Tag Archives: Florida

Trevor Amery

March 10, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts resident Trevor Amery is a well-traveled maker. The artist, whose Bemis stay began January 11 and runs through mid-March, has done residencies in Mexico, Hungary, and Finland. He’s completed projects in Alaska, Florida, and many points in between.

After years on the East Coast, he now makes California home, though he’s often just returning from or embarking on a new art-life adventure. This summer he expects to go to China.

Some journeys have proved transformative. In the course of a 2011 Finland sojourn, fate or circumstance intervened to change his practice from painting to sculpture.

He had just left his former risk-adverse life as an admissions counselor at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore to heed the very advice he gave students—to live freely and fearlessly. He’d no sooner broken away from his higher education rut to go to far-off Finland when, en route, all his oil paints were confiscated by airport security.

There he was, adrift in a strange country, unequipped to create in the manner he’d come all that way to do.

“I didn’t have a lot of money to go and buy all new oil paints in one of the most expensive countries in the European Union,” Amery says. “I just had to figure out how to start making.”

Enraptured by the dense forests of the residency’s idyllic rural setting and the ubiquitous, large firewood piles he saw outside every home, he surrendered the idea of painting to create instead in wood. It helped that he had an extensive woodworking background.

“I started splitting wood to understand it as a material. I’d wake up and split as much wood as I could handle, and I learned so much more about it than I ever did working in a wood shop,” he says.

“I started doing these stacked firewood piles. I made a 12-foot tall spinning wood pile on a children’s merry-go-round as a kinetic permanent sculpture. I did a 6-foot by 6-foot by 6-foot cube of firewood on a floating dock in the middle of the lake outside the old schoolhouse I stayed in. I went into town to do woodpiles in urban niches–between buildings and mailboxes–and left them to be reclaimed.”

His “big epiphany” happened paddling wood out to the floating dock in the lake.

“I had this eureka moment of, ‘Wow, this could be my work. I don’t have to sit in a studio illustrating an idea with oil paint. I can actually be out in the world engaging nature and people, having the social aspects I crave.’”

For Amery, the journey in the making is everything.

“I just like process–problem-solving, engineering new solutions, and stuff like that. I do have an interest in DIY culture, which also informs my practice.”

Since Finland, Amery’s gone on to cast pieces of firewood in porcelain stoneware. This summer in Wyoming he taught himself how to make his own charcoal using wood.

While assisting with the setup of a towering geodesic installation there, he salvaged a broken sledgehammer handle made of ash and converted it into a 30-inch, hand-hewn spoon sculpture. He carved a tiny geodesic dome in the bottom of the spoon.

“Function plays a role in the work,” he says. “But this object also now has a really important history to it. I love the kind of shift in value that comes with provenance of objects and materials that I use. Because of a personal story with it, it has this new significance.”

In 2012 he came back from a residency in Hungary only to find himself “back to square one” in his work. Absent a project, he thought long and hard about finally realizing something he always wanted to make: a boat. Made of wood, of course.

“After some research, I set out to build my own Aleutian- style kayak, and I did. I made all the ribs out of green bent branches I cut in the woods in Maine.”

The design for the 17-foot vessel came from a downloaded PDF.

“The first year after I built it, I kind of denied its function. I was more interested in its making, its coming into being, the history of it. I built part of the frame in Maine and then drove it to Michigan, where it spent a year with me as this omnipresent, dope object I couldn’t finish because I didn’t have the space to do it.” he says.

“It hung above me in the apartment making me feel bad for not working on it. I eventually brought it back to the East Coast and then came to California with it, where I finished it. But I was still using it as this studio-exhibition object and skirting its function. Then I decided I have to put it in the water.”

He secured a grant for a performative project whereby he drove the kayak to Alaska to make its inaugural launch off the Homer Spit. He documented the experience with his Mamiya C330 camera.

On-site, he split a log to make his own paddle from tree branches. When the moment arrived to place the kayak in its heritage waters, he was overjoyed this object that traveled so far with him “actually worked great.”

The kayak trekked with him again when he took part in the Performance is Alive satellite art show in Miami.

“I kayaked through the different waterways of Miami to document the coastline and the relationship of these important spaces to water recreation and the city’s economy and looking at how this essentially sea-level city will eventually be underwater.”

He successfully negotiated the voyage only to have curator Quinn Dukes ask him go out again and finish in South Beach.

