Tag Archives: curiosity

Gory, Ghastly, and Gruesome

October 30, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

One day with attorney Marc Delman would barely scratch the surface of his mammoth collection of cultural artifacts. Objects from whimsical pop culture to evidence of man’s inhumanity are stashed in storage and displays at his home.

Autographs from all the Beatles (including John Lennon) and the Marx Brothers (including Zeppo) reside near a clown painting by rapist and serial killer John Wayne Gacy, an autographed poem by cult leader and mass murderer Charles Manson, and a box full of World Trade Center slag. 

Delman’s home, office, and storage space contain more than $250,000 worth of rock ’n’ roll/film memorabilia, medical oddities, “freak show” photos, coffins, funeral photos, medical equipment, and bones (dinosaur, mammoth, and human), along with artifacts from the Civil War, evidence from the Holocaust, American racial intolerance, and other crimes against humanity.

Delman’s fascination with the gory, ghastly, and gruesome started when he was only a kindergartner.

“My interest started at 5 when my parents took me to see The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. The movie exposed me to the world of dragons, cyclops, magicians, and a sword-wielding human skeleton,” Delman says. “From that point on, my whole world expanded. I dragged my parents to every museum, exhibition, and horror movie I could find.”

Although overwhelming now, the collection began humbly when, at just 6 years old, the future Omaha curator of curios spent two days marveling at dinosaur exhibits in New York City.

“I began to collect every dinosaur item I could find,” Delman says, adding that this fateful vacation jump-started his interest in the macabre. “A trip to the sideshow at Coney Island brought me to the world of freaks—the tattooed woman, the pinhead, the fat woman, the little person, the beating heart, the pickled baby in a jar.” 

Some of Delman’s evidentiary collection of racial intolerance includes a 100-year-old Ku Klux Klan hood, slave shackles, anti-semitic literature from the Third Reich, and racist American pulp magazines. Among the most chilling of these items is a set of eyeglasses from the Warsaw Ghetto, taken from a man en route to a concentration camp.

“I’ve gone out of my way to collect these things,” he says. “The reason I save them is because they are history. If I didn’t save them, they could be lost forever. These things won’t be sold. They are all going to museums.” 

 

The collection is priceless to Delman, who says his family thinks it might be time to unload some things, but he admits that his search continues. He is still looking for two items: lost “Spider Pit” footage from 1933’s King Kong and a genuine “pickled punk,” a deformed fetus in a jar of formaldehyde used in old
carnival sideshows.

“For me, the search is the best part of collecting,” Delman says. “My interests lie in the realm of wonderment and a quest for knowledge. I like to collect the macabre because of its oddness, the deformities, the textures of different items. What most people fear I find interesting and want to examine why.” 


This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

The Crow and the Artist

October 24, 2018 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

There is a flock of metaphorical crows hovering over Andy Acker. Crow-related artworks, meanwhile, have taken over the Omaha-born artist’s home studio in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.

The 69-year-old Acker creates bizarre sculptures out of carvings and miscellaneous domestic detritus: keys, old coins, nuts, bolts, and other random bits. 

A figurative painter earlier in his art career, he cuts a striking figure himself at just over 6 feet tall, slender, with glistening white hair and beard, a boyish smile, and mesmerizing green eyes. 

Crows are now his figurative obsession. Acker says they started creeping into his work 20 years ago. 

He began crafting sculptural assemblages when he was working at Heartland Scenic Studios in Omaha. At first, they were just fun projects using leftover bits of wood from the carpenters in the studio. But the pieces eventually took on deeper artistic and philosophical significance for the artist.  

“I love to find art in our everydaysurroundings and to show others the beauty in a tree shadow, patterns in broken parking lot surfaces, peeling paint, or our sunsets,” says Acker, who moved to the Milwaukee area with his wife in 2013 to be closer to grandkids. 

He began seriously considering a career in art as a student at the University of Nebraska-Omaha in the late ’60s. He majored in art, dabbling in various mediums—oil and acrylic painting, sculpture, drawing, ceramics, etc.  

After graduation, he joined his wife’s family business helping out at the New Tower Hotel in Omaha. Eventually, Acker found his way into teaching art at McMillan Junior High. He taught there for 10 years and adored his students. 

After teaching, he spent the subsequent decade painting large canvas backgrounds and building stage sets for local theaters, museums, commercial clients, and various other venues.

Starting during his time as a junior high school art teacher, Acker would draw cartoon caricatures of departing colleagues as going-away presents. All the co-workers would sign his poster-sized drawings.

