Sept. 17, 2019, 6:45 a.m.
Six months after the March floods in Nebraska, an Omaha-area artist is hoping her paintings of the devastation will help with recovery. “Impressions of a Midwest Flood” depicts more than a dozen landscapes before, during and after the floods. There’s both beauty and sadness in the artwork.
Elizabeth Kois sits at a table inside a busy coffee shop in downtown Benson. Three of her paintings hang on the brick wall next to her, part of the 402 Arts Collective that shares the space. Her project didn’t start out as one about Nebraska flooding.
“I was already started doing some landscapes, which I really wasn’t very happy with to be honest,” Kois said. “It just wasn’t flowing and so then I was, wait, this is here right in front of me. I didn’t feel like I could ignore it.”
She stuck with the landscapes, but changed her focus to include places she was familiar with that had been changed by the floodwaters. One of those places was along Highway 75 near the Platte River, a place she visited as a child. She points to the painting.
Artist Elizabeth Kois. (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News)
“This one is the south bank of the Platte River. I saw it probably in April and this of all of the dead trees and the piles of sand, which I couldn’t believe,” she said. “Three feet or four feet of these huge mounds of sand.”
There are 15 paintings in the “Impressions of a Midwest Flood” collection and all are painted on pieces of drywall.
“I was already planning on working on drywall. I love working on unusual surfaces and it just really fit with the narrative,” she said. “And I don’t have any man-made structures in any of my paintings, so the drywall is more of that human touch.”
She thought it was important, with so many walls in homes soaked by floodwater.
Sunlight makes the paintings come alive.
“All of the painting kind of have an incandescent, I use this kind of special ink, so when the sun hits it, it will kind of shine and shimmer and have this light quality to it,” she said.
Kois, who graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with an Art Education degree, says this wasn’t an easy project to do. Her family wasn’t affected by the floods, but many of the people and places she’s familiar with were. There’s a subtle mix of beauty and sadness in many of the paintings, including one called “Missouri Valley”.
Painting of dead trees in floodwater by Elizabeth Kois. (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News)
“It is a very beautiful painting, with all the bright colors. It’s of a sunrise over Missouri Valley,” she said. “However, when you look closely, you realize that the reflection of the sunrise in the water is water and you see all of the trees. It’s one of those paintings that look really lovely at first and then when you look closer you realize what it really is about.”
Kois used her kitchen table as a studio. Oil paints with four small children around didn’t work too well, so she chose the water colors, ink and wax instead. And she decided to give some of the proceeds from her show to the Open Door Mission in Omaha, a non-profit that provided assistance to flood victims, including shelter, supplies and help restoring damaged property.
“I really like the restorative nature of their program, so that’s why I chose to give to them,” she said. “And how they were helping many other non-profits.”
She’s finished with this project and knows it might be hard to appreciate for some people.
“It’s acknowledging one of those really tough moments that there’s really no answer for, and though at the end of it, maybe ten years down the road, that’s when you’ll see the hope,” She said. “And that’s when it will be like, oh wow, look what we went through. But I feel like it’s important to acknowledge that tough moment.”
“Impressions of a Midwest Flood” runs through this month at the 402 Arts Collective in Benson.