Enameled cast iron sculpture, embellished with copper and bronze.
Opera Omaha 22/23 Artist in Residence, Lee Emma Running

“An object of beauty and mystery, inviting an audience to explore the complexity of the objects used in opera, represented in the unique tailoring and particular plants.”

Opera Coat is the culminating creation of Opera Omaha’s 2022-23 Artist in Residence, Lee Emma Running. The sculpture is a direct cast of a costume piece, turned inside-out, revealing the seams and stiches that allow artists to tailor each piece to the many bodies who may wear it. In this, it also becomes a reflection of the processes of many craftsmen and artists whose behind-the-scenes work results in an opera performance.

“My hope is that this sculpture will begin a conversation about the many hands that make a production possible and the transformative role of a garment in helping create a character that many people can inhabit over time.”


Opera Coat will be on display in the Orpheum Theater lobby during performances of La Traviata February 16 & 18.


Lee Emma Running is an artist creating arresting sculptures with roadkill animal bones, kiln-cast glass, and precious metals. She also fabricates monumental public installations on windows. For the last 15 years, she has been using this work to engage audiences in conversations about the impact of human-built systems on the natural world.

Lee was a 2023 Resident in the Arts/Industry program at Kohler and a 2022/23 Artist in Residence with Opera Omaha. She was also a 2017/18 Iowa Arts Council Fellow.

Permanent installations of her work can be viewed at the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, the Bernheim Arboretum, and Upper Iowa University. Her work has been featured in exhibitions at the Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, IA, National Taiwan University of the Arts, Taipei, Taiwan, Form and Concept Gallery, Santa Fe, NM, and PACE Gallery, Council Bluffs, IA. She has also been a speaker with TEDx, Omaha.

Lee was a Professor of Art at Grinnell College from 2005- 2021 and holds an MFA from the University of Iowa, and a BFA from Pratt Institute. Her work is represented by Olson-Larsen Galleries.


As the first Opera Omaha Artist in Residence, no one was sure about the outcome of a partnership between a visual artist and an opera company.

“This wasn’t Opera Omaha commissioning a sculpture,” say Opera Omaha Director of Engagement Lauren Medici.

“Initially, all my conversations with Lee focused on the value of art and creativity and the people who are creating it that we don’t think about all the time. That non-public facing part of art and creativity.”

Lee, whose studio has been situated above Opera Omaha’s Rehearsal and Production space for many years, has often been working with the sounds of opera drifting through her floorboards.

In 2022, Running was invited to be an artist in residence for the 2022/23 season. She watched many rehearsals and performances and was fascinated with the sets, costumes, and lighting that help bring a character to life.

“These elements make the stage feel like an installation to me,” says Lee. “I spent time talking to the production staff and exploring behind the scenes of a production. I wanted to create a sculpture that celebrates the underlying craft of opera production and identifies specific elements of place.”