“We would zing them with all the things they would say,” he says, explaining how the caricatures would roast the outgoing colleagues with funny quotes written onto the posters. “We had one teacher that would come into the teacher lounge and cuss about kids like a railroad worker. He hung it in his den, and it was popular. I also did that for retiring co-workers at Heartland Scenic Studios.”

Cartooning was another of Acker’s favorite artistic formats before the crows flew into the picture. “I used to always do our Christmas cards as cartoons, but even those have been taken over by the crows,” he says.

His interest in crows began in Omaha. One morning, while driving to McMillan to teach art classes, he heard a crow caw. It seemed to be following him. The bird flew alongside his car through several lights. Finally, it gave one last “caw, caw” and turned into a cemetery nearby the school. 

Acker went about his daily routine. But the crow’s cawing nagged in the back of his mind. He began to notice crows more and study their behavior as well as the historic place that the crow has in history, literature, and art.

A crow is often a symbol of either bad luck or death, but that is not always the case, he says. A crow may be a symbol of life, magic, and mysteries. The prophetic bird also symbolizes intelligence, flexibility, and destiny.

Soon, Acker started to notice crows appearing almost everywhere he journeyed. He began to study crows, and that eventually led to them appearing in his varied mediums of artwork—painted, sculpted, carved, and showcased in mixed-media assemblages.

In his art, the crow offers a reflection on the human condition, a foil for various universal struggles. For example, “Crow Dreaming of Becoming a Man” shows the carved bird riding on a train engine. 

“My future is to continue to experiment with different media and characters from nature to explore human feelings of isolation and wonder, leading to bigger questions relating to our human condition,” Acker says. 

His work last showed in Omaha during a group exhibition, Tinkerbell’s Mausoleum: Assemblages from Whimsy to Macabre, at the historic Florence Mill’s ArtLoft Gallery on July 1-Aug. 31. 


This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Aprons Through the Ages

July 4, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

According to the King James Version of the Bible, the use of aprons dates back to Adam and Eve:

“And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons,” Genesis 3:7.

That original apron made of fig leaves may be the only apron that isn’t represented in Donna Shonkwiler’s vintage collection. 

“I started collecting aprons because they take me back to my childhood days, when my mother and sisters and I wore them to do our chores together,” Shonkwiler recalls.

The apron collector lives in the Florence area but grew up in rural Brazil. Her missionary parents were poor (they had to clear the land to build their house, which had no indoor plumbing or electricity). Nevertheless, she has fond memories of those days. “It was a happy time for me, when life was simple,” Shonkwiler says 

Shonkwiler’s vast collection of aprons—most of which are carefully ironed and hanging on clothes racks—represents various time periods, locations, ethnic groups, and purposes. Included are aprons with names of states and countries. Some are indicative of particular cultures. Others are made for specific purposes. 

She has sturdy cotton aprons with pockets for crafts or gardening, as well as delicate and frilly aprons worn by the lady of the house for special occasions. Many of her aprons have elaborate embroidery, crochet, rickrack, lace, appliqué, and/or cross-stitching. Some have ladies’ hankies sewn onto them. 

“Aprons were a form of art that reflected a woman’s talent,” she explains, “each limited only by her imagination.” 

According to Shonkwiler, aprons had many uses beyond protecting clothes while cooking. “We used aprons to collect eggs from the chicken coops and vegetables from the garden,” she says, “in addition to drying a child’s tears and wiping a perspiring brow.” Also, some were made with extra padding at the edges so they could double as hot pads. “Most grandmas and moms were seamstresses out of necessity, and passed down their talents to their children at an early age.” 

Although primarily consisting of women’s aprons, her collection does include some
barbecue aprons for men. 

Shonkwiler’s 35 years of collecting has resulted in “probably” 400 aprons, mostly all handmade, and amazingly, no two alike. She has cultivated the collection through flea markets, garage sales, and thrift stores. A few of them date to the early 1900s. 

Her favorite apron holds special meaning, as it was made by her mother. The eyelet full apron (meaning it includes a front bib) was sewn especially for Shonkwiler.

Shonkwiler’s unique collection has never been on display…until now. An exhibit of her aprons kicked off the annual Florence Days celebration on May 12. Family Ties: Art of the Apron will remain on display (with some of the aprons available for sale) at the Florence Mill ArtLoft through July 15. The eyelet apron, a cherished memento normally tucked safely away in a cedar chest, is part of the display.

