Tag Archives: creativity

A Family Masterpiece

May 10, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Some childhood memories stick with you. Dave Carroll, a retired Union Pacific manager, holds onto the memory of one fateful childhood leap that dented his grandfather’s prized 1950 Mercury.

“I’ve got so much of my life in this car,” Carroll says. When he was about 6 or 7, Carroll was playing with cousins at a tree house on his grandparents’ farm in Fullerton, Nebraska. His grandfather John Carroll’s out-of-commission vehicle sat under the tree house.

“I remember it like it was yesterday. Instead of going down the rope ladder, I jumped out of the tree house onto the car and I caved the roof in.”

Carroll remembered his grandpa’s large hands. “He got in the car and he took his hand and popped it out, and I thought, wow.” Some wrinkles remained in the car’s roof and would stay there for many decades. “The funny story is, years later, I paid to fix that roof,” he says.

His grandmother, Etta Carroll, bestowed him the car after his grandfather passed away. Then she accidentally sold the car for $50 to a neighbor kid, while Dave was serving in the military during the Vietnam War. Dave and his father, Jack, travelled to Fullerton to get the car back after Dave returned from overseas. The duo were quickly chased off of the property by shotgun.

“We went downtown and we found the local constable. He was having coffee at the coffee shop. My dad knew him. We told him the story and he said ‘come on, we’ll go back.’” The story ended well for Dave, who was still in possession of the car’s original title. And the car has been with him since then.

Over the years, the Mercury was transported across the United States on a flatbed trailer while Carroll worked his way up at Union Pacific, from a position on the track gang to one in management at the company’s headquarters. His career led him to places such as Sydney (Nebraska), Denver, and Cheyenne. At every new location, Carroll brought along his beloved Merc’. “My intention was to build it, but being a railroader, I didn’t have the time or the funds.”

Carroll returned to Omaha in the ’80s. He met and wed Dianne Cascio Carroll, owner of Anything Goes Salon. Soon after, he began his odyssey of fixing the Mercury. Having the roof repaired is just one of the many changes Carroll has made to his car.

“There’s so many things that have been done to this car,” he says. Over more than 30 years, Carroll says he has spent thousands of hours refurbishing the car. Some projects were finished, only to be torn up again and redone so that he could try the ever-evolving products in the industry that worked better. “That’s my problem,” he says. “I redo things.”

He has often lost track of time while working in his garage in the Huntington Park neighborhood in Omaha. “I’ve had my wife open the door and say, ‘you know what time it is?’ I look at the clock and it’s 10 after 1 in the morning and I’ve got to be to work at 6 in the morning.”

“It’s not about me. It’s about my parents, and honoring the memory of my grandfather. I kept this car because it was in the family and it’s never been out of the family.”

Carroll’s imagination has affected every aspect of the car, from the striking Candy Purple body color, to the custom purple snakeskin roof interior. The air-conditioning vents were salvaged from a 2002 FordTempo. He ordered the custom-made steering wheel from California, and the windshield from Oregon. Thanks to Carroll’s insatiable creativity, the car has a digital dash, an electrical door opener, a late-model motor with custom aluminum valve covers, four-wheel disk brakes, rounded hood corners, a smooth dash and Frenched-in (curved) headlights.

The restoration has also been helped by Ron Moore of Moore Auto Body, Rick White of Redline Upholstery, and Rod Grasmick, an antique auto restorer. Using qualified professionals means that Carroll knows his car is taken care of, but he also finds them to be knowledgable friends.

“I have a couple of friends that are helping me with this car, that’s how our [automotive] community is—everybody helps everybody,” he says.

Will the car ever be finished? “My dad is always telling that he hopes to get to ride it in when it is done, and him being 92 years old puts a lot of pressure on me,” he says.

“My wife says, ‘you’re taking forever.’ Well, look at it this way, there’s better and newer stuff coming out all the time,” Carroll says. And so the journey continues.

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

In Bloom

April 13, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Just as bright yellow dandelions emerge throughout the city in spring, Dandelion Pop-Up will re-emerge in the Greater Omaha Chamber Courtyard, adding a dash more culinary color to Omaha (at 13th and Harney streets).

