If you’re searching for ways to commemorate the past and celebrate the future, all you need to do is visit the Nevada Museum of Art—the oldest art museum in Reno and an archival treasure in the greater Northern Nevada region. From January to July 2023, the Museum is hosting three exhibitions, which uncover a side of local and U.S. history you’ve likely never experienced before.

Inside the galleries, you’ll find a retrospective for Adaline Kent, an artist inspired by the Sierra Nevada who tragically passed away from a car accident in 1957. You’ll see the props a secret artist army used during World War II to deceive Hitler’s troops. Finally, you’ll find the revolutionary artwork of American painter, sculptor, and printmaker—Ellsworth Kelly.

Adaline Kent exhibit
Photo courtesy of M. Lee Fatherree

I recently spoke with Rebecca Eckland, Director of Communications and Marketing for the Museum, to gain insight into the minds of these innovative artists. In our conversation, she discussed each exhibition’s significance and addressed some underlying themes.

“Though these exhibits highlight known historical events and artists, they bring them to light in a broader perspective,” said Rebecca Eckland about the Museum’s Q1 2023 efforts. “Museum visitors should leave with a new appreciation and sense for what it means to be a part of this country.”

Keep reading to learn more about these brilliant displays of art and how to get more involved with upcoming Museum exhibits, events, and art classes in Reno.

Nevada Museum of Art in Reno: What Are the True Characteristics of Innovation?

Nature and the undisputed origin of art

On January 28, an exhibition for one of midcentury America’s most innovative artists went on display at the Museum. The retrospective titled Adaline Kent: The Click of Authenticity features approximately 120 works that span Adaline Kent’s artistic career.

Art museum in Reno - Adaline Kent exhibit
Photo courtesy of Ron Jones

Visitors will experience a diverse range of pieces—some of which have not been seen by the public in more than half a century. Yet, with Kent’s unique perspective and timeless approach, many of her pieces feel like they were created yesterday.

“Kent formed sculptures based off of her experiences in the High Sierra,” Eckland said. “There’s an environmental depth to them.”

Kent was raised in the shadow of Mount Tamalpais, a region about 4.5 hours southwest of Northern Nevada. In her early career, Kent studied abroad in Paris but quickly returned west, spending the summers and winters exploring the Sierra Nevada with her husband, Robert B. Howard. The two were also among the first investors of Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, and Kent’s brother-in-law, Henry Temple Howard, designed the first chairlift in California.

art museum in Reno - Adaline Kent exhibit
Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

When you know the origin of Kent’s art, there is no question about how the surrounding landscape was translated into an aesthetic form.

Boldness in the face of adversity

Ghost Army: The Combat Con Artists of World War II, the subsequent exhibition to be featured at the Museum during the first quarter of 2023, is an excellent contrast to Kent’s indomitable spirit. Ghost Army tells the story of more than 1,100 men who deceived, sketched, and painted their way across Europe to manipulate Hitler’s armies during World War II.

Art Museum in Reno - Dummy Armored Car
Dummy M8 Greyhound armored Car, National Archives

As the first mobile, multimedia, and tactical deception unit in U.S. army history, the group included artists, engineers, professional soldiers, draftees, and famed artists, such as fashion designer Bill Blass, painter Ellsworth Kelly, and photographer Art Kane.

“Ghost Army was comprised of folks that weren’t necessarily trained for combat—not to say that they weren’t capable of waging war—but more so trained in the arts,” Eckland said.

Ghost Army, also known as the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops unit, used inflatable tanks and vehicles. They also created fake radio traffic to trick the German army into believing a U.S. battalion was nearby—when in fact, it was a handful of very talented artists armed with nothing heavier than .50 caliber machine guns.

Art museum in Reno -Ghost Army exhibit
A Dummy (on the left) and a real truck side by side, National Archives

This top-secret unit participated in 22 large-scale deceptions from Normandy to the Rhine River, with a significant bulk of the group arriving in England shortly before D-Day. Under the command of Army veteran Colonel Harry L. Reeder, Ghost Army simulated two whole divisions of approximately 30,000 men.

From March 4 to July 23, the traveling Ghost Army exhibition produced by the National World War II Museum in New Orleans will stop at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno. Some exhibited items include archival photography, historical artifacts, uniforms, sketches, and life-sized recreations of the inflatable military equipment used during combat.