Tempting fate, Amery recalls, “I went across the channel out into the ocean like a fool. Everything was going fine actually, and then the ocean floor dropped off at this one place that turned the ocean into a washing machine. This wave came from behind and capsized me many football fields away from the coastline.”

He says he thought he was “done for” but was eventually rescued by a jet skier. His kayak and camera both survived the mishap.

“Out of all that came a whole new body of work of wooden wave sculptures I call ‘Capsized.’”

The artist is approaching Omaha the way he does all his residency stops (by ”keeping that opportunity for discovery”).

“A huge part of it is what comes out of the relationships in a place,” he says. “Yes, the landscapes inspire me, but also the people and the conversations.”

This article appears in the March/April 2018 edition of Encounter

Riverfront Redevelopment Plans

August 26, 2016 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

North America’s longest river is receiving lots of local attention—and not just because of all the Pokémon in the vicinity.

Omaha’s Old Market is the place to be for players of the successful augmented reality game, Pokémon Go. There are more Pokémon “trainers” roaming from the Old Market to the Missouri riverfront than anywhere else in the city.

Development of local Pokéstops (i.e., actual locations geo-tagged within the virtual game) began in summer of 2016. Omaha’s riverfront in real life—not in the virtual game—has been a big development question mark for decades.

Concerted discussions about developing the riverfront started with a master plan drawn up in the mid-1970s. Plans for the Gene Leahy Mall took root. The lush riverine park now connects the interior of downtown to Heartland of America Park, ConAgra, and the river’s edge

Dan and Katie Good portray Team Rocket

Dan and Katie Good portray Team Rocket

Historic controversy lingers in between, where ConAgra forced the 1989 demolition of Jobbers Canyon. The Jobbers Canyon Historic District was the largest “historic district” ever to have been lost (according to the National Register of Historic Places). Omaha leaders cleared the hulking red-brick warehouse district to make way for a suburban-style campus, in order to appease ConAgra and keep the corporation headquartered in town. Until 2015. That’s when ConAgra announced it would be relocating its HQ to Chicago’s Merchandise Mart (a historic structure akin to those ConAgra forced under the wrecking ball in Omaha some 26 years earlier).

In recent years, even before ConAgra’s pullout, Omaha community leaders began taking another look at riverfront development options. “Everyone was in agreement we couldn’t jump start it,” remembers consultant Donn Seidholz, a leader in the local planning committee. “We decided to bring in someone with no skin in the game.”

The mayors of Omaha and Council Bluffs hired a national nonprofit called Urban Land Institute (ULI) to provide advice on developing the riverfront. ULI’s report issued in 2014 emphasized the importance of the two cities working together, including developing more venues for events of different sizes. Seidholz says he has never before seen such a vibrant partnership between the two cities.

(Coincidentally, 2014 was the same year that Google Maps released an April Fools’ prank that eventually inspired American software developer Niantic Labs to launch the Pokemon Go app this year.)

“The fact is the river doesn’t separate us, it binds us together,” says Council Bluffs Mayor Matt Walsh. In an e-mail response to interview requests, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert noted there are many opportunities to develop the waterfront into a vibrant destination—entertainment, special events, recreation and leisure, residential, and commercial.

The focus has been narrowed to four miles of land running along both sides of the Missouri River, starting at the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge.

“It is part of our ongoing planning to continue the exciting developments already underway in downtown, including the Capitol District, Kiewit University, and the Civic Auditorium site,” Stothert told Encounter.

The ULI study was funded by local citizens and nonprofit foundations. “In Omaha, we  are fortunate to have a strong philanthropic community that sees the value of public-private partnerships,” commented Stothert. “The ULI  study provided a framework of ideas that can guide our next steps and promote collaboration between Omaha and Council Bluffs and the private partners who share our enthusiasm for this unique space.”

Chairing the ULI panel was Jim Cloar of Tampa, Florida, who has extensive experience with riverfront development, including eight years heading downtown development in St. Louis, a city with many of the riverfront challenges seen in Omaha.

He says some of the ULI recommendations for Omaha-Council Bluffs included dog parks, playgrounds, more pedestrian-friendly paths, and restaurants.

Erin Henderson portrays a Venusaur.

Erin Henderson portrays a Venusaur.

Cloar points out that downtown Council Bluffs sits four miles back from the river, so Iowans had not given developing the riverfront as much thought. “The river has been out of sight and out of mind,” he says.