Dandelion creator Nick Bartholomew says the weekly Friday lunch series featuring an ever-changing menu and rotating roster of all-star chefs is slated to return in late March 2017—though, like its flaxen-hued namesake, warmer weather will ultimately dictate its arrival. Bartholomew, who’s also behind beloved eateries The Market House and Over Easy, launched Dandelion Pop-Up in partnership with Secret Penguin so he could still contribute to the neighborhood after the M’s Pub fire put his Old Market restaurant on hiatus. The golden concept allows chefs to satisfy their creative cravings and lets diners sink their teeth into a unique edible experience.

Bartholomew wanted to offer seasoned chefs and up-and-comers alike the chance to break away from their daily bread, so to speak—to get creative, feed their passion, incubate new dishes and restaurant concepts, and have some fun.

“[At Dandelion] chefs can follow their passion with 100 percent creative control,” Bartholomew says. “They can test ideas and try out potentially off-the-wall stuff, then get feedback on their vision and see how it’s received before debuting it on a broader scale. I think the genius behind it is the versatility, which allows creativity, and that’s really engaging to the chefs. When the chefs are this excited, you know the food will be amazing.”

Dandelion began in July 2016 with Chef Tim Maides and his T.R.E.A.M. (Tacos Rule Everything Around Me) team, who started the party with chicken and vegan tacos that sold out early.

“It’s basically like a little playground for chefs to do something different, with a low risk and the chance to try out new flavors,” Maides says of Dandelion. “It’s similar for the people there to eat; it breaks up their normal downtown routine with a temporary option for lots of different flavors from different chefs in one location.”

“Tim is great, and we love doing the creative process together,” Bartholomew says. “The Chamber of Commerce has also been amazing. When we asked them about it, they didn’t think twice; they totally got Dandelion’s potential as an incubator and shared the vision.”

Since the Chamber doesn’t charge Bartholomew, he doesn’t charge the chefs, who keep all food profits. For his part, Bartholomew designs a signature lemonade corresponding with each Dandelion theme.

“For [Maides’ lunch] I did a cucumber-jalapeño lemonade that went great with his tacos,” says Bartholomew.

Next, Dandelion offered a barbecue lunch from chef Dan Watts, featuring his coffee-black-pepper-rubbed brisket. After a short hiatus, while Bartholomew updated the Chamber Courtyard kiosk’s infrastructure, Dandelion returned with lunches from heavy-hitter chefs like Joel Mahr, Jason Hughes, Dario Schicke, and Paul Kulik. Dishes included bahn mi burgers, pork steam buns, cevapi with pita, soul food such as chicken-andouille gumbo and fried green tomato grilled cheese, Parisian street vendor-style crepes, fried rice, bibimbap (a trial run for upcoming Bartholomew venture, Boho Rice), and other mouthwatering items.

Bartholomew is a proud Omaha native, and like his existing restaurants and soon-to-launch Boho Rice, he wants Dandelion to enhance the neighborhood it inhabits. He’s proud to say that the returning Friday tradition brings the often-dormant Chamber Courtyard to life.

“It’s awesome to see the courtyard with this buzz of activity now, and all these people just enjoying a sunny day, a lemonade, and some great food they can’t get anywhere else,” he says. “It’s a testament to Omaha being ready for these ideas and [customers] being loyal to what they like from certain chefs.”

Like the chefs and restaurants it promotes, Dandelion itself is still incubating. According to Bartholomew, there’s ample potential for the venture to grow like a weed in terms of scope and format, and he welcomes feedback from the public and pitches from chefs.

“I can’t always explain exactly what Dandelion is because I secretly want it to be everything,” Bartholomew says. “If anything, the format will just grow now that awareness is growing, and I hope Dandelion becomes something the city is proud of.”

Fittingly, Bartholomew wants to let Dandelion be a bit of a wildflower.

“We don’t want to tag its ear and process it yet because it’s kinda wild,” he says. “One of the things that makes Dandelion cool is that we’re not limiting it.”

Visit dandelionpopup.com for details and to register for updates on upcoming events.