After a 47-year career as a respiratory therapist, Shonkwiler is enjoying her retirement. “I’ve loved collecting aprons all these years,” she says. “Now it’s time to share my collection with others, so they can enjoy them, too.”


Visit the Florence Mill on Facebook at @theflorencemill for more information.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha. 

Journey into the Arcane 


November 12, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In this issue we introduce a new department simply called “Room,” an exploration of the most intriguing rooms in Omaha.

The male half of this pair of doctor homeowners had since childhood been fascinated with the marvels of what is known as a wunderkammer (“wonder room”). The idea is that of a Renaissance-era cabinet of curiosities whose contents often defied description but generally dwelled in the arena of archeology, natural history, works of art, geology, ethnology, and relics of all kind. He began by commissioning a masterful carpenter to transform an otherwise bare room of his Elmwood Park home into this classic, Holmesian library. The rest of the story is best told in pictures during a journey into the realm of the esoteric and the arcane.

numbered

  1. After Mantegna by Kent Bellows
    The homeowner delivered the eulogy for the artist who died in 2005. This is one of several works inscribed to him by the artist.
  2. Mogollon culture vessel circa 800 A.C.E.
    The American Indian culture known as the Mogollon lived in the South-
west from approximately 150 B.C.E. until sometime between 1400 and 
1450 B.C.E.
  3. First edition copy of Lolita
    Predating by a full three years its 1958 American release by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel was first issued in paperback by Olympia Press in Paris.
  4. Bison antiquus horn core
    Excavated by the homeowner along Pony Creek near Pacific Junction, Iowa, the Bison antiquus is an extinct sub-species of the significantly smaller present-
day bison.
  5. Fossilized mammoth tooth
    The mammoth weighed up to 10 tons and had tusks as much as 15 feet long. The beast went extinct over 11,000 
years ago.

 

Having “The Talk”

July 22, 2013 by

Q: My daughter is 11, and I haven’t talked to her about the “birds and the bees” yet. What cues should I look for to know when it’s okay to have the talk? And how do I approach her?

A: If initiating “the talk” makes you nervous, many resources are available to guide you.

A book series by Stan Jones, God’s Design for Sex: How and When to Talk to Your Kids About Sex, provides age-appropriate ways to teach kids about sex from a Christian perspective. If you don’t adhere to the Christian values, you can input your own values in your discussions. Passport2Purity, a weekend retreat approach to teaching pre-teens about sex, offers many supplemental materials. The Care and Keeping of You (age 8+) and The Care and Keeping of You 2 (age 10+) are great books about puberty and body changes, presented in a straightforward way that is easy to understand.

Some parents like to go through the book with their kids; others let their kids read them and then talk about it together afterward. Read through it first so you know what they’re reading and are sure you’re comfortable with the way things are being presented.

There isn’t a “magic age” for talking to your kids about sex, but there are some things to clue you in that your kids might be ready:

  • What are your kids and their friends talking about?
  • What lyrics are in the music they listen to?
  • Is there any interest in dating?
  • Do they pay closer attention to commercials for tampons, birth control, or condoms?

Curiosity is natural, and it’s better for you to address sex before they decide to go online to find out about it—even innocent internet searches open up a slew of inappropriate sites.

It is important to set aside some uninterrupted time for a longer discussion. Offer plenty of time for questions and be honest with your answers. Be aware of your own attitude, because guilt, shame, and embarrassment are not good emotions for your kids to associate with sex.

Don’t be shocked if they ask a question out of the blue. Watch your reaction, and if it’s not a good time, just let her know it’s a good question but one that you want to talk about later. And keep in mind that girls will respond differently to the topic of sex and development.

My 7-year-old daughter just asked me last week what “sexy” means, thanks to a song lyric she heard. She didn’t need elaborate details—just an answer that satisfied her curiosity, and then she bounced out the door to go play with her friend. My 9-year-old daughter heard the question and was mortified. She needed a little more of an explanation but never would have asked.

Be relaxed and talk about sex like any other topic. If you’re uncomfortable, your kids will be, too. Take advantage of the little opportunities that present themselves because even if a statement or question from you doesn’t initiate a conversation, they will hear you. Sometimes, these situations are your kids’ way of “testing the waters” to see how you will react. They need to feel comfortable enough to approach you with questions, especially if you want them to learn your morals and values about sex.

In summary, act relaxed (even if you aren’t), and bring up the sex talk before it’s needed. You’ll both be glad you did.