Art and liberation

Whether art has been created to reflect nature’s most remarkable designs or built to blend into the enemy’s environment with inflatable props of war, there is true innovation and advocacy in both.

“Adaline Kent’s mother, Elizabeth Thatcher Kent was an outspoken suffragette who protested the rights for women to vote on the very steps of the Congress building where Kent’s father was working inside,” Eckland said. “They were an extremely influential and progressive family.”

Another artist with significant midcentury influence was Ellsworth Kelly, a member of the 23rd special troops unit and a brilliant painter, sculptor, and printmaker. In concurrence with the Ghost Army exhibition, the Museum will showcase Kelly’s revolutionary prints on loan from the collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation.

With his exposure to military camouflage, Kelly mastered the use of form and shadow and the construction and deconstruction of the visible. He believed in the freedom of colors in space, drawing from the connection between abstraction and nature.

Bringing stories to light

After the second world war ended, Ellsworth went on to create prints distinctive of the American abstraction movement. The inflatable tanks used to fool Hitler, however, were kept secret for more than 50 years until declassified in 1996.

Ghost Army exhibit
Dummy 155 mm Howitzer, National Archives

In Kent’s case, there hasn’t been an exhibition showcasing her art since the 1950s, which makes Adaline Kent: The Click of Authenticity the first retrospective to occur in more than six decades.

“These collections represent stories that have just come to light in recent years,” Eckland said. “Kent was featured in several notable exhibitions during the 1940s and 1950s but passed away in a car accident before we could truly celebrate her as an artist.”

Art museum in Reno - Adaline Kent exhibit
Photo courtesy of Ron Jones

Eckland explained that Kent had gymnastic rings in her art studio, which fed into her fascination with movement and balance. She was also an excellent craft maker—at one point in her career, she was commissioned to design lamps for a hotel in Yosemite. Museum visitors can purchase a beautifully-produced book at the gift shop to learn more about Kent’s life and career.

The Museum is also hosting several events in Q1 and Q2 2023 for guests to get more involved and learn more about the fascinating art showcased. To make the Ghost Army exhibition more accessible, admission is free for veterans.

5 Reno Art Museum Events to Attend This Winter and Spring

A Closer Look Guided Tour

Exploring exhibitions with a knowledgeable docent is the perfect way to gain insight and explore a topic from a whole new perspective. With tours offered Thursday evenings at 5 p.m. (except the first Thursday of every month), Fridays at 2 p.m., Saturdays at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., and Sundays at 11 a.m., there’s bound to be one that fits your schedule. Reservations are recommended but not required. These events are free with admission. To register, click here.

Hands ON! Second Saturday – Super Sculptors

Channel your inner Adaline Kent or Ellsworth Kelly with the Estelle J. Kelsey Foundation Hands ON! This free event is the perfect way for art lovers of all ages to explore and engage with the Nevada art museum in Reno. With docent-guided tours, storytelling, live performances, and community collaborations, the second Saturday’s program offers something new every time.

Members’ Exclusive Talk: Author and Film Maker Rick Beyer on The Ghost Army of World War II

In the summer of 1944, a handpicked group of GIs was called upon to take on a secret U.S. army mission. Armed with rubber tanks and other creative tactics, the special troops unit traveled across the battlefields of Europe to deceive Hitler. Known as the Ghost Army, nearly 1,100 men spent months conducting fake radio calls, enlisting the help of make-believe headquarters to fool the enemy about the strength and location of American forces. Uncover the secrets of this daring and heroic group with author and filmmaker Rick Beyer, followed by a swinging social with the Retro Radio Dolls. To register, click here.

Members Exclusive: Swinging Social with the Radio Dolls

Get ready to swing the night away at the Nevada art museum in Reno with the Retro Radio Dolls. These sassy singing divas will transport you to wartime favorites and retro classics, guaranteed to be an evening to remember. So, dress in ‘sporty forties-inspired threads,’ grab a libation of choice, and hit the dance floor. To register, click here.

Carter Foster on the Joyful Art of Ellsworth Kelly, Master of Color

Ellsworth Kelly is an American abstract painter, sculptor, and printmaker recognized for his bold use of color and form. Join us as Carter Foster, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs at Blanton Museum of Art, discusses Kelly’s practice. To register, click here.

At Dickson Realty, we’re proud supporters of Reno art museums that bring our community together. If you’re thinking about moving to Northern Nevada to explore your artistic lifestyle, contact one of our neighborhood experts here.