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

Transitorily Yours

February 22, 2017 by
Photography by Amy Lynn Straub

Editor’s note: This is the first installment in a new Encounter column focusing on millennial life by Brent Crampton. To share your significant life experiences, email millennials@omahapublications.com

Today is Jan. 7, 2017, and yesterday I walked out of House of Loom one last time. It was a place that I co-owned, DJed at, and curated events for. The scene I left was only a shell. There were no swirling lights or sounds, no Victorian lounge vibes, and certainly no lively, booze-fueled conversations. Just an echo of the life that filled that place for 5 1/2 years remained (along with the bustle of a construction crew ripping a hole in the wood floor).

Loom was many things to many people, but to me it was a lovely little social experiment that blended cultures, creatives, and communities. Categorically, it was a nightclub and event venue, but to the folks frequenting its experiences, it was a place where patrons and friends could mobilize around causes, express emotions, mourn passings, and celebrate life’s contrasts.

The influx of people was so fluid that you could not distinguish it as a straight or gay bar, but simply as a people’s bar. On its best nights, it brought together folks who normally wouldn’t intersect in our city, and lifted us out of the doldrums of our daily lives.

It is rare for a business to shut down without the force of an unpaid bill. As a friend and fellow small business owner says, it is a gift to be able to close on your own terms. And that is exactly what we did. For myself and the other owners, House of Loom was never meant to be permanent. It was a successful social experiment. And it was time to move on.

I have spent the past 13 years of my life fervently dedicated to contributing to Omaha’s nightlife. With this new year, I embark on a new chapter—one where the loud and flashy peaks of club life are swapped for the quiet joy of watching my 1-year-old baby stand on her own for the first time. Now, spontaneous social gatherings are traded for intimate dinner parties (often planned months in advance). Instead of falling asleep as the sun rises, I wake up  with the sun.

It is a different life—one with its own advantages. My prior life could never hold a candle to this new world. In fact, as I write this, my baby daughter is napping away on my chest after a messy meal of liquified plums, apples, and carrots. She is tuckered out, and so am I.

This brings me to why I am writing this column. During this next chapter of my life, I will be taking some time to hibernate in the creative womb. The invitation to turn to the reflective act of writing seemed like a synchronistic opportunity. Instead of only sharing my notions of creativity and thought from behind a DJ booth, I will gladly be able to do so in this space.

Much like my life right now, I am going to ad-lib my writing. Most likely I will touch on topics ranging from the social impact of nightlife (of course), the curiosities of parenting (because I’m new at this), food (because I get giddy when I eat good food), and inclusiveness and equality (because of our new president), all through the millennial lens of a 30-something, post-nightclub-owning new papa.

Here’s to new beginnings.

Brent Crampton previously co-owned House of Loom and is co-owner of Berry & Rye, a bar in the Old Market. A multi-award-winning DJ in a former life, he now prefers evenings spent at home with his family.

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

Meet the Hughes

June 22, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article was published in the June 2015 issue of Her Family.

Chris Hughes is a father of three who spends most Monday and Wednesday evenings toiling away in his upstairs workshop on Farnam Street. It is a curious space filled with antiquities and tools akin to his trade—custom leather bags.

He fulfills orders from across the world, assembling packages containing his hand-constructed waterproof tote bags, briefcases, and artisanal aprons crafted with quality materials.

“I wanted the items that I designed and sold to have a timeless quality to them. I wanted someone to look at them years in the future and say ‘look at this artifact,’” Hughes says. Hence, you have the evolution of the name of his business, Artifact Bag Co., a thriving online business that Hughes started more than four years ago

Hughes says that being an entrepreneur is a constantly evolving process of new experiences. “The minute I get comfortable with something, I take on a new challenge. I’m always throwing myself into the fire so that I’m never comfortable. When you come home from days of that, you really just feel like your legs are rubber bands. You feel like you could just collapse.”

Hughes2In a flip-the-switch moment, Hughes dons his daddy hat before stepping in the door at home. “The minute I cross that threshold into my house, I’ve got two boys and a girl that are jumping up onto me. I have to kick in the afterburners. I just have to be present because for them they’re fresh and they want to see their dad,” he says. His children are Kit, 6, Levi, 4, and Jane, 2.

