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Willa Cather Exhibit entrance

American Bittersweet: The Life & Writing of Willa Cather

Red Cloud, Nebraska

Willa Cather is one of the most important American novelists of the first half of the twentieth century.

Seen as a regional writer for decades since her passing in 1947, critics increasingly identify Cather as a canonical American writer, the peer of authors like Hemingway, Faulkner and Wharton. The newly renovated National Willa Cather Center in Red Cloud, Nebraska, sought to honor and explore the life and legacy of Willa Cather with a permanent introductory exhibit housed in the Moon Block of downtown Red Cloud, a short walk from Cather’s childhood home.

Willa Cather Exhibit design notes

In collaboration with the board and staff of the Willa Cather Foundation, we designed, curated and fabricated an experience that explores and embraces the complexities of Cather’s life and work.

From the exhibit’s title to its design and writing, we worked to create a space that would invite visitors to reconsider what they thought they knew about Cather.

Custom watercolor paintings were commissioned to accompany each of the thematic sections.

Willa Cather Exhibit watercolor american bittersweet

American Bittersweet

Willa Cather Exhibit watercolor goldenrod


Willa Cather Exhibit watercolor rose


Willa Cather Exhibit watercolor madonna lily

Madonna Lily

Illustrations by Susan Bartel

Willa Cather graphic design sample

From Render to Reality

A combination of computer renderings and scale models were used to design the space.

Willa Cather Exhibit rendering

computer rendering of proposed exhibit

Willa Cather Exhibit artifact showcase

photo of completed exhibit

Custom engineered exhibit cases and label rails were built to allow Foundation staff ease of access, so they can monitor the condition of their priceless collection of Willa Cather artifacts, all while providing an open vista for visitors to explore.

Willa Cather Exhibit bookcase
Willa Cather Exhibit timeline

A massive custom bookcase houses a collection of Cather's books amidst those of her peers.

Hidden storage allows museum staff to store additional tour supplies.

The large cases enable exhibit staff to regularly rotate artifacts between public display areas and a private vault / restoration room as needed.

Willa Cather Exhibit book
Willa Cather Exhibit desk
Willa Cather Exhibit artifact

The interior of the space was covered in a custom wallpaper, designed to feel like you're inside one of her novels.

It's a subtle and warm environmental detail.

Willa Cather Exhibit display
Willa Cather Exhibit outdoor signage

American Bittersweet serves as an introduction to the county-wide properties owned by the foundation. Visitors are encouraged to continue exploring the Cather story by visiting the other properties.

Elegant and durable outdoor signage was fabricated to enable visits whether or not access to the interiors was possible.