The city leaders opposite Omaha’s riverfront are making up for lost time. Today Council Bluffs is developing a $140 to $160 million area along the riverfront called River’s Edge, with offices, retail, and condominiums. The land once hosted Playland Park.

“It is the original site of the dog track operated by Meyer Lansky, along with Lucky Luciana,” Walsh says. Mafia gangster Lansky lived in Council Bluffs from 1941 to 1943.

Walsh is looking at more condominiums and a new marina at the riverfront. The city of Council Bluffs is constructing a glass-fronted facility facing the river that will accommodate about 200 people for meetings and social events.

The Council Bluffs Parks Department is adding an interactive water feature for families that includes a water wall and splash pad area. Walsh sees the possibility of  expanding the existing trail system along the river.

The ULI’s 2014 report, “Activating the Missouri Riverfront” recommended that early development begin near the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, where access to both cities is easier. The bridge was part of an earlier development project that broke ground in 2006.

Stothert believes that redevelopment of the riverfront will require better access for all types of transportation: “The north downtown pedestrian connector bridge, sometimes called ‘Baby Bob,’ is already partially funded and is included in our 2018-19 Capital Improvement Plan. It will link the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge to north downtown.”       

In early years, Omaha’s riverfront was heavily industrial, observes Cloar. Railroad yards and the Asarco lead refinery—at one time the world’s largest lead refinery—occupied Omaha’s riverfront, as did four battery companies. Asarco closed in 1997 and the ground was capped.

Historically in the U.S., citizens saw their riverfronts as industrial areas, says David Karem, president of the Louisville Waterfront Development Corp., a nonprofit located in Louisville, Kentucky.

“Throughout the United States, rivers were the highways of the nation, especially along the Missouri, Mississippi, and the Ohio rivers. Steamboats brought commodities into a community for easy unloading. When the steamboat went by the wayside, along came the railroad lines,” says Karem. 

Karem began a redevelopment process in Louisville 27 years ago. The group renovated the land from an industrial area to an 85-acre waterfront park that ULI selected as one of the top 10 urban parks in the U.S.

For the Omaha-Council Bluffs redevelopment, ULI brought in eight panelists from around the country and talked to 90 people about a vision for the riverfront. Louisville is seen as a model city that has successfully redeveloped its waterfront.

BobKarem says it takes time to turn a riverfront around: “You’re not going to develop a waterfront in two or three years. It takes 15 to 20 years to make these projects.”

Redevelopment work continues on the Omaha and Council Bluffs riverfronts with coordination by the Missouri River Commons Action Group. The group, organized by the Greater Omaha Chamber, works toward furthering the riverfront vision through fundraising, planning, support of the initiatives of the Omaha and Council Bluffs mayors, and the start of a major riverfront festival.   

Seidholz heads up the group. “Omaha has been the only city this size on a river or water that didn’t have a consistent, well-thought-out development plan,” he says. “Until now.”

What exactly that development plan looks like is still a bit mysterious for the general public. Several high-level developer and philanthropic stakeholders involved with possible future riverfront redevelopment declined interview requests or otherwise refused to comment for this article.

Meanwhile, the dilapidated shell of the Storz Trophy Room offers a reminder of prior development missteps. The brewpub hemorrhaged money from the time of opening in 2013 until the City of Omaha terminated its lease in 2015 for failing to pay rent.

Cyclists, joggers, and passersby continue to utilize the scenic river’s edge outside the failed brewpub (formerly the site of the struggling Rick’s Cafe Boatyard). Pokémon trainers—staring down at their smartphones—have already found a new use for the surrounding scenic landscape: catching virtual monsters. 

For the full ULI report from 2014, visit: uli.org/wp-content/uploads/ULI-Documents/Omaha_PanelReport_Fweb.pdf 


The McBrides

July 15, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Caroline McBride sobbed as she left midtown Omaha with her partner, M.J., and the last load of their belongings from their midtown home. She was so happy there.

The tears quickly subsided as they arrived at their new home.

“It’s pretty easy when you are greeted with strangers bearing champagne,” M.J. says.

McBrides4The couple now live in The Rows at SoMa, a group of rowhouses along Leavenworth between 11th and 13th streets. Bluestone Development approached them about moving.

Bluestone owner Christian Christiansen was looking for buyers of his new development off the Old Market, and a mutual friend suggested he contact the ladies.

“When we bought down here, it was dirt and not much else. We really had to trust and go on a wing and a prayer,” M.J. says. “Everything they promised has come true.”