Hughes’ schedule has him spending weekdays at his shop, surrounded by a small team of craftsmen and craftswomen who assist him as business demands. He also works until almost 11 p.m. a few nights of the week and at least one weekend day.

He says his demanding schedule sometimes frustrates his children. “It pulls me away from them so often.” But they do enjoy visiting their dad’s cool space. “They’re fascinated by the workspace because of all of the machines and all of the materials.”

His wife is Beth Hughes, who works as a speech-language pathologist at the RiteCare Speech and Language Clinic located in the Munroe-Meyer Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The couple went to school together at Westside High School, but didn’t actually date until years later when the two crossed paths again while Beth was in graduate school.

Beth says that having an Internet-based business can make finding the right balance between family and work challenging. “The Internet never stops. So it’s not like Chris can just walk away at 5 p.m. and say, ‘Oh, the shop’s closed for the day.’ There are always more things to do in terms of emails to respond to and social media stuff to post and promote and things to research for projects that he has coming up,” she says.Hughes3

But knowing that the family sets aside evenings for sit-down meals and plans one day out of each weekend to spend together provides a home base for sanity. “Getting some sort of schedule just so that we all know what to expect has been helpful,” she says.

As a mother, Beth says she feels privileged to help her children grow and develop into the people that they’re meant to be. “I like to help foster their interests and teach them things and to see things through their eyes. It’s just fascinating.”

She finds strength in her support system of mommy friends. “I’m learning every day and I make mistakes every day. I’m very fortunate to have a great group of friends who’ve been on this parenting road a little bit longer than I have that I can learn from,” Hughes says.

The kids keep active with swim lessons, fishing, tee-ball, and riding bikes. Some Sunday mornings, one might find the Hughes family over at the Bagel Bin—a family favorite. They also love going
to the zoo.

Friday nights are family movie nights. “I’ll make popcorn on the stove,” Chris says. “They love watching Star Wars over and over again. They like that good versus evil kind of stuff.”

Hughes is inspired by his children’s creativity. “All of the sudden a card table becomes a fort to drape blankets over, or a stick becomes a rifle. They’re just constantly interpreting their environment in very imaginative ways.”

“They haven’t really been taught that they are not artists or those other things that happen in life when people dash people’s dreams and hopes. They are still very optimistic,” he says.

“In many ways, I never lost sight of that either, so on some level, I relate with them.”

Hughes4

 

Art School

February 11, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Are those balloons?” the instructor asks a young girl dressed warmly in pink sweatpants and a purple sweatshirt. The girl looks up and nods enthusiastically before returning to her drawing.

No, it’s not a school day. It’s Saturday at The Union For Contemporary Art, but the youth program is in full swing—just as it is every Saturday.

Established in 2011, The Union for Contemporary Art, located just south of 24th and Lake streets, was founded to provide opportunities to local artists and connect North Omaha youth to the arts. Founder Brigitte McQueen Shew says that the non-profit arts organization was badly needed to not only provide opportunities for artists, but to bridge gaps in the community.

Ending up here on a whim in 2001, McQueen Shew decided to move to Seattle not long after. Having come to Omaha after living in New York City, she says the divide between North Omaha and the rest of the city was overwhelming to her. But, eventually, she moved back. “I realized running away from that issue wasn’t the right thing to do. That’s something you fight against, it isn’t something you let drive you away,” she says.

A journalist, McQueen Shew had no experience in the world of non-profits. However, after she returned, she began to research North Omaha and found herself falling in love with the community. She decided to start an arts organization, not only one for local artists, but also one for area youth who would benefit from mentorship, access to materials and space, connections with professional artists, and programs designed for both them and their parents.

The Union For Contemporary Art is no doubt a place where local artists can find support and visibility—especially through the Studio Fellowship Program—but it’s greatest gift to the community may be the role it plays in offering mentoring to the area’s young people. Many of the other local after-school programs in the area revolve around athletics, McQueen Shew notes. Perhaps too many. “I’ve had parents tell me: ‘My kid can get a scholarship playing basketball but they can’t get a scholarship with art,’” McQueen Shew says. “I really wanted to address that.”

She says that while she doesn’t expect that every child who comes through the mentorship program will go on to be an artist, it still matters, she says, to immerse North Omaha youth in art. “It’s part of our everyday—from graffiti on buildings to the ways we dress ourselves,” she says. “To know art is to better know the world around you.”

