Tag Archives: gallery

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April 13, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A boozy brunch between girlfriends, a meeting of coworkers over coffee, a couple splitting a glass   of wine—conversations captured around the city, all serve as fodder and inspiration for Brion Poloncic’s work. In the quiet corners of Omaha’s local coffee shops and wine bars, Poloncic puts pen to paper, his ear tuned into the surrounding babble, creating art that he feels represents those around him and the experiences they discuss.

But don’t expect a still life of women gossiping between sips of their Venti mochas. As a visual artist, author, and former musician, Poloncic is a man of many hats but always remains a creator of thought-provoking and idiosyncratic work that paints middle America in a psychedelic wash.

“I’ve always fancied myself an artist,” Poloncic says. “My art is an affirmation of my peculiar skill set, and it just so happens to make me happy. It’s my own blend of therapy.”

It was through chance that Poloncic was first bitten by the creative bug. After he didn’t make the baseball team, he traded mitts for guitars and started writing music. A fan of everyone from Pink Floyd to Johnny Cash, he parlayed his early love for listening to his parent’s records into seven albums, all released under the moniker “A Tomato A Day (helps keep the tornado away).” A prolific songwriter, his discography is filled with character and colorful song titles, including ditties like “You Little Shit” and “Weirdo Park.”

For Poloncic, music wasn’t enough. He needed to sink his teeth into his next artistic outlet. So when a friend needed help setting up an Iowa art studio, he asked Polonic to draw pieces that illustrated his career. With no formal training or experience, unless coloring backpacks with magic markers counts, he dove in.

Two years later, Poloncic sold his first piece at a gallery in Lincoln. He has also shown work in Omaha and Kansas City and has a collection represented at Gallery 72, all those diploma-yielding pros be damned.

“My art isn’t constrained by my knowledge or training, and I think this makes me naturally less critical of my work,” Poloncic says.

Filled with abstract shapes, haunting faces, and stark use of color, his off-kilter yet original drawings mirror the tone of his written work. Through The Journal of Experimental Fiction, he published his first book Xanthous Mermaid Mechanics in 2012, following this up in 2014 with his second printed work On the Shoulders of Madmen. Both explored concepts of the subconscious mind, and the novel he is currently working on will follow suit.

“I’ll be surprised if anyone can read it,” Poloncic says. “It’s got no characters, no story arc, and isn’t about anything in particular.”

And he admits this is his niche, comparing his art to improvisational jazz or free-style rap where “things just happen.” For whatever he’s working on, he says the hardest part is just getting started. Once that happens, everything else just falls into place, and if he can’t get over a block, he always has another craft to turn to.

“If I stumble off the creative wagon with drawing, I get back on with writing and vice versa,” Poloncic says. “As you work on one, the other comes right along with it.”

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

Kirk Vaughn-Robinson

December 18, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

After a lifetime in the performing arts that culminated in 12 years on the road with the blockbuster Broadway touring production of The Phantom of the Opera in the roles of Lefevre and the Fire Chief, Kirk Vaughn-Robinson had come to learn more than a little bit about stagecraft.

But few scenes were as amateurishly staged as the one that played out in his hotel room almost every night in the latter years of his musical theatre career.

“I had this wobbly collapsible table I bought for $20 at Walgreens, a rickety foldable chair, a simple clamp light, and a lazy susan,” says the Muncie, Ind., native who later grew up on a horse farm in Florida. “It was just all so totally absurd.”

Outside of his Broadway gig, the triple threat singer-actor-dancer had performed with the Cincinnati Opera, Dayton Opera, Sorg & Whitewater Opera companies, and the Cincinnati Pops, all after attending the famed American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz, Austria.

But Kirk Vaughn-Robinson was now learning a new artform. Carting his curious ensemble of new “props” from town to town, he was teaching himself to become a sculptor.

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“It’s only fitting that I have established my first studio here in Council Bluffs,” Vaughn-Robinson says from the surprisingly spacious 1,100-square-foot space in the Harvester Artspace Lofts that has been his live/work home for over a year, “because my sculpting career began when Phantom was here in 2008. I executed my first work here.”

Things moved fast, he says, once he mustered the courage to show his work and the owner of the very first gallery he visited signed the novice sculptor on the spot.

Now venturing increasingly into abstract castings, Vaughn-Robinson is perhaps best known for his exquisitely crafted figurative bronzes of men, horses, mermen and, yes, even dorsal fin-sporting “merhorses.”

