Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Error message

  • Deprecated function: Return type of DateObject::__wakeup() should either be compatible with DateTime::__wakeup(): void, or the #[\ReturnTypeWillChange] attribute should be used to temporarily suppress the notice in include_once() (line 143 of /var/www/html/prairieschooner.unl.edu/public/sites/all/modules/date/date_api/date_api.module).
  • Deprecated function: Return type of DateObject::format($format, $force = false) should either be compatible with DateTime::format(string $format): string, or the #[\ReturnTypeWillChange] attribute should be used to temporarily suppress the notice in include_once() (line 143 of /var/www/html/prairieschooner.unl.edu/public/sites/all/modules/date/date_api/date_api.module).
  • Deprecated function: Return type of DateObject::setTimezone($tz, $force = false) should either be compatible with DateTime::setTimezone(DateTimeZone $timezone): DateTime, or the #[\ReturnTypeWillChange] attribute should be used to temporarily suppress the notice in include_once() (line 143 of /var/www/html/prairieschooner.unl.edu/public/sites/all/modules/date/date_api/date_api.module).

200 Boots

200 Boots

By Timm Hoff

  • awakened at dawn
  • remembering who I was
  • forever waiting
  • for the waves to fall
  • for myself to land
  • to finally hear the end of the song
  • 198 Boots

When I started working on 200 Boots, the project was a tribute to a friend who committed suicide. He was a collector of many things. When he died, he left behind several hundred pairs of military boots from WWII and Vietnam. I was with him a few months before he died, when he received them. When I saw so many boots in one place, the seeds of using them in a photo shoot before he sold them was planted in my head.

I've spent many days on the shores of Lake McConaughy, a large lake near Ogallala, Nebraska. Cottonwood trees, native to the area, grow wild around the banks. The lake rises due to rain and irrigation, sometimes fluctuating dozens of feet through the year. When the water rises, the trees are submerged beneath the water. When the water level drops, the trees reemerge.

Every few years, some of those trees are submerged too long and die from lack of carbon monoxide and sunlight. Once back above water, the dead trees bake in the hot Nebraska sun and freeze in the harsh winds of winter. Over a few seasons, the bark grows brittle and much of it falls off. The trees bleach in the sun and look like pale bones. These "ghost trees" have always inspired me. I have used their branches in sculpture, have made many walking sticks, and have taken countless photos of their bleached forms against the majestic Nebraska sunset.

I hatched a plan to take the boots to the lake and hang them in the trees for a shoot. I approached my friend's mother with the idea of a project. She graciously gave me the boots to use, and 200 Boots began.

Heading out with one hundred pairs of boots, my camera, and my trusty Estonian Wolfhound by my side, I drove two hours to the shores of Lake McConaughy.

I spent 24 hours on the beach, hanging boots in the trees, sometimes throwing them, like the cobbler's Jackson Pollack, into the tallest of the bleached trees. I took dozens of photos during that time, from mid-day to sunset. I slept on the beach and started taking more shots at sunrise, with blue herons and gulls flying overhead.

Looking at the trees and the boots together made me see the connection between the two more clearly. The soot-colored boots and the bone white trees are in stark contrast but are both empty of life now—ghosts of their former selves.

Shortly after finishing the project and seeing the final prints in large scale, I was asked to show them at a Veterans' celebration in Boulder, Colorado. While the 200 Boots installation began with my friend's death, I could see how the project could be seen from a military perspective. While at the event, I met vets from across the country. I told them the story of the boots, and they shared their stories about their boots. We were brought together by our stories.

The boots symbolize their service to them. I was told of the ceremonies for fellow soldiers held during the Vietnam War. They'd line up the boots next to the survivors, in line, as they were recognized for their service. Others told of their experiences marching in boots, of leaving their friends' boots in trees to collect later as they passed home at the end of a day of battle, and of the joy of getting new boots when their old ones were not much more than tattered bits of leather.

I like to leave 200 Boots open to interpretation. I hope people bring their own thoughts and their own stories, and that they might find a story for each pair of the boots in the piece.   Though the boots can't tell their own stories, it's clear to see that each pair holds a tale in its silence.


Timm Hoff

Timm Hoff is a visual artist who has a growing list of exhibitions to his credit in Nebraska, Colorado, and South Dakota. He has a love of storytelling, and much of his work is inspired by folklore, legends, and myths from around the world. He was awarded the 2015 Nebraska Arts Council Artists in Schools and Communities Residency, through which he continues to share his love of storytelling through his work.

Timm's large-scale photography project "200 Boots" has been touring since its debut at The Dairy Center in Boulder, Colorado, in 2014. He is currently working on relief prints and sculpture for an ongoing show with collaborator Jean Welborn, called "Funk and Wagnall's Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend," based on the 1948 book of the same name.

Timm is also an accomplished writer and illustrator for several newspapers and websites. Timm lives in Alliance, Nebraska, with his wife, three children, two witch cats, and their loyal Estonian Wolfhound.

Return To TOC