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Pecha Kucha

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Four nights a year, they gather in dark, hazy spaces just beyond the streetlamps.

Each participant is prepared with 20 projection slides each, showing images on a design topic of their choosing. They’ll take no more than 20 seconds to discuss each slide.

It’s called PechaKucha Night, this thing they do. It means “chit chat” in Japanese, and it’s not just happening in Omaha. It’s an evening of informal presentations that began in Tokyo in 2003 as a way for designers to concisely explain their most recent work. Now, more than 500 cities around the world host an evening of thinking and drinking for their local designers and other creative souls to share current projects.

Guests in Omaha pack places like Blue Sushi and The Slowdown to capacity in order to hear these sometimes witty, sometimes inspiring, sometimes awkward, but always highly individual presentations. Slides can be confusing, occasionally distasteful, and often beautiful.20130228_bs_8150_Web

Speakers can and do discuss the design of anything and everything, including fashion, architecture, pottery, video games, prosthetics, car overhauls, and Native American heritage. Over the past five years that Omaha has been an official PechaKucha city, 179 people have braved the intimidation of public speaking to add their voices to the quarterly event, with anywhere from eight to a dozen speakers a night.

And yes, there is some mark of pride in being an official PechaKucha city, recognized by the PechaKucha organization based in Tokyo. Omaha organizers are Tom Trenolone, founder of design alliance OMAha, Inc. (daOMA), and Brian Kelly, an assistant professor of architecture at University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Trenolone had been looking for a way to get local talent to be part of a bigger, more international group. He credits Kelly with being the mastermind who’s kept PechaKucha going in Omaha.

“We were, I want to say, the 120th city to take it on,” Trenolone recalls. “We were sandwiched between Newcastle, England, and Oslo, Norway, on the site’s list.” He contacted Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham about introducing their Tokyo event to Omaha.

“The contract’s still just a handshake, really,” Trenolone says, referring to the relative informality of keeping Omaha listed on the PechaKucha website as a charter city. But Klein and Dytham were serious, he recalls, about making sure Omaha knew what PechaKucha had to include. “We had to explain why we wanted to put it on, and what we were trying to do. They wanted us to know we were overseers of the PechaKucha brand.”20130228_bs_8126_Web

There are just a few rules that the couple wanted to make certain every PechaKucha city observed: Events are held at least four times a year, and beer breaks are mandatory. Yes, Trenolone and Kelly have to make certain the event takes place somewhere with a liquor license to facilitate the goal of getting guests to move around and chat about what they’ve seen so far. “Get people to have conversation,” Trenolone says, gesturing at the people moving like restless sardines in a tin can at The Slowdown. “The density is what we want. It adds to the feel.”

As far as gaining speakers for the next round of presentations, “We solicit at the end of the night from other speakers,” Kelly says. Word of mouth is another common way to bring in new presenters. There’s rarely a theme to a PechaKucha; Trenolone and Kelly say they’re just looking for a good narrative from each speaker.

“It’s the most poorly advertised, yet best attended design event in Omaha,” Trenolone says, only bragging a little.

To hunt down the next PechaKucha, check out daOMA’s Facebook page or browse pechakucha.org/cities/omaha.

Creativity, Ingenuity, and Work Ethic

February 25, 2013 by

The United States is like no other place in the world because of the environment we maintain for providing incentive for those willing to think outside the box. As I travel, talking to individuals who have taken a crazy idea all the way to a profitable venture, I am struck by how few of us even know about what these Americans do.

Here are two examples which you will never see on even The Science Channel:

First, there is a small division of a larger American company that uses patents developed in Star Wars labs to make possible that which was impossible just a few years ago. A small research team has developed the ability to use lasers to destroy incoming missiles, airplanes, or even mortar rounds—instant, accurate, and very powerful lasers to heat and destroy in order to make us safe from these threats. In accomplishing this task, an idea emerged that a spin-off use of this kind of technology would be easy. As they say, tactical to practical.

This small division uses powerful lasers to hammer metal into complex shapes and to stress metals in a manner that extends their useful life fivefold.