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Exhibiting a visual language of sensual romanticism, he renders classic ideals of beauty in timeless archetypes that speak to themes that are at once natural and organic, theatrical, and dramatic.

Vaughn-Robinson continues performing in a more localized, scaled-down slate of opera and musical appearances. He recently played the role of Pish-Tush in the Opera Omaha production of The Mikado and was nominated for an Omaha Entertainment and Arts Award for his work in The Sound of Music at The Rose.

Vaughn-Robinson won’t rule out the idea of returning to a big touring production, but for now is happy to sculpt away in Council Bluffs as his gallery representation and commission business grows.

His two worlds—the stage and the studio—offer a stark contrast in workplace experiences.

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“Just as being a part of a huge touring company is a decidedly social affair,” he explains, “sculpting is instead very solitary. It is a meditative time for me. My most common experience in all those hotel rooms over the years was that I would be lost in my work and, thinking that maybe a half hour had gone by, I’d suddenly realize that dawn was breaking. It is a spiritual experience for me, and I like to think that this is reflected in my bronzes.”

Karen Schnepf

December 28, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Karen Schnepf’s artist profile, published in Her magazine in 2009 (now HerFamily magazine), carried the subtitle “Coloring Outside the Lines.” Much has changed in Schnepf’s life and artwork since then, but her credo is still the same. Whether beginning a fresh painting, designing her home, or playing with a grandchild, she believes in following an idea wherever it may lead rather than let conventional boundaries define the shape of her explorations. Color and curiosity are the joint impetus for her paintings; they are the verve and rhythm that bring her work to life.

Schnepf’s painting signature is an immediately recognizable style, with abstract compositions whose bright colors are emphasized by the artist’s unique, high-gloss finish. Colors assume shape by either consolidating into an area on the canvas or by lines suggesting a perimeter. These contours—whether a thick brush stroke or a quick, gestural dash—are somehow incomplete, interrupted. They have the same energy as Navajo spirit lines—the break prevents the work’s creative spirit from being trapped and thus stifled. Schnepf’s lines exclaim, meander, circle, and drip; they both allude and elude.

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Her new paintings literally and figuratively bump up the arrangement. In her latest series, Whispers, Secrets, Reality, paper collaged onto the canvas adds a layer of mystery to one or more areas of a painting. Finished with her three-step glossing process, the dimensionality is subtle and ambiguous, especially in view of Schnepf’s tendency to overlap paint. Before you can wonder what’s been covered up you have to decide if something has actually been covered up.

“The series is inspired by the complexity of relationships that come into our lives and how those relationships can change our road map,” says Schnepf.

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Further exploring the enticement of playing with space in another current series, Colors Layered, she arranges strata of heavy watercolor paper, cut, painted on one or both sides, and layered like shingles. Many of these soak up her vivid hues like sundrenched tiles, but Schnepf is so attuned to color that she celebrates its range even in a neutral palette. This sensitivity allows color to remain strong, even with the added focuses of texture 
and dimension.

“I particularly love the smooth, sophisticated, shiny surfaces of Karen’s pieces. It brings a vibrancy to the work.”
— Judy Boelts, collector

Whether painting or constructing, Schnepf follows her instincts; she adds, subtracts, shifts, leaves, comes back, questions, listens.

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“There is a passion in me that requires me to go to the next level,” she says, “to never settle for the ordinary, to experiment until I find the right combination of elements.” When she senses that her ideas have coalesced into an articulate and aesthetic expression, “Then I feel the satisfaction of completion, and the only thing that I add is my signature.” Change can be dramatic, as in Whispers, Secrets, Reality 5. (Works in a series are typically identified by number.) A patchwork ground has been quieted by a scrim of lavender; the most intense of those colors integrated into a central column. Black circles take on physicality; one can imagine they buzz in conversation, while black and white riffs ripple the surrounding space.

Coloring outside the lines, it seems, is an invitation to improvisation.

Karen Schnepf is represented by the Dundee Gallery. A solo exhibition of her work is planned there in April.

Courtney Kenny

March 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Courtney Kenny

Courtney Kenny’s favorite piece, currently, is a self-portrait in charcoal. Tousled pale hair is set off by a careless smirk. And a huge, red, acrylic “F” circled over her face and checkmarked for emphasis. The unforgiving letter is the epitome of every student’s nightmares.

