architect of the Capitol. (Photo courtesy Sen. Pete Ricketts press team)

Nebraska author Willa Cather is the newest honoree to have a statue in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall.

The bronze figure was unveiled Wednesday among a group of national and state leaders, Cather family members, and other Cather enthusiasts. She is the twelfth woman and first Pulitzer Prize winner to be honored with a Statuary Hall sculpture.

At the event, Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer praised Cather’s lasting impact on the state’s history and literature.

“Cather's, vivid reflective writing, has become synonymous with the pioneer spirit of Nebraska,” Fischer said. “Cather herself grew from that land.”

Born in Virginia, Cather grew up in the southern Nebraska town of Red Cloud. Nebraska Rep. Adrian Smith said the town made a lasting impact on the writer, who set some of her most famous novels on the Nebraska prairie.

“A number of her works feature honest and rich retellings at the challenges faced by Nebraskans and our intimate relationship to the land,” Smith said. “Even after moving from Nebraska, her experiences stayed with her and testified to the unique spirit of Nebraska and many of her timeless works of literature.”

The statue’s creator, Creighton University professor Littleton Alston, also made history at the event as the first African American artist featured in the collection. In 2019, Alston was selected from over 70 applicants nationwide to create Cather’s bronze statue. U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said the historical circumstances were fitting for the occasion.

“Our pioneering artist made history today, but he's making history by bringing a new pioneer, a pioneering woman, into these chambers as well,” McCarthy said.

Cather’s sculpture joins another Nebraska native, Ponca Chief Standing Bear, whose statue was unveiled in 2019.