Tag Archives: Colorado

Mural Man

June 2, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Visual artist Mike Giron’s creative life spans studio practice, teaching, and working with A Midsummer’s Mural and South Omaha Mural Project teams.

“In my studio work, I have no idea what’s going to happen—I just go. I’m not forcing or insisting on anything. The work creates itself in some crazy way,” Giron says. “When it comes to murals, it’s a lot more deliberate. You have to propose a design before you begin. So, I live in these two different worlds, and I think it’s keeping me balanced.”

The New Orleans native came to Omaha in the early 1990s by way of Colorado, where he met his ex-wife, an Omaha native. After her father died, the couple moved here with the intent of restoring her family home, selling it, and returning to Colorado. But Omaha proved a good place to raise their two children, so they stayed.

Giron, 45, taught art at Bellevue University and ran the campus gallery. Today, he’s a Metropolitan Community College adjunct instructor.

Without knowing it, he prepared to be a muralist through his experience painting Mardi Gras floats in New Orleans. Walls are not so different from float structures—they’re big and imperfect. And just as he used cut-out panels on floats, he does the same with murals.

“The Polish mural is the clearest example,” he says. “There was a downspout, a chimney, and a fence around an air conditioning unit, and we used cut-outs to hide those things. It gave a 3D pop-up look effect. It also breaks the frame to extend beyond the box of the building.”

Patience is a virtue for a muralist.

“Murals take a long time—maybe two months,” he says. “Unless you really practice your Zen, you’ve got to make it enjoyable to keep on doing it every day.”

The social contract of public art and the collaborative nature of murals means you’d better like people. He does. You’d better like working big, too.

“Once you experience large-scale production, it’s hard to go back to small paintings,” he says. “Although I still consider myself a studio painter, there’s also something about doing large work. You can’t help but see a wall and go, ‘Oh, that would be perfect for this statement.’ And then the physicality of the work feels good. You’re carrying stuff all the time; you’re up and down ladders. The brush strokes are not just a flick of the wrist.”

But Giron says the real reason he and his fellow muralists do it is because “we’re channeling the voices of people who can’t do this, and we take pride in that.” He says, “We feel good about delivering something that people feel does express them.”

The process for the South Omaha murals involves deep community immersion.

“The more you immerse and personally connect with the people on a street level, the more you’re going to be trusted by that community, and the more they’ll open up and allow you in,” he says.

The South O murals feature diverse looks.

“Some fall into naturalism, and others go into some other place,” he says, “That’s interesting to me because it’s not the same. Rather than a signature style, I would prefer they look like they were done by different people.”

They are. Giron works with Richard Harrison, Rebecca Van Orman, and Hugo Zamorano. Neighbors contribute stories and ideas at community meetings. Residents and students participate in paint days and attend unveiling celebrations.

The works are an extension of the new South Omaha Museum, whose director, historian Gary Kastrick, conceived the murals project. Giron serves on the museum board. He enjoys digging through Kastrick’s artifact collection and preparing exhibits, including a replica of an Omaha Stockyards pen.

The idea is for the museum, the murals, and Kastrick’s history tours to spark a South O renaissance keying off the district’s rich heritage and culture. Muralists like Giron share a bigger goal to “make Omaha a destination for public art.” He says murals are a great way to enhance the city’s visual aesthetic and to engage the community. Besides, he says, murals “demonstrate to the public there is an arts community here” in a visible way galleries cannot.

Giron is impressed by the Omaha arts explosion. “There’s so much going on and so many young artists hitting the scene making a big impact,” he says.

Meanwhile, he continues to create studio art. His series On the Brighter Side of Post-Apocalyptic Minimalism employed fire-singed materials to make their satirical marks.

“With the process-oriented stuff I’m doing now, there’s a huge amount of variety, even though I’m just using grids,” he says, explaining that his personal artworks have moved away from rules of perspective and representational dictates of realism.

“When you don’t use any of that, all you have is the process and the visual reality of things—line, shape, value, color, texture, and space,” he says. “When you start playing in that area, where there’s no limits in terms of defining what things should be or should look like, you find it’s actually inexhaustible.”

He intends to follow “the course of my curiosity,” adding, “If you are really free as an artist, then you just follow whatever’s interesting to you.”

New murals keep beckoning, though. “I get pulled into all this work. You set yourself up for a fall, but the fall is where all the good stuff happens,” he says.

Having completed Czech, Lithuanian, Polish, Mexican, Metropolitan Community College, and Magic City murals for the South O project, Giron and company are now working on a Croatian mural. Irish, Italian, African-American, and Stockyards murals are still to come.

Visit amidsummersmural.com for more information.

This article was published in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

King and Queen of the Blacksmiths

May 5, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

These days, many couples find each other via dating websites or apps. John and Trena Thompson literally found each other at a meat market.