“When I was doing Failure,” Kenny says, “I was stressed and frustrated. I’d just got declined from some gallery, so I was stressed about that and kind of feeling like a failure.”

Her friends couldn’t understand it. “They’d say, ‘Why do you feel like a failure?’” Kenny recalls. After all, she of all her peers from Bethany College (she graduated last December) had been in juried shows as a sophomore and had her first solo exhibition as a freshman. She’s what you might call driven.IMG_4256 copy

The reaction she gets when applying to galleries and shows is usually along the lines of “You’re how old? What, 23?”

“It leads me to believe more artists wait till they’re older to show,” Kenny says, adding that most students aren’t even thinking about shows in college, just making art. “I was doing things my peers weren’t,” she says. Determined to get her work seen, she felt her way along with “lots of research, lots of trial and error, lots of rejection, lots of failure.” And even if she doesn’t sell as many pieces as she wants at the shows she does get into, she knows each show is an addition to her résumé. “It’s always better to be able to say, ‘Hey, I currently have a show here,’” Kenny points out. “That alone, other galleries perk up a little bit.”

All the while, she’s amassed a body of work in what she calls “unrealistic realism.” The style is realistic, with people and animals portrayed in fine detail with graphite, charcoal, acrylic, or oil, but the subject matter is unrealistic. Elements are drawn in such a way as to make viewers look twice. Is that…real? Could it be real?IMG_7354 copy

Consider, for example, the Nude Bitch. At first glance, the charcoal and acrylic piece is a study of a tired beagle sacked out on a couch. But upon closer inspection, a viewer might notice the rose petals. And are those draped sheets? “That one’s making fun of the nude model,” Kenny says. “No one gets it at first.”

She’s always looking for the quirk, the sense of humor, the hint of tongue-in-cheek. Artists such as Banksy, Chuck Close, and Francoise Nielly encourage her to embrace a subtle wit in her own work. And, perhaps, a tendency to poke fun at art itself. “I’ve always respected artists more who, if they do a piece that’s just three stripes on a canvas, and then I see another piece of theirs that does show they have the technical skills, I can accept the first piece,” Kenny says. “Then you know it’s intentional, not a cover-up for the fact that they can’t draw.”

For Kenny, drawing is where it all began, and she’s taken certain elements from drawing into her painting. For example, nearly all of her work is in black and white. Drawing in black and white is typical, but a black-and-white oil painting raises eyebrows. “It’s more honed in,” she says. “Minimalist. That’s also why most of my pieces don’t have a ton in the background.” A good example of this stark minimalism would be Unravel, a mixed media work with yarn and acrylic.IMG_3961 copy

Kenny does reserve splashes of color to draw focus, such as the In Bloom series. “Too much color,” she says, “and you’re almost noticing the color over the medium.” But she lets her viewers be the judges, saying she wants to provide a direction but not specific answers as to what her art has to say.

Kenny recently wrapped up a month-long show at the Crossroads Art District in Kansas City in March. Her next show will be at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts in Nebraska City in July. For more information, visit courtneykennyart.com.

Gallery 72…Anew!

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As a new year emerges from the old, so do a renowned art gallery and a historic South Omaha building. Artists and afficianados, community activists and preservationists, business owners and curious neighbors are all watching the goings-on at Gallery 72’s new location, 1806 Vinton Street. Perhaps even Janus (the ancient Roman gatekeeper who is remembered by the word “January,”), the god of beginnings and transitions, is curious. It’s an exciting moment, a time to look, as Janus does, both back and forward. And it’s a time to celebrate.

Mary Zicafoose: Tapestries, Prints, and Carpets is the exhibition marking the Grand Opening of this new space. “The launch of the new Gallery 72 is a bold and exciting ‘YES’ for the arts in Omaha,” says Zicafoose, an internationally known artist. “I am very, very pleased to have my work selected for the inaugural show.”

For Gallery 72, a longtime art landmark in Midtown Omaha, the move underscores its transition from fabled owners, the late Bob and Roberta Rogers, to their son, John. The gallery first opened in 1972 at an address on 72nd Street. When it moved to 27th and Leavenworth, the gallery retained its name and became a hub for contemporary art. Everyone was welcome.

