by Tim McMahan
If you've lived in Omaha for any length of time, you've seen the work of Sidney Buchanan.
The explosion of black metal tubes that towers over the west side of the University of Nebraska at Omaha's Dodge Street campus like a giant robotic ballet dancer? That's a Buchanan.
The intersection of white steel pieces that lie on the ground like a mammoth pipe-cleaner at rest on the edge of One Pacific Place? That's a Buchanan.
The walking treehouse made of red girders that looms alongside the 10th Street Bridge in Gene Leahy Mall? That's a Buchanan.
No other sculptor epitomizes Nebraska art like Sidney Buchanan.
Born in Superior, Wisconsin, in 1932 (he turned 83 earlier this month), Sidney "Buzz" Buchanan started sculpting at the tender age of 2. "I made big globs of mud and would take my mother's buttons and stick them in there for eyes," he said.
He refined his early style at the University of Minnesota at Duluth and New Mexico Highlands University, where he studied art before taking a sculpting job at the University of Omaha in 1964. He's pretty much lived and worked in Omaha ever since.
Buchanan is known first and foremost for those giant metal sculptures that tower throughout the state and beyond. Why work in a medium of such mammoth proportions? "Ego," Buchanan said. "The bigger the better. Size matters - it really does. What if Frankenstein walked through that door and was 5-foot-2 instead of 7-foot-tall? It makes a difference."
His favorite pieces are the refrigerator-sized clonks of metal like the 4-foot by 5-foot hulk that sits outside Catlin Elementary School near 127th and Marinda Street (a second version of the sculpture is on display at the Newberger Museum in New York City).
"The best pieces are based on found objects," Buchanan said. "Something happens when you crush 20 tons of metal in a big junkyard - stuff you cannot picture yourself. Those are my favorites."
One of Omaha's original downtown artists, Buchanan says the art scene back in the late '60s and early '70s was quiet. "The market was an absolutely vacant area, with vacant buildings everywhere," he said. "The best times and best shows were at The Antiquarium at 12th and Harney." The gallery that also housed the Bill Farmer collection is now long gone.
Fans of Buchanan's sculptures may not know he's been dabbling in the two-dimensional world for three decades, creating collage assemblies of different types of materials, "but basically plastic sheets painted on one side with two or three layers on top so that you can see pieces coming through underneath," he said. "You get happy accidents."
The art is abstract and brash, with color combinations that are complimentary and inviting, kind of like Buchanan himself.
Sidney Buchanan: Bagatelle runs through Oct. 30, 2015, at the little gallery.