He was just a guy working in Hy-Vee’s meat department, and she was a gal in the deli who sometimes needed said guy to help take out the trash.

“When he asked me out, he took me to a Renaissance festival and spent the whole time looking at swords,” Trena says. “I can’t say it was the best date in the world.”

Three decades later, Trena and John are happily married (despite their one-of-a-kind first date) with a home filled with more swords, knives, spears, and axes than she could have ever imagined.

For the past 25 years, the two have worked as professional blacksmiths in the Renaissance festival circuit. He’s the muscle—the artisan who carefully crafts each Camelot-worthy weapon—and she’s the brains behind each sale. Together they have sold out stock at fairs from Texas to Kansas, and they annually dazzle local folks at myriad events around Omaha.

“What makes our product so unique is everything is 100 percent handcrafted by just one person,” Trena says. “John even makes his own pins to connect the handle and blade.”

It was due to a fair amount of scheming on Trena’s part that John got his first taste of blacksmithing. What she told him was a trip to visit family in Colorado was actually a secret vacation to stay in Albuquerque with an award-winning knife-maker. In Albuquerque, John learned to make his first knife from start to finish.

In a pre-Braveheart, pre-Game of Thrones, pre-internet world, John scavenged what little literature there was on knife-making to hone his craft. And in 1996, for John’s 30th birthday, Trena submitted her husband’s resignation at Hy-Vee so he could focus solely on blacksmithing.

“There were a lot of days spent in the shop messing up a lot of steel,” John says. “It’s surreal because now we’re the experts. People come up to us at festivals to ask how it’s done.”

And after 25 years of participating in festivals, it makes sense that John has become a master blacksmith. In addition to running the couple’s business, Dwarf Mountain Knives, John teaches classes at the Blacksmith Shop of Omaha.

Annually, the couple spend about 16 weekends a year at festivals, including the Nebraska Renaissance Faire (held at RiverWest Park for the first time in 2017), which is about half the number they used to attend before having two boys. Kyle, who is 25 years old, helps to polish and prep finished blades. Their youngest son, 10-year-old Zayne, is already sketching designs for Dad.

In this trade, it takes the whole family to keep the Thompson reputation sharp.

Through it all, Trena says, John has proven to be her knight in shining armor. After all, the two have slashed and conquered obstacles to their business and family like the mightiest of sword-wielding dragon slayers.

“Working Renaissance festivals is the hardest job I’ve ever had,” Trena says, “but it’s easier and way more fun knowing we have each other’s backs.”

The metro area’s longest-running medieval-themed festival, the Nebraska Renaissance Faire, relocated to RiverWest Park on April 29-30, 2017. It was previously held at the Bellevue Berry and Pumpkin Ranch, which now hosts its own Renaissance Festival of Nebraska during the subsequent two weekends in May (May 6- 7 and May 13-14). Visit blacksmithomaha.wordpress.com for more information about learning the blacksmith trade in Omaha. Visit dwarfmountainknives.com for more on the Thompsons’ company.

This article was published in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Southwest Escape

April 7, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

We’re creatures of habit. We live and breathe routine, and for the most part, we are comfortable in our ways. We’re busy. We think ahead. We worry. We wonder. We drive to work and run errands. Once in a while, however, we stop for a moment and realize that we need a break.

What happens when we decide to escape from routine? If only for two weeks? The possibilities are infinite. Omaha Magazine’s creative director, Bill Sitzmann, and his family of four know this firsthand. Sitzmann, his wife, and their two kids (ages 5 and 9) packed up their Subaru Outback in early June 2016 and hit the road with no specific destination in mind, rather a region: the Great American Southwest.

“We knew when we needed to leave and we knew when we needed to be back,” Sitzmann says. “My dad lives in Tucson, so we knew we wanted to go there and see him. But other than that, we just picked the general areas we wanted to hit.”

The Sitzmann family rolled out of Omaha, looking forward to the two-week camping adventure ahead. Sitzmann says that the trip was exciting from a parental standpoint because, while he was accustomed to teaching his kids things that he already knew, they were headed into uncharted territory for the whole family.

“For all four of us to experience it for the first time, all at the same time, was pretty cool,” Sitzmann says, recalling their two weeks of close quarters on the road.

Driving from Omaha, their stops ranged from Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado to the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.

They discovered beautiful, lightly populated trails and campsites by venturing off the beaten path. The family decided to stop by the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado, chosen by Sitzmann on a whim, based solely on pictures that he’d seen of the place.

Surrounded by trees with no spectacular view in sight, the drive into the park had them questioning their sanity. But the side trip turned out to be one of the more rewarding outdoor destinations for the family when they walked along a trail at sunset and stumbled upon a massive canyon nearly 100 yards away from their campsite. As they looked around, they realized that they had the hidden gem all to themselves. Sitzmann made a point to wake up at sunrise the next morning for coffee with a view.

They hit a total of 10 national parks over the course of their 3,200-mile journey across the rugged Southwest of the United States. The region is home to countless national parks, along with myriad monuments and historic sites, offering unlimited variations to the ultimate family road trip.

In the Southwest, several National Parks are located in close enough proximity that more than one could be visited in a single day. The natural formations of the land might be close in location, but tend to differ greatly when it comes to their visual appeal.

In Utah, the impressive forest of tall, narrow eroded rock at Bryce Canyon National Park is less than 90 minutes from Zion National Park—where massive cliffs, gaping canyons, sparkling streams, and waterfalls can be seen. Those two parks alone could make a day of adventure (or a week of discovery) for visitors.

 “I think it’s important to have that long-term period with your family,” Sitzmann says. “Most of us, we talk about providing for our family—and that’s what we think our main job is. You teach [your kids] that you can provide and work hard, but there are other things in life that we miss and that we kind of lose touch with over the years.”

The family was able to disconnect from social media, spend the evenings under the stars, and chase the sunrise each morning.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Not every moment was saturated with unexpected beauty. One night, they couldn’t find an open campground, so they camped directly under a fluorescent light in an RV park. But that was a learning experience, in its own way.

Sitzmann’s son turned 9 on the road and received a pocketknife from his father as a right of passage into the world of responsibility.

Road trips to the Southwest have occupied a pivotal point in the lives of many. For my own family, the Southwest was the basis for two unforgettable road trips. The first journey, my parents took in their 20s before having kids. The second, they undertook with seven children in tow (four years ago).

Unlike the Sitzmanns, the Smith crew rolled out of Omaha in 15-passenger rental van. Our approach to the itinerary was more regimented and less laissez faire. We hit the road with all lodging booked. While the Sitzmanns cooked on campfires all along the way, we munched on endless amounts of processed snacks packed into the van.

My dad drove, my mom blogged, and the seven of us kids—ages 5 to 19—bonded in the backseats singing songs, playing games, and marveling at the changing colors and landscapes that we had never seen before.

Over the course of the 3,259 miles that we drove, we spent 10 days in five different states. We grew closer as we conquered new territories. We mastered packing and unpacking the car in a matter of minutes; white-water rafted in Colorado; played cards by the campfire at night in Utah; and came up with silly inside jokes that we remember today.

While there are countless ways to make a road trip through the Southwest, the adventure is unlike any other. Experiencing the purity and the simplicity of the landscape, joined by the people you love, is an indescribable experience. It is an opportunity that doesn’t come around often.

My parents had wanted to go on family road trip to the Southwest ever since their own trip some 20 years prior. It was a right of passage for our family as a unit, because my eldest sister had just graduated high school and the youngest was about to start kindergarten.

As we begin graduating from college, these sorts of road trips will become increasingly difficult to coordinate. So, to seize the moment, we are now in the midst of planning another massive family road trip.

The Smith Family’s Southwest Itinerary (10 days):

From Omaha, we drove through Colorado and landed in Utah where we visited: Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Zion National Park. We then continued to head south where we hit Arizona and visited the Grand Canyon National Park and Lake Powell. We headed back up north where we made an impulsive stop at the Four Corners, then carried onto Mesa Verde National Park and the city of Durango in Colorado. Then, we returned to Omaha.

The Sitzmann Family’s Southwest Itinerary (14 days): 

From Omaha, they headed to the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. From there, they went to New Mexico where they visited Carson National Forest and White Sands National Monument. They continued onward to the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park and Antelope Canyon in Arizona, and then went back up to Utah to hit Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. The family made their way back through Colorado, where they visited the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park before they returned to Omaha.

Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Colorado Modern

January 22, 2017 by
Photography by Tom Kessler, Kessler Photography

How do two people, each with an appreciation for very different tastes in design, come together to build their perfect dream home?

When our client came to us, the husband leaned more towards a contemporary, midcentury modern look, while the wife loved a Colorado-inspired design. We knew the challenge of marrying these two concepts would be great. But the final product would be even greater.

Lisa Cooper, Allied ASID, and Kris Patton, ASID, feel there is no higher compliment than to obtain new clients by referral from a previous client’s friends and family. This new home construction project was no exception. In order to realize the clients’ multipart vision, we teamed with Marshall Wallman, vice president of design at Curt Hofer & Associates, and his team to create this dream home.

Colorado2

Our clients enjoy the topography and ambience of Colorado and the architecture of that region. They also like things a bit more contemporary, so we tried to meld together a vintage Colorado midcentury modern look for their new home. While the home itself was meticulously planned to achieve this design, the lot the family selected was just as important. A space with abundant trees would set the perfect tone for a woodsy, private residence.

The home’s curb appeal sets the tone for the design elements that wait inside. The entrance—with its vast windows and incredible sightline from the workspace all the way to the dining room—makes a strong introductory statement.

Main and lower levels of the home feature similarly strong design conceptualization in the fireplaces. They aren’t located on exterior walls, as fireplaces typically are; rather, the hearths are positioned in the centers of the rooms (to be more architecturally integrated into the spaces). Carefully placed windows allow for ample natural light to pierce the space. Not having a fireplace in a traditional placement, flanked by windows, adds interest.

Colorado3

Powder rooms on each level also provide an opportunity to get creative, and they incorporate high-end elements such as a stainless steel vessel sink, which perforates a quartzite countertop, and walls tiled in a 3D relief.

A color palette of natural tones with blackened steel blue, fern green, aged ore, slate gray, and metallic burnt merlot creates an ambience that possesses an elusive balance between vintage and modern appeal. We relied upon myriad materials to achieve the design our clients desired. Natural stone, used in both the exterior and interior of the home, gives a rugged, earthy feel. A mix of concrete, weathered and reclaimed woods, organic natural stone surfaces, and quartz work symbiotically. Wood ceiling details, a kitchen backsplash fashioned of fern gray subway tiles with a vintage pattern, and handcrafted wall coverings all add to the unique flavor of this home.

Colorado4

Perhaps one of the most striking elements of the home’s design scheme is the incredible use of light fixtures as art pieces. In an effort to avoid a predictable sea of sameness, we used a multitude of finishes from bronze to antique brass, to polished nickel, creating an acquired look in which each piece can be outstanding.

People oftentimes look at lighting as functional, and they forget that light fixtures can be beautiful, artistic pieces in the home. For this project, we used sconces in the hall to transform industrial design into artful sophistication. The dining room fixture is a chandelier crafted of Cupertino wrought-iron branches, each supporting a delicate chain adorned with a single crystal bead. The entry pendants are made of distressed mercury glass, dressed in antique brass chainmail. And the nursery fixture is feminine and fresh, suggesting a vintage flower design with its glass petals and chrome detailing.

The challenge of melding our clients’ appreciation of contrasting aesthetics of design proved to be a thought-provoking opportunity to create a true standout of a project… and their enthusiasm encouraged our efforts. They seemed to truly enjoy the process, expressing energetic and positive feedback on every aspect of their new home construction. The end result was a dream home with a cohesive design and a unique look…and two very happy homeowners.

Colorado1

This article was printed in the January/February 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Visit asid-neia.org for more information.

MEET THE DESIGNERS

Cooper

Lisa Cooper

The interior design industry is fast-moving, challenging, and multifaceted.  I love that I have the opportunity to be creative and technical, all in a day’s work. Our clients are amazing people, and the projects that I’ve had the chance to work on have been extraordinary.

Patton

Kris Patton

Design is my passion, and to have the opportunity to receive an education and the experience it takes to gain knowledge and expertise in this industry is such a privilege. I have amazing clients and have had the chance to work on incredible projects.  I wouldn’t trade this career for the world!

 

High on Jesus

October 12, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Getting high on Jesus in the Rocky Mountains, however, is always 100 percent legal.

The Front Range looms overhead as Dan and Dawne Broadfield sip their morning coffee. Towering at a height of 14,259 feet, the snow-capped Longs Peak is the highest point in the adjacent Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.

Residing at an elevation of nearly 1.5 miles above sea level, the Broadfields live on the forested grounds of Covenant Heights. The year-round Christian camp is located nine miles south of Estes Park, on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, near the base of Longs Peak.

estespark6The parents are career missionaries and together have visited Haiti, Mexico, Canada, England, France, Belgium, and Holland, among others. As assistant director of facilities, Dan helps to maintain the 65-acre Covenant Heights, while Dawne home-schools their three children: 18-year-old Darby, 14-year-old Dakota, and 11-year-old Max.

Their days are filled with hiking, fishing, backpacking, paddleboarding, archery, and kayaking. They have unfettered access to high ropes, zip lines, and a climbing wall—perks of living at a wilderness retreat. The same activities draw campers from across the country.

If the weather is nice, Dan and Dawne say they might go six to eight hours without seeing their offspring, and that’s fine for both parents and frolicking children alike.

In summer, nighttime unveils an infinite heaven of twinkling stars, with the Milky Way shining down on three hammocks arranged in a triangular formation in the trees. Each hammock cradles a Broadfield child, peacefully sleeping.

estespark2

Once the weather turns chilly, they gather firewood for campfires. The winter season also brings snow-shoeing, ice hockey, and cross-country skiing.

Wildlife is an integral part of living at the campground, where animals also make their home. Coyotes, moose, and deer frequently wander through Covenant Heights. Herds of elk are common visitors; during the fall rut, the bulls’ high-pitched bugling will echo for miles.

“The other day, an elk walked through the middle of (the triangle of hammocks),” Dawne says. “Our youngest woke up and thought, ‘Uh, oh. This isn’t good.’ But the elk eventually moved along.”

estespark5The free-spirited mother of three does have one rule about sleeping outdoors. Her kids can’t have lipgloss, sunscreen, or other scented items in their pockets. Bears live in the neighborhood, and scented items or food will attract them. Dawne even brings her bird feeders inside at night so as not to attract unwelcome scavengers.

She loves life amongst the animals. In fact, her animal-watching pastime vaguely reminds her of childhood years spent in Omaha. “We went to the Henry Doorly Zoo about every two weeks,” says the one-time Omahan. Dawne’s father served in the Air Force at Offutt Air Force Base for three years, when she was in fifth through eighth grades.

Her adult life unfolded away from Omaha. Before relocating to Colorado in 2015, Dawne and Dan were living in San Antonio, Texas, where they ran an art gallery and online networking platform for artists called ArtLife.

“Here we are now in Estes Park because we felt like we ran out of space in San Antonio. We wanted to become more of a starving artists community,” says Dan. “We want to develop an artists community up here. I want to create a safe space for people to come and hone their skills. It’s the idea of not being in their normal circumstances.”

estespark4Surrounded by natural abundance, the family feels rich. Not so when it comes to the latest technological amenities. They have a satellite television, the only reliable phone is a landline, and mobile internet service is patchy from camp.

Dawne says “there’s a 20-minute window about twice a day” for internet access. An avid photographer, she posts almost daily on Instagram from her smartphone during those limited windows of online accessibility.

Her photo stream documents their neighbors, mostly the wildlife (@adeltadawne). “We have lots of moose that hang out,” she says. “The elk, the deer, the eagles, and then I sprinkle in family stuff.” If it is necessary to check something online, they head to a coffeeshop or the library in town. Dan and Dawne enjoy their wireless existence. “I kind of like the idea of being disconnected,” Dan says.

Christian wilderness retreats have a rich history on the Front Range near Covenant Heights. Even before Colorado was a state, missionaries were spreading the gospel across the landscape.

estespark3Summer encampments for the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) date back to the 1890s. The YMCA summer campsite from 1908 remains the site of the modern-day YMCA of the Rockies. Today, the organization hosts Christian gap-year programs for 18-to-24 year olds “seeking personal and spiritual growth while working in a seasonal job at Snow Mountain Ranch.”

On January 26, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Rocky Mountain National Park into existence, and the nationwide National Park Service came into being the following year (celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2016).

Covenant Heights arrived on the scene in the early 1930s through the fellowship of the Covenant Young Peoples and Sunday School Conference of Colorado and Wyoming. The coalition of Rocky Mountain churches sought to give “a concerted effort to provide inspiration, Christian fellowship, and evangelism for the young people of the churches in Colorado and Wyoming,” according to its website. Covenant Heights’ current permanent campsite became operational in 1948.

Separate from the YMCA or Covenant Heights, the nonprofit Wind River Ministries also runs the ongoing Wind River Ranch, a “Christian Family Guest Ranch Resort”complete with dude ranch.

Regardless of one’s spiritual inclination, the sweeping mountain vistas are inspiring throughout the vicinity of Estes Park.

In the wake of Colorado’s legalization of marijuana, residents of Estes Park voted to block the opening of recreational and medicinal dispensaries within the limits of town and Larimer County. It was a strategic move to preserve the region’s wholesome reputation as a family destination. Meanwhile, federal marijuana laws reign supreme over Rocky Mountain National Park and other federally owned lands.

Getting high on Jesus in the Rocky Mountains, however, is always 100 percent legal.

Visit covenantheights.org for more information.

estespark1

Keep Calm and Never Mind the Ghost

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Opened on September 30, 1996, Upstream Brewing Co. celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Ask owner and founder Brian Magee to explain how Upstream has thrived for so many years, and he talks mostly about the people involved: the friends who nudged him toward his goal of opening a brewpub, the now-governor friend who partnered with him to get Upstream going, the friend who heard of a great building going up for sale in the Old Market at a party, and all the employees who have spent time working at Upstream.

“I think the real success of our store is because of the people who work here,” says Magee. “It becomes a community. You don’t really find any place this big where it’s like that.”

Long-time employee Heather Slagle agrees. “A lot of these people are my best friends. We just all have a good sense of humor and a good vibe.” Slagle says working at Upstream is not for everyone because of the sheer volume of guests that they encounter daily. “It’s sink or swim,” she says, laughing. “You just gotta jump in.”

In addition to the right people, a series of fortunate events led to Upstream’s success. A trip to Colorado in the late 1980s led Magee to visit Wynkoop Brewing Co. and swayed him from his original intention of going into fine dining. He partnered with John Hickenlooper to open Upstream; Hickenlooper eventually became the governor of Colorado. “He was very influential for me. He’s a colorful character,” says Magee.

Magee explained how a stroke of luck led to finding the perfect location downtown: “The building was formerly the Firehouse Dinner Theater. Spaghetti Works bought it in a tax sale from the city. A friend of my wife overheard someone at a party say, ‘We gotta get rid of that Firehouse Dinner Theater,’ so she called me right way. It took a year to get the deal done, but we got it.” It was not the first building he considered, but it turned out to be the best fit. “It was the fourth building we looked at,” says Magee. “When we came in and saw it, we said, ‘what a great place!’”

Magee says the good fortune kept coming after they opened. “It’s fortuitous that Embassy Suites opened so close and then the city built a parking garage. We’ve kind of become a tourist attraction in the Old Market. We have almost a thousand reviews on TripAdvisor. It’s a big number.” Upstream has since exceeded 1,000 reviews. 

As for the building itself, it has quite an interesting history. “It’s a hundred-plus-year-old building; it was a firehouse, it was a garage, it was a dinner theater,” says Magee. At least two fires have made their way through the building, and Magee supposes that one of those fires is where Upstream’s ghost came from.

Yes, ghost. Though there are few accounts of people actually seeing this ghost, the general consensus is that it is a young boy carrying a red ball. Ask Magee if there is really a ghost at Upstream and he will look you in the eye and respond emphatically, “There is definitely a ghost in this building.” He might even walk you to the back freezer in the downstairs and show you where a beer keg mysteriously moved in front of the door while an employee was inside the freezer. Or he’ll pull up a photo on his phone taken by some customers that appears to show a bright orb floating tableside upstairs.

Magee says that there will definitely be some celebrating for their anniversary. “We have a number of things that we’re going to be doing,” he says, not revealing details. When asked what the future holds for Upstream, Magee responds, “I don’t think we’re going to be changing a lot, but we’re always evolving.” 

Visit upstream.com for more information. Encounter

Upstream1

Scream Queen

May 5, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Classic horror conventions abound in the frightening local flick Endor: The car runs out of gas in the middle of nowhere, no one but creepy country locals for miles, blood spurts dramatically from the wounds of the slaughtered, and the terror-stricken lead, played by Julia Farrell, runs for her life through lush cornfields.       

Russ (Dustin Smith) and Farrell’s character Kiera are sweethearts traveling through Nebraska on a road trip when the gas tank goes empty and all hell breaks loose in the tiny heartland township of Endor. 

“The filmmakers wanted to make a movie that fed into all the common universal horror movie clichés and small town stereotypes, but that also had this unique religious undertone,” says Farrell.    

JuliaFarrell1IndyRed.com rated Endor four out of five stars, calling it a “solid slasher with one hell of a surprise ending.” Dread Central praised its strong lead character development, saying it inspires viewers to “root for them all the way.” 

Farrell, originally from Colorado, always loved acting. As a child, she gathered the neighborhood kids together to put on plays—which she’d then write, star in, and direct.

“I’ve always been a storyteller with a wild imagination,” says Farrell. “I love that storytelling aspect, the ability to become whatever you want and live in that world for a while.”

Farrell earned her journalism degree and theater minor from University of Nebraska at Kearney, where she met her husband, Jim. The couple relocated to Arizona, where she got a master’s in elementary education and rekindled her love of film work with a small part in Jolene with Jessica Chastain before moving to Omaha in 2008.

Although it’s not exclusively her genre, there’s a strong horror presence in Farrell’s filmography page, including titles like Cheerleader Camp: To the Death, Demon Dolls, and Silent Night, Bloody Night 2. She’s currently filming The Amityville Legacy

“I’m a huge fan of horror,” says Farrell. “I love everything from slasher/grindhouse to psychological thrillers, so I do tend to pick those roles, but I’ve also found that horror movies are pretty popular projects in the Midwest.”   

Aksarben Cinema screened Endor throughout February, and Farrell says filmmakers Aaron Gum and Faustus McGreeves made final tweaks ahead of future showings.   

Endor is horror, but not cheesy B horror. It’s meant to make you think and disturb you,” says Farrell. “There’s depth to it, and the cinematography has some nice, artsy touches—mixed with plenty of gore, of course.”    

Farrell appreciated that the role helped expand her skills.

“I had to go places I hadn’t taken myself before, but as an actor challenge is always good,” she says. “Some people scoff at horror, but it’s tough to put yourself in that state of extreme emotion on demand. To be believable, you really have to go to some dark places.”

Farrell hopes to continue growing her acting chops.

“For me, it’s not necessarily about making a blockbuster, I just love acting and independent films,” she says.

Visit facebook.com/endorfilm for more information.

JuliaFarrell2

Jorie Lyn Scheele

April 15, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The dream is always the same. Admiring, envious, unseen…but necessary. A synthesis of literary theory, Leroux, and Lloyd-Webber. In the dark spaces between the scenes, the watcher waits silently deconstructing the narrative, discovering new intentions for old lovers between the moments where time passes and beauty lives aloud on the stage of the Opéra de Paris.

Jorie Lyn Scheele, 22, has experienced Phantom of the Opera live four times from Omaha to Las Vegas. Her soundtracks have metaphorical grooves worn into them. She’s viewed the 2004 film, starring Gerard Butler, often enough to make any view count a gross estimate. Cosplays, podcasts, reviews, and theories round out her obsessed Phantom fangirl résumé. But there’s more.

Scheele dreams about the Phantom in terms that would make philosopher Jacques Derrida say, “Je te l’ai dit!” [“I told you!”]

“I remember after the first couple of times I had watched Gerard Butler as the Phantom I had this distinct dream where I am experiencing things in between the scenes,” Scheele says, describing what semioticians and literary critics refer to as “suture,” human minds looking for answers to questions like, “what’s a chicken doing by the road anyway?”

“I’m in the time jumps between scenes hiding, which is why you never see me,” Scheele says, describing one fun, emotionally involved thought experiment. “I just kind of have theories in my mind and ended up having dreams about them and I went with them. To this day, I feel like some of those theories are what really happened.”

Credit for the Phantom fetish goes to her father, Monty, who broke out the original 1986 cast recording on a Colorado road trip when Jorie was 7.

“The first time I remember hearing it, my dad discovered the original soundtrack on CD and we were getting ready for vacation. He was like, ‘I have been waiting to share this!’ So we listened to that soundtrack straight through as we’re driving out to Colorado. I just remember the music being so good, even at such a young age. I remember thinking, ‘I just have to see this.’”

That began Jorie’s obsession with the musical about a man (or perhaps a dark angel) obsessed with an ingenue. She’s consumed all of Christine’s sadness, Raoul’s desperation, and the Phantom’s lonely rage in all its forms from the original Leroux to the Gerard Butler vehicle, right up to her anticipated fifth live performance at the Orpheum Theater. The beloved show runs April 20 through May 1.

To the outside observer, what a fan does can seem obsessive, and obsession can sound a tad alarming. Fortunately Scheele’s avocation is organizing social gatherings for the Omaha Sexy Nerd Society, an umbrella organization and social group for all things nerd. They encourage sci-fi fanboys and comics fangirls to mingle at weekly gatherings around Omaha, singing nerd-themed karaoke, talking “Star Wars,” or building massive pillow forts. They drag high geekery into the light at their annual fan convention, Convergence, as well.

The Phantom—shy, lonely but hopeful, possibly bitter, hiding behind masks and opera—might feel right at home at one of Jorie’s events. Encounter

Visit omahaperformingarts.com to learn more.

JorieLynScheel

Omaha Ski Club

January 14, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Janet Tuttle was in her 40s, she wanted to take up skiing again, an activity she started at age 14 but stopped when home and family life took over. She joined the Omaha Sports Club, but when that group decided to focus less on skiing, a new group branched off from it: the Omaha Ski Club.

Today, Tuttle is 79 and still going strong as a member of the Omaha Ski Club. Her favorite part of skiing is the scenery.

“I love the mountains,” she says. “When you ski in the mountains, you see things you don’t see when you’re driving.”

Teri Hammon, 57, a board member who plans all of the club’s trips, says about three quarters of the members are age 60 or older.

“We’re not old fuddy-duddies,” Hammon says. “We ski hard and ski all day.”

The Omaha Ski Club generally takes two to five skiing trips a season and members bicycle in the summertime (“to stay in shape for skiing,” Hammon says). The group has skied in Colorado, California, Utah, Wyoming, and Canada.

“Anywhere there’s powder!” Hammon says.

The group recently traveled to Snowmass, Colorado, for their first trip of the 2015-2016 season. Trips vary in length and typically involve the members meeting at a ski resort. Members enjoy participating in social activities, including a pre-trip party to discuss travel arrangements and a welcome party on the first or second day, along with lots of skiing.

In order to go along on a trip, one must be a member of the Omaha Ski Club (or one of its reciprocal clubs with the Flatland Ski Association). Annual dues are reasonable. Each member pays for his or her own travel, lodging, and equipment, but group discount rates often apply.

One need not be an expert skier to join the club, which welcomes all skill levels along with non-skiers who want to go to the resorts and do something else. Knowledgeable, experienced members often help beginners. Tuttle says she particularly likes to go out with the beginning-level skiers along some of the easier slopes.

Tuttle and Hammon agree that the club gains stability from the large percentage of retired members, who tend to have more free time and savings that allow them to go on the trips. Tuttle says she appreciates the social aspect of the club, which includes and welcomes anyone regardless of age.

“The socializing is a nice part of the skiing,” she says.

What about the risk of injury? Tuttle and Hammon have bumped and bruised themselves on the slopes—that’s why Tuttle says she’s become more careful as she’s aged.

But it takes more than a few accidents to keep her from returning to the mountains.

“It’s kind of like falling off a horse,” Tuttle says. “If you love what you’re doing, you get back on the horse again.”

Visit omahaskiclub.org to learn more.

OmahaSkiClub2

Lauren Garrison

December 11, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Demand for haircuts begins early in Omaha’s up-and-coming Blackstone District. It’s 10 a.m. on a Wednesday, and customers have already begun queuing inside the Surly Chap’s renovated storefront near the intersection of 40th and Farnam streets.

The Surly Chap Barbers offer a traditional barbershop experience—affordable men’s haircuts, shaves, and beard trimming—that have attracted a rapidly growing clientele. They don’t offer reservations. It’s first-come-first-serve only.

So, with obvious need for more manpower, they hired a British fashion model to bolster their crew of tattooed, male barbers with slicked-back hair. Lauren Garrison isn’t a chap, but she is a barber with plenty of sass. It rolls off her lips in a thick British accent that she describes as a “mix between East End and country.

LaurenGarrison2

“Have a seat, darling,” she beckons. I catch a glimpse of tattooed cursive script inching across her chest. Her hair is tied up in an immaculate top knot. She has bright red lipstick, long painted eyebrows and big eyelashes; huge hoop earrings, designer sneakers, and a chic black-and-white outfit inspired by the latest London fashion.

Garrison describes her own style as a little bit of everything: classy, modern, retro; inspired both by English trends and passersby on the street. But with her clippers now readied, she is all about the customer. She asks what I want to do with my hair. Garrison cuts conservatively, then re-trims as needed to ensure satisfaction.

Garrison was born in the British countryside and spent most of her youth in London. Her “mum” helped her get into modeling at age 14. After various gigs, she hit the catwalk of London Fashion Week as a high-schooler. At 18, she narrowly missed the final cut to advance to Britain’s Next Top Model.

Her father’s side of the family hailed from Nebraska, and she had visited before. A Navy man, he relocated to Colorado. Garrison moved to be with him after finishing high school in 2012. Culture shock didn’t fully set in until she later moved to Lincoln.

“Oh my gawwwd,” she says. “I’m out in the sticks!”

Still interested in pursuing a career related to fashion, she decided to study at the College of Hair Design in Lincoln. That’s where she met the Surly Chap Barbers. They were among the many professionals scouting for talent (only to overlook the female trainees, she says). Fate—along with Garrison’s surly attitude—intervened.

“They didn’t pay much attention to us, so I threw a fit.” she explains. “I said ‘Why aren’t there any barber shops interested in talking to me? And my teacher went and told them.” Then, the recruiters came and talked to her. They liked her enough to invite her to a job shadowing session.

“I ended up just loving them,” Garrison says. Soon after graduation she had a job in Omaha. Here Garrison found the pace of life more agreeable, faster than Lincoln but still fairly relaxed. She fell in love with neighborhoods—Blackstone and Benson with their plethora of hip bars—which reminded her of home.

Unfortunately, a day doesn’t pass without unwelcome commentary on her accent, questions about her kinship to the Queen of England, whether she lived in a castle, teasing about the Revolutionary War (she admits history was not her best subject in school), and other “bloody irritating” comments conversely familiar to any Omahan traveling afar, a la “Did you ride a cow to school? Are you a farmer? Etc.”

She misses British food—bangers and mash, curries, fish and chips, full English breakfast—but was pleased to discover elusive British-style Heinz beans in tomato sauce, Ribena, and a sparse selection of overpriced British fare at local groceries. She relies on annual trips back to see her mother to satisfy her homesick yearnings. In the meantime, she has come to appreciate the finer side of American cuisine: fast food, deep-fried Oreos, Twinkies, Gushers, and Fruit Roll-Ups.

I ask what the tattoo on her chest reads.

“Dream like you’ll live forever and live like you’ll die today,” she says.

For now she’s content in Omaha. “If I was home, I wouldn’t have gone to barber school, or met the boys from the shop, or even realized how much I love Omaha,” Garrison says. “I’ll definitely be setting up my nest here for a while.”

That’s good news. My hair grows pretty fast and I’ll need to see her soon for my next haircut.

Visit surlychapbarbers.com to learn more.

LaurenGarrison1