What if the U.S. military purchased a fighter which cost $350 million…a fighter that, after a mere 800 hours of flight time, risked having the mounts securing the wings fail and the wings fall off? What if these mounts could easily be made many times stronger, and last many times longer, by hitting them with powerful lasers?

What if a large, multi-national aviation company determined that the aluminum frame for their aircraft would begin to fail after just a decade of use? What if the use of a powerful laser could extend the useful life of these frames fivefold?

What if the U.S. nuclear power facilities learned that the steel reaction chambers were being harmed by the radiation in a manner that failure was likely? What if these steel chambers could be strengthened by hitting the surface with powerful lasers, thus extending the useful life greatly?

These and many more equally fascinating problems are being solved by this small group.

Another example…There’s a unique American metal-working company that is capable of pressing hot alloys into complex shapes using pressures of 5.2 million pounds. The press weighing in at 5,300,000 pounds with three of the heaviest components weighing almost a million pounds each. Aerospace industries so rely on this company for its unique capabilities that they require back-ups for each of the press components to be kept on-site, so that any component failure can be quickly replaced. There is no other press like this in the world.

Wouldn’t you consider these companies something to be heralded by the media? I, for one, find this infinitely more interesting than what fashion some actor prefers.

These two companies, and the hundreds of other unique American companies, cause me to ask, what is so different about the United States that entrepreneurs are willing to risk all to chase their dreams? Profit, of course. The ability to bring a great idea, or capability, to market and be compensated for the passion, perseverance, and hard work it takes to overcome the myriad of obstacles every entrepreneur faces daily.

So, when I hear the Occupy Wall Street types and short-sighted legislators say that the capital gains income tax rate should be the same as ordinary income, I want to scream out that we only need to look at what’s occurring in France now that their long-term investment tax rate is 60 percent. If we remove the profit incentive, we will remove the incentive to innovate, create, and work as hard as it takes to overcome the challenges of a new business venture.

Any views and/or opinions present in “The Know-It-All” columns are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of B2B Omaha Magazine or their parent company and/or their affiliates.

Amy Mather

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“People fascinate me.”

So says Amy Mather, adult program manager at Omaha Public Library and host of the podcast
“Whatever Mathers.”

Friends and acquaintances had been telling her to post her knowledge of the city, about the food, the art openings. “A lot of people told me I should blog, and I really hate writing,” Mather says, “I overthink it, whereas if it’s coming out of my mouth, it comes out once.”

When fellow Design Alliance Omaha board member Bryce Bridges told her she should do a podcast instead, “it took about six months for me to really consider it seriously,” she says. But after the first episode aired in September 2011 with the help of Clete Baker of Studio B, Mather embraced the idea of documenting what’s happening in the city now. “I think of it as curating Omaha,” she says with a smile.

“I find people super interesting. There is a creativity explosion happening here. It’s an important thing to capture.”

Bridges, who has a family background in radio, finalizes the themes and gathers the guests for the podcast’s three-speaker panels as executive producer of “Whatever Mathers.” “I wanted to sit people at a table and poke and prod and ask why they’re doing what they’re doing,” Bridges says of the podcast’s raison d’etre, “The only thing missing is alcohol.” He adds with a laugh that such lubrication is unnecessary thanks to the way Mather handles the hour-long conversations. “Amy has a great way of letting people just be honest. When we sit people around the table with her, good things happen.” He adds that there’s not even much editing, just a few outtakes of jokes at a podcast’s end.

“I find people super interesting,” Mather admits. “There is a creativity explosion happening here. It’s an important thing to capture.” She typically asks three questions of her podcast guests, an example of which is “What do you think creativity is?” from her second podcast entitled “You don’t take sand to the beach.”

“It’s a very basic question to ask, but you get so many different answers,” Mather says.

Guests of “Whatever Mathers” have included local designer Steve Gordon, Design Alliance Omaha founder Tom Trenelone, acupuncturist Donna Hubert, and Anne Meysenburg of Kent Bellows Studio, just to name a few. Mather ends each podcast by asking her guests about their Big Love, encouraging them to reveal one thing they’re really excited about or have fallen in love with recently. The kale salad at Lot 2 has come up twice.