“Bob and Roberta” became a watchword for a warm welcome, and newbies could count on a user-friendly introduction to art. In fact, Bob and Roberta have been credited with educating Omaha about contemporary art, and in 1990, were honored with the Partner in the Arts, Governor’s Arts Award. Bob’s passion continued after Roberta’s death in 1999, and in 2007, Bob was honored with the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Board’s Lifetime Achievement Award. His response to the audience’s cheers and standing ovation was, “Keep it going. Keep this high energy moving forward.”Gallery72_20130131_bs_4500

Bob died this past December at age 94. Now, it’s John who intends to keep the energy going. Since retiring from teaching physics, he has taken on full-time management of the gallery. If physics is the study of movement, energy, space, and time, then his background is a perfect fit. “I’ve always been interested in the commonality between the sciences and culture,” he says. In his classroom, he hung John Himmelfarb prints, Barbara Morgan photographs, and fine quality posters of Calder and Miro.

Gallery 72 moves to a neighborhood that is seeing fresh interest and investment. The single-story building, which dates to 1922, is an integral component of the Vinton Street Commercial Historic District. Photographer Larry Ferguson, who has a history of service on Omaha art boards, bids a warm welcome from his studio in the next block, saying, “Gallery 72 is an amazing addition to the district.” Visitors will notice the red brick building, with its twin at 1808, framed by taller buildings on either side. This draws attention to the crenellated parapet roof and the facade’s decorative brickwork with stone accents. Wide southeast-facing windows entice us inside.

The L-shaped gallery is open and inviting. With more than 1,750 sq. ft., the showroom allows uncluttered display of two- and three-dimensional work. Careful planning directed a total renovation and resulted in efficient support space for office, specialized galleries, and storage. Gallery 72 exhibits and sells work by recognized regional and national artists in a range of media. Rogers also offers consultation and installation and hopes to develop a secondary art market. “I enjoy the art atmosphere and working with artists and clients,” he says.

Gallery 72 begins this new year with new life. Rogers looks forward to “revitalizing Gallery 72 and its importance to the arts of Omaha and Nebraska.” He has some innovations in mind but plans to retain its most-valuable traditions, such as the gallery’s name and well-earned reputation, and fosterage of a welcoming art environment (including potluck suppers and chocolate chip cookies). Upcoming solo exhibitions feature Deborah Masuoka, Carol Summers, and John Himmelfarb. A highlight of the spring schedule is An Evening of Art (May 11), the annual fundraiser for Friends of Art, a volunteer support group for UNO’s Department of Art and Art History.

Gallery 72
1806 Vinton Street
402-496-4797
gallery72.com

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.

Sondra Gerber

January 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Sondra Gerber

Sondra Gerber, owner and self-described curator of Blue Pomegranate Gallery at 66th and Maple streets, opened the shop in July 2001. She and former business partner Anne Nye attended their first Benson Business Association meeting shortly thereafter. Their first and last.

“We came in with so many ideas,” Gerber says, laughing at herself. “We’re gonna change Benson! I left that meeting crying.” Virtually every suggestion she made was shut down. A business confidante patted her on the shoulder, chuckled, and offered these words of wisdom: “You’re just going to have to wait until some of these people die.”Habitat Tree copy

So Gerber shelved her dreams of Benson as an artistic hotspot and concentrated on evolving Blue Pomegranate and her metalworking skills. The gallery now represents several artists—mostly local but some national—and she and Nye still display their own work, though Nye is no longer a partner. The two work in metal and glass respectively, sometimes collaborating on pieces that combine the two elements. “It has to have the Blue Pomegranate look,” Gerber says of any art piece displayed in her gallery. A glance around the shop tells visitors what that look is: brushed aluminum, textured glass, bright colors, and simple design.

Among Gerber’s innovations in her own art over the past 12 years are increasingly detailed brushwork to allow for more complex play of light on aluminum, and transparent powder coating and dyes for color variety beyond the airy metal’s typical silver. Since hiring Stephanie Heller, formerly of Heller Art Images, to man the gallery itself, Gerber is turning her focus to another innovative challenge—her large-scale aluminum sculptures.

“Her material is so elemental,” Heller says. “There’s no room for bad composition. She has to keep it visually interesting and exciting and still accessible. It’s a flat piece of metal, and she has to conceive of all that light and shape and shadow and dimension. How’s she going to bend it, cut it, display it—I just can’t wait to see her larger-scale pieces and what she’s going to do with them.”birch woods copy

Heller and Gerber have known each other for 20 years, and Heller says she can tell that Gerber hit a pivotal point in the last couple years. “To me, that’s the optimal time to buy an artist’s art,” Heller says. “Those experimental pieces are bursts of inspiration that only happen once.”

