Grace Eugenia Barr Alderman

1877, Parker City, Pennsylvania – 1956, Philipsburg, Kansas

Living most of her life in the Nebraska Sandhills, Grace Alderman was an oil painter of regional landscape scenes, and made jewelry and molded and painted figurines. Her granddaughter, Mary Billesbach, described the figures as mostly of young women whom Grace finished with richly-colored dresses and “careful detailing of eyebrows, eye lashes, and lips.” She seldom signed or sold her work, but was very generous with family and friends by giving them her paintings.

Known professionally beyond Nebraska, she is referenced in prestigious national publications such as Who Was Who in American Art and Pettey’s Dictionary of Women Artists. The fact her name with biography is in Clarissa Bucklin’s 1932 book, Art and Artists of Nebraska, speaks to her regional reputation. Bucklin wrote that Grace was a “pupil of Mrs. Frank McLaughlin and Mrs. Bradshaw,” (28) but did not identify those women any further. The author also wrote that Grace had exhibition entries with the Omaha Art Institute and the Women’s Clubs of Omaha and Benson.

Grace was born in 1877 in Parker City, Pennsylvania, the oldest of four girls of John Bradford Barr and Oliva Genevra (Mason) Barr. By 1900, she was living with her family in Newport, a village in Rock County in the north central part of Nebraska about 40 miles from the South Dakota border. It was written of her parents: “John Barr was at one time much interested in the oil business in Pennsylvania. The mother, who was Eva Mason prior to marriage, in after years became an old settler in Nebraska, and for a time lived in a sod house on a homestead claim, quite a contrast to the comfortable dwellings of the east.” (Rock County)

Rock County became the largest hay-shipping center in the United States, and when Grace married hay farmer James Madison Alderman, Jr., she and her husband were part of that world. Alderman had grown up in the community and had been postmaster before devoting full time to the family business of hay farming. A local history records that “Mr. Alderman was married November 14, 1898, to Miss Grace Barr” and that James Alderman was “a wholesale dealer in choice Elkhorn valley hay….Newport counts him among its most enterprising and pushing citizens….In 1895 he went into the hay business, in which he has increased his dealings every year. In the territory stretching from Wood Lake to Stuart he has bought hay very extensively, and has maintained offices at both Wood Lake and Bassett. For a time he worked in partnership with W. H. Allen, but of late years has operated alone. How extensive his operations have been may be judged from the fact that in 1907 he shipped from Newport alone over twelve hundred carloads of hay.” (Rock County)

The couple prospered, built one of the largest homes in Rock County, and became known for their community entertaining and generosity. They had seven children including twin girls. Granddaughter Mary Billesbach remembered Grace as “very attractive, very stylish, and a nice homemaker.” She lived through the Great Depression era when many transients came through Newport on trains which shipped the hay, and she often gave them food. According to Grace’s daughter-in-law, Voy Alderman, she found time to indulge her love of reading and music. She “took many magazines, and played the organ at church.” Grace and James traveled and occasionally took the family to Florida, where they hired a woman to oversee the children. They also built a cabin at Hidden Paradise, Nebraska, a nearby resort area. Grace’s three younger sisters all married and lived nearby. Fran and Nell were school teachers and Effa, married to Harry Galleher who owned a lumberyard, was a talented artist who gave lessons locally including to grand-nephew Greg Alderman, brother of Mary Billesbach.

Grace Alderman died at age 79 in 1956 in Philipsburg, Kansas where she had been staying with her daughter, Gladys. Married 58 years, she raised seven children including twins, and worked hard with the family business. Her husband died two years later. Their big hay barn burned down, and eventually the large family home, purchased by Dr. Panzer, was carefully dismantled and used as building material for the Bassett Hospital. Although many components of her life went away, children and grandchildren live on knowing of a grandmother who created objects of beauty because she found quality in life and added color everywhere. Her son, James Madison, wrote that she even “color enhanced her wedding photograph.” (James Madison Alderman)

Grace Alderman is not represented in the Museum of Nebraska Art collection.


Alderman, Voy, Personal Interview, Bassett, Nebraska, May 21, 2015. Voy Alderman, married to John Alderman, is the daughter-in-law of Grace Alderman., Mar. 2014
Billesbach, Mary, Personal Interview, Bassett, Nebraska, May 21, 2015. Mary Billesbach, daughter of John and Voy Alderman, is the granddaughter of Grace Alderman.
Bucklin, Clarissa, Nebraska Art and Artists, p. 28, Print
Falk, Peter Hastings, Who Was Who in American Art, Volume I, Print
“James Madison Alderman, 1870-1958,” Forney Clark Genealogy, Web, May 2015
“Newport,” Rock County, Web, Mar. 2015
Petteys, Chris, Dictionary of Women Artists Born Before 1900, p. 10, Print
“Rock County-James Alderman, Jr.,” NEGenWeb, May 2015
“Welcome to the City of Bassett, Nebraska,”, Mar. 2015

Researched, written, and copyrighted by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier

Museum of Nebraska Art Project: Their Place, Their Time: Women Artists in Nebraska, 1825-1945