Despite living in several other states for many years and only being in Omaha for five, Mather states with delight that Omaha is the center of the universe. “I mean, in five years, I’ve met tons of amazing people, and there’s all this stuff happening,” she says. “I love Omaha, and I’m really proud of it. I just want to show, you know, we’re a bunch of badasses here. Look at what we’re doing.”

Interested listeners can visit whatevermathers.libsyn.com or search for “Whatever Mathers” on the iTunes store and subscribe to the podcast to hear new and old episodes.

Joslyn Art Museum Docents

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If you don’t know the names, you recognize the faces. Visitors to Joslyn Art Museum on 24th and Dodge streets enjoy the tours offered by well-trained docents, and aficionados have their favorite guides. Surely, the face at the top of that list belongs to Norma Fuller. Last year she led well over 100 tours, and she’s been at it since 1970.

“I love it here,” she says simply. In addition to the Education Department, museum areas that have felt the “Norma touch” include the Board of Governors, Acquisition Committee, and Joslyn Art Museum Association (JAMA). Norma and husband Jim will be moving to Wyoming this spring; to say she’ll be missed is a monumental understatement.

When Fuller answered a newspaper ad for Joslyn docents 42 years ago, there was no Department of Education. Art enthusiasts planned tours among themselves over lunch, sharing tips, information, and friendship. She’d arrived three days prior, in tears over leaving Washington, D.C., a Masters in Art History program at Georgetown University, and studio classes at the Corcoran. What she found at Joslyn was “an oasis.”

“The Docent Program has so much to offer,” she says. Ask any of the docents, and their responses will be similar: The program inspires a love of art and learning, and a desire to share that passion with others; camaraderie; special opportunities and activities, plus discounts in the museum shop and cafe.20130116_bs_1058 copy

Susie Severson, Director of Adult Programs (including docent training), says, “In many respects, docents are the ‘face’ of the Museum—often the first warm welcome, the first smile, the first impression visitors have to the Museum and its collections. Last year—a record-setting year in terms of attendance—Joslyn docents conducted over 1400 individual tours. Within the past six months alone, they served over 7200 visitors. This quick reflection on the numbers confirms the docents’ role as amazing public servants. They are respected beyond measure.” But she cautions that it is a serious commitment. Candidates must complete a two-year series of classes in art history, touring techniques, and the Joslyn collection. Information and a downloadable application form (deadline August 23) are available at the website.

Sharon Jackson learned firsthand the challenge and the rewards during her second year of training. She’d chosen to study an 18th-century painting by Peyron but was disheartened to find what little information she could was in French. Remembering that Fuller offered a tour in French, she asked for help. Though the two had never met, Fuller translated the primary document, reviewed Jackson’s paper, and offered tips for its presentation. “She went way beyond expectations,” says Jackson. “She became a mentor.” Fuller responded, “That’s what docents do; we help each other.”

Docents bring varied backgrounds to the program, so you’re sure to find someone who can pronounce Danish names, explain lithography, or connect an art style to its political environment. Most docents relish study. Jane Precella, Joslyn’s retail manager, says, “I’ve seen Norma in the cafe studying for a tour like a grad student cramming for an exam.” Yet there’s variety in preparation, too. One docent always watched Saturday morning TV so that she was up on the latest superheroes.

“She went way beyond expectations. She became a mentor.” – Sharon Jackson, Joslyn Art Museum docent

Creative expression is another perk of the program. Docents delight in tailoring a tour, step by step, as they listen to their particular group, and some docents develop customized tours. Fuller has found special satisfaction in two adult programs, Art Encounters and Visualizing Literature Book Club. “Making just the right connection is as euphoric to me as making just the right brush stroke,” she says.

As Fuller’s time of making her mark on the Joslyn nears an end, Director Jack Becker comments, “Norma is a remarkable and talented person who for over 40 years has shared her love, passion, and knowledge of the visual arts to literally thousands and thousands of lucky individuals. Omaha owes her a huge thanks, and Joslyn Art Museum will miss her talent and inspiration.”

The next time you take a tour at Joslyn, put a name with the face and enjoy the unique perspective your docent brings to the tour. You’ll never get another just like it.