Gerber has produced sculptures for backyard poolscapes, installations for donor art at hospitals and nonprofits, and commissions for corporate décor. That’s in addition to showing in about 50 to 60 galleries nationally, producing a line of unique Christmas ornaments each year, and maintaining a garden worthy of the Munroe-Meyer Institute Guild Garden Walk.

Gerber laughs at the observation that she likes to stay busy. In addition to her own annual garden show on Memorial Day, she’s a pioneer of First Fridays, hosting a festive late night once a month for the gallery since 2008. That’s three years before the rest of the neighborhood came together for Benson First Fridays, an idea that the business association wasn’t interested in when Gerber first mentioned it as a fledgling shop owner.IMG_9068 copy

Since last spring, most businesses in Benson are open later for the crowds coming to see what’s new on the neighborhood’s creative front. Bars have special happy hours, movies are projected on outdoor walls, and pop-up galleries showcase businesses that may not have their own storefronts yet. “You don’t really know what you’re going to get each month,” Gerber says.

With a photography studio next door, a woodturner in the basement, and creatives popping up all over the neighborhood, Gerber is finally seeing a response to the question she asked in the early days of Blue Pomegranate: “Dundee’s really cute. Why aren’t people doing this in Benson?”

Jo Anderson

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Jo Anderson adores Midlands art, and she loves showcasing the talent of those who create it.

Anderson is founder and owner of Anderson O’Brien Fine Art, an upscale art dealer and gallery that has been a fixture of Countryside Village at 87th and Pacific streets for more than three decades. Two years ago, she opened a second location in Omaha’s Old Market.

“I always had my eye on it,” Anderson says of the space at 1108 Jackson St., which housed Jackson Artworks for nearly 18 years. “Wouldn’t it be great to have a gallery downtown and have a broader audience?”

When the owners of Jackson Artworks announced they were closing, Anderson stepped in and took over the space in summer 2010. It’s since become one of downtown’s leading galleries.

The gallery in the Old Market has a different energy, audience, and atmosphere than the one in Countryside Village, says Anderson. Housed in a former warehouse, the downtown space is sleek and contemporary with white walls, exposed ductwork, concrete floors, and an open, airy feel. It’s also larger, so viewers have more room to get further back from the work and admire each piece fully, whether it’s an oil painting or sculpture.

Anderson’s gallery represents about 60 artists from Nebraska and surrounding states. Many are professional artists and art educators from area universities and colleges. Anderson says she prefers to represent established artists rather than up-and-coming talent.

“We have a consistency of work that is solid,” she says.

“Every day is different. It’s very rewarding. It’s just a great life.”

Keeping the number at a manageable 60 allows Anderson and her staff to give artists the time, attention, and resources they need. She takes great joy from being around art all day. “You’re dealing in beauty,” she says.

Anderson’s love of art goes back to childhood. She often accompanied her physician father to Indian reservations, where he treated patients. The visits sparked an interest in ethnographic art. Years later, Anderson opened the Plains Gallery at 78th and West Dodge Road, which she operated for more than a decade before selling it.

She then opened a poster gallery/frame shop near 76th and Pacific streets with business partner Sharon O’Brien. They didn’t have enough money to invest in original art, so they sold poster art.

In the early 1980s, the duo launched Anderson O’Brien Gallery in Countryside Village. They started out slow by representing a few artists, building clients, and upgrading their art collection. By the early ‘90s, O’Brien had gone on to pursue other ventures, leaving Anderson as sole owner.

As gallery owner, she has a variety of responsibilities. She meets with artists to discuss details of current and future exhibits, including determining how many pieces to feature and choosing an image for the event invitation. Other duties include handling bookwork, waiting on customers, and scheduling delivery and pick-up of artwork.

The gallery sells artwork to a mix of customers, from businesses to private collectors. It offers shipping, framing, hanging, appraisals, and other services. Anderson also works with interior designers and architects to place art in homes, offices, and other spaces.

“Every day is different,” she says. “It’s very rewarding. It’s just a great life.”

For more information on the gallery, its artists, and upcoming shows, visit aobfineart.com.

Surreal in Omaha

October 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“I’m into surrealism, as you can probably tell,” says artist Conrad Hinz with a laugh. That may be the one thing all viewers will agree on about his collection, showing at Hot Shops Art Center in November. Dream-like paintings with titles like Spirit Pope, Going for a Ