Sheldon Museum of Art Main Content

Torn Notebook

Adapted from a story in Nebraska Today by Troy Fedderson

Like a kid on the first day of school, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln opened the fall semester 2017 with a fresh—albeit torn—notebook.

As part of regular maintenance, Torn Notebook—the iconic, large-scale sculpture at 12th and Q streets that depicts a well-used notebook fluttering in the wind—was repainted to specifications outlined by its artists, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. The project, which was completed in late August 2017, included a complete assessment of the sculpture’s condition, cleaning, sanding, and application of primer and specialized, artist-approved paint.


“Over the years, everything from birds to people to Nebraska’s ever-changing weather take their toll on our outdoor sculptures,” said Genevieve Ellerbee, Sheldon’s associate registrar. “Structurally, Torn Notebook is in great shape. This is just a sprucing up, to return faded paint to the artists’ intended color and have the sculpture looking pristine again.”

Torn Notebook is one of about thirty-five campus sculptures that are part of Sheldon’s collection and on display across the university’s City and East campuses. As the artworks are ambassadors of both the university and museum, Sheldon employees conduct weekly assessments of the sculptures, looking for damage or potential problems.

For each outdoor sculpture, Sheldon keeps exacting records on the materials used in the compositions. Recorded details for the painted sculptures include color samples/chips and information about the chemical breakdown of each paint/compound applied to the structure.

“The reports are given to the conservators so they are able to make certain all the right things are being done to preserve and protect the sculptures,” Ellerbee said. “For Torn Notebook, that meant even looking at samples of the silver paint under a microscope to confirm methods used to give it that glossy, spring-like metal look.”

The in-depth records help Sheldon maintain each artwork to the exacting standards of the original artists for generations of Nebraskans and campus visitors to come.

Take this map of Sheldon’s outdoor sculpture to create your own self-guided tour.


Claes Oldenburg
born Stockholm, Sweden 1929
Coosje van Bruggen
Groningen, Netherlands 1942–Los Angeles, CA 2009
Torn Notebook (detail), 1992; fabricated 1996
Stainless steel, steel, and aluminum; painted with polyurethane enamel; 262 x 276 x 313 inches
Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Olga N. Sheldon Acquisition Trust and friends of the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery (Aliant Communications; Bahr, Vermeer and Haecker Architects; Karen and Robert Duncan, Duncan Foundation; M.E. and Harold Gifford; Carole Anne and Roger D. Sack; Ann and Frank Sidles in memory of Phil L. Sidles and Harold P. Stebbins; Paula and Durward Varner; Sally and Jack Campbell; Pat and Bill Lundak; Charlene and Bill Miller, Anheuser–Busch Foundation; Carl and Jane Rohman; June and Paul Schorr, III; Security Federal; Margaret and J.S. Berry; Maria R. and Donald M. Cox; Mr. and Mrs. J. Taylor Greer; Mary and Cliff Hillegass; Karen and John Janovy; Ruth A. and Martin A. Massengale; Nebraska Bookstore; Annette and Paul Smith; Katherine C. and Elwood N. Thompson; The Mill, Dale Nordyke), U–4666.1.1993