Christiansen promised great people (in the neighborhood) and quality workmanship (in the building). The couple appreciate the diversity of The Rows’ residents. Their neighbors range from millennials to folks in their 60s, from single people to married couples.

Caroline and M.J. welcome all the new friends. Caroline has even joined the board of the homeowner association, which hosts wine nights on Wednesdays.

“They’re great,” Jerre Tritsch, current HOA president and a retired lawyer, says of the couple. “They’re fun people. Very positive. We love having them here.”

“There’s always an eclectic group of people and dogs,” Caroline says.

Walking around the neighborhood, Caroline greets everyone by name, and they smile and say hello back. In fact, the only complaints that the couple receive follow M.J. starting her Harley-Davidson motorcycle before 7 a.m.

The wine nights take place in the community garden, which features two crescent-moon shaped benches on a paver patio. The garden includes 14 planting beds, available by a lottery system. The landscaping and gardens are all organic.

It’s also beautiful, in part, thanks to Keep SoMa Beautiful, a group started by the community that walks through the streets to make sure the sidewalks are intact and mess-free.

“Overall we’re looking to encourage an attitude of participation in the community,” says Tritsch. “Don’t wait for a contractor or management company to do something. Pitch in and help, because that helps to build relationships within the community.”

The first row house the couple lived in was a two-bed, 2-1/2-bath townhouse in the middle of the development. The 2,200-square-foot home looked out over the community garden. Sitting on one of the benches in the garden, a visitor would hardly know the heart of the Old Market lies a quick stroll down the street.


“There’s a sense of openness by the total privacy that’s built in,” Caroline says.

The couple specifically wanted to live in one of the homes facing Leavenworth Street and the Old Market.

In 2009, they acquired one of The Rows’ eight 2,500-square-foot homes with three beds and 3 1/2 baths. They liked the floor plan, which is longer and includes more windows.

“One of the first questions people ask is about windows,” M.J. says. “Are you covering them? Are you leaving them uncovered? What about the kitchen?”

The creative couple, who established and operate Rebel Interactive agency, found an appropriately creative solution—sheer panels with black squiggly details running down them. The contemporary design fits well with their home, which includes brightly colored artwork and furniture throughout.


The couple appreciate that art is a part of SoMa. The garden features a sculpture commissioned by Bluestone for the area. The community also features an art gallery that doubles as a commons room and is available to residents at SoMa. Caroline and M.J., who have been together since 1997, used the gallery to celebrate with their friends and neighbors following their marriage in Iowa in September of  2013.

This urban-living development embraces people (and pets) of all types. Amenities such as snow removal and lawn care help residents leave home with peace of mind.

“A lot of people are attracted to SoMa because they travel quite a bit,” says Tritsch.

The McBrides count themselves among those travelers. They spend many weekends at Lake Okoboji with their black cat, Reo, and Boston terrier, Bella. They also travel to Key West, Florida, once a year to stay at their time share, and to Arizona to visit M.J.’s mom.

Their travels always end back at their row home in Omaha.

“We love being close to Bemis and KANEKO,” Caroline says. “It’s nice being right across the street from world-class creativity.”

M.J. smiles brightly as she thinks about her downtown life.

“I’ve enjoyed living other places, but I love living here,” M.J. says. Encounter

Visit omahadowntown.org for more information.McBrides1

RV Sweet RV

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Fritz and Cheryl Steinhoff spent a lifetime teaching high school students, their longest tenure in Scribner, Neb. Fritz taught agriculture while Cheryl shared her talents as a music and piano teacher. They raised two sons. In 2005, when both were in their mid-50s, they started thinking about retirement and started looking at recreational vehicles.

“We like to travel, so we thought it would be a great way to do it,” says Fritz.

Three years ago, they made good on their plan, sold their “stick and brick house” and now spend half the year—the cold half—in their home-on-wheels in Mesa, Ariz. When the snow and frost are gone, the warm Nebraska weather beckons them back home where they set up at the KOA campsite in Gretna to be close their sons and grandchildren.

Dr. Marvin Johnson and Joy Johnson met in a mental hospital in Clarinda, Iowa, almost 40 years ago.

“That’s appropriate, don’t you think?” cracks Joy, who goes on to explain that Dr. Marv was the chaplain there while Joy conducted a program on death and dying. “I teamed up with the chaplain, and then we really teamed up!”

The couple founded Centering Corporation, the oldest and largest bereavement resource center in the country. As authors and lecturers on the grieving process, their lives were busy enough. But then Joy had to go and write a series of successful mystery/comedy novels set in Omaha called The Boob Girls (Burned Out Old Broads), which forced a change in their lifestyle.

“We lived in the Mayfair Building at 12th and Howard in Omaha,” says Joy. “We were on the road so much because of my Boob Girls speaking engagements that we decided to go full-time in an RV.”

The Johnsons use Orlando as a base of operation during the winter and return to Nebraska in April, staying off I-80 at the Pine Grove RV Park in Greenwood.

Dr. Marvin and Joy Johnson with their travel companion, Barney, at a campsite in Orlando, Fla.

Dr. Marvin and Joy Johnson with their travel companion, Barney, at a campsite in Orlando, Fla.

Linda and Dean Erickson, both in their mid-60s, are busy downsizing and getting their duplex in Blair, Neb., ready to sell. Years of weekend camping in state parks in Nebraska and Iowa as members of the local Jayco Club led them to the next stage in their lives.

“We’ve decided to go RVing full-time,” explains Linda, who retired in February from the local phone company, while Dean finished up a long career in the HVAC industry. They are the parents of two sets of twins, born nine years apart.

“We’ll probably be in Texas or Arizona pretty soon,” says Dean. “We’re looking at RV sites around McCallum, Texas. From what I understand, there are hundreds of RV parks within 50 miles of there.”

The three couples don’t know each other personally, but they have a lot in common. They are among the estimated 30 million RV enthusiasts in this country, according to the Recreational Vehicle Information Association. The mobile home of choice for each couple is a fifth wheel—a large trailer that hitches onto the bed of a pickup truck and is towed. They love the freedom the RV lifestyle affords them.

All are instinctively outgoing and have no problem making new friends.

“We aren’t parked more than two minutes before 10 to 15 people will be knocking on our door. Doesn’t matter where we are,” says Fritz Steinhoff, who adorns their $85,000 Mobile Suite by DRV with Nebraska logos. “And you’d be surprised at all the people from the Dakotas and Iowa who are Husker fans.”

Perhaps the most endearing similarity among the couples is they still love each other.

“We aren’t parked more than two minutes before 10 to 15 people will be knocking on our door. Doesn’t matter where we are.” – Fritz Steinhoff

“[Marv and I] are great travel buddies,” says Joy Johnson, 75. “That’s the most important part. You have to enjoy each other.”

The Johnsons also enjoy the company of their 125-pound Bernese Mountain dog, Barney. He happily sits in the backseat of their diesel-fueled Chevy pickup as it tows the 40-foot-long Jayco Pinnacle—a rolling testament to American engineering and design.

The hundreds of motor home manufacturers in the U.S. (Winnebago is still the largest) have listened closely to their customers since the recession hammered the industry. According to the RV Association, sales are surging again thanks, in part, to features like cherry cabinets, oodles of flat-screen TVs, convection ovens, top-quality countertops, surround-sound systems, satellite dishes, and washers and dryers. A standard floor plan for a fifth wheel includes living room, dining area, kitchen with an island, and a master bedroom with a full bathroom.

“We call it camping, but in reality we think it’s roughing it when we can’t get satellite reception,” chuckles Dean Erickson. Their upgrade to a $38,000 used, 37-foot Jayco Designer with four slides (rooms that slide outwards to expand living space once you’re parked) nearly resulted in disaster.

“First time out, I’m going down Nebraska Street (in Blair), and a guy passing by starts waving his arms like crazy. I stop and say, ‘What’s going on?’ And he says, ‘One of your slides is still out!’ Didn’t realize I had so many.”

What about the all-important economics of RVing vs. owning a home?

“We call it camping, but in reality we think it’s roughing it when we can’t get satellite reception.” – Dean Erickson

“It’s been fantastic,” says Fritz. “There are less taxes. No upkeep. And if the wind isn’t blowing at me, I can average 13 mpg.”

“Fuel economy has definitely gotten better over the years,” adds Dean, who figures he and Linda will be better off economically.

Short-term campers usually pay a flat fee to plug in at a site while those who stay in RV parks for long stretches have a meter and pay for electricity, along with rent of $300-$400 a month. Most commercial campgrounds provide Wi-Fi.

For those who still may be on the fence about the RV lifestyle, final words of wisdom from Joy Johnson: “If you don’t like the place you’re staying at, you can just leave.”