Tag Archives: Council Bluffs Iowa

Jenny Kruger

July 22, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Midwestern farmland can be described in many ways. Paisley, however, is not a descriptor that normally comes to mind. Artist Jenny Kruger, however, often sees paisley on the farm—at least in paint.

Her art consists of colorful floral patterns serving as backdrops to barns or rural settings. Everyday landscapes become surreal. The brightly hued paintings are nostalgic, byproducts of Kruger’s nomadic youth.

Home has always been more of a feeling than a physical place for the artist. Her works are more about what she remembers than what a place actually looked like.

“I never really had a strong sense of home being tied to a location,” says Kruger. “It’s memories.”

Lately, her work has become bigger and grander. Kruger is currently working on a triptych that will measure 6 feet wide by the time she finishes the three panels. “I keep getting bigger because I think the landscapes need to breathe,” she says.

JennyKruger2She works on the weekends and whenever time allows in her life, in between raising two young boys and managing a career as dean of Communications, Education, and Fine Art at Iowa Western Community College. She also squeezes in time to occasionally illustrate for publications such as The New York Times.

Painting has taken a backseat in her life right now, but it hasn’t gone away.

“It’s important to me. If I stop painting, this job wouldn’t work for me,” admits Kruger of her position at the college.

It wasn’t always this way. For much of her life, art was everything to her.

Kruger spent her early years in Salt Lake City, with countless hours devoted to drawing pictures in her bedroom.  As the scenery started to change, the constant in her life was art.

Before she reached age 10, she spent a year learning Spanish in Monterey, Mexico, and then sailed the East Coast with her family.

Following a year at sea, her family settled down in Indiana. Kruger pursued art head on, encouraged by her parents, who enrolled her in advanced art classes. She painted in Florence, Italy, while a college student. A Fulbright scholarship sent her to Barcelona, where she could paint nonstop.

A favorite artist growing up was the American realist Andrew Wyeth, and while you can spot a hint of his realist influence in Kruger’s work, her own traveling has definitely flavored the trajectory and style of her painting.

“I saw many different sceneries, different ways of living, different kinds of people, and different ways of learning,” says Kruger.

While studying for her master’s degree in New York City, she dabbled in portraits, but also began painting images of water towers, adding a floral background. Eventually, she ended up in Nebraska, where her surroundings now inspire her frequently and at strange times, like while driving to work. She’ll see a striking wrapping paper pattern and save it to be her creative muse later.

After her boys are tucked in bed, Kruger is in her basement studio, revisiting her collection of muses and memories, and trying to build enough pieces for her next solo show.

Visit jennykruger.com for more information.

Ghost Host

July 17, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article appears in July/August 60-Plus.

Visitors from Omaha and the spirit realm are welcome at the Squirrel Cage Jail Museum in Council Bluffs.

Carla Borgaila says she has met several of the resident ghosts. She remembers her hat being pulled from her head as she frantically tried to hold it on. “I could feel the fingers on my head,” she remembers. “But no one was there.” Another time, “a guy came into my office and just stood there.”

Despite her personal experiences with ghosts, Borgaila is a realist. “Ninety percent is overactive imagination. Nine percent we can’t explain, but it’s not paranormal. But then there’s that one percent.”

Although a ghost has not spoken to her, she has heard her name called. But she never feels scared or threatened. “They’re like Casper the Friendly Ghost. There’s no reason to be fearful.”

Borgaila, museum coordinator for the Historical Society of Pottawattamie County, is responsible for arranging paranormal, as well as regular, tours of the quirky Squirrel Cage Jail. Built in 1885, the jail on a turntable is now a museum.

Adults who want to spend 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. asking questions of alleged ghosts can call for an appointment. But plan ahead. Overnight paranormal investigation groups are already booked two months out. The outing costs a minimum of $175, which covers the first seven people; additional people are $25 each.  Youths age 16 and 17 are not allowed without a guardian; only people age 21 and older can schedule an appointment.

Some of the people who died in the building may be lingering.  “One is an inmate who hung himself. I firmly believe he’s still there.  People describe him to a tee.”  Several ghostly jailers also hang around. “People see them.”

Groups spending the night at the Squirrel Cage Jail sometime pick up electronic voice phenomena. “You don’t hear it then, but it shows up in the background when later listening to the audio recording,’ says Borgaila.

Ghost hunting is not the only activity in the historical building. Regular tours are available for individual visitors and groups of 15 or more. Borgaila also has scheduled bridal showers and birthday parties.

Even if ghost-less, the building’s architecture is worth a visit. Originally, prisoners in pie-shaped cells got in and out when a hand crank turned to line the cell up with a single door on each of the three floors. Because the cage rotated and jailers could view all the cells from one place, fewer jailers were needed.

The jail was built to be escape-proof, but 60 inmates escaped over the years. Inmates also had to be careful to avoid getting an arm or leg crushed by the rotating jail.

The county jail was used from 1885 to 1969. Inmates still reside close by. “I run into them all the time,” she says. “It’s a badge of honor. They’re proud they were in one of the most unique buildings in the United States.”

One of three remaining Lazy Susan jails, it is on the National Register of Historic Places.  The Council Bluffs jail is the largest of the 18 built.

Check It Out:

Squirrel Cage Jail

226 Pearl St. in Council Bluffs.

Open daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.  Closed Mondays,  major holidays, and
the month of January.

Tours are available year-round.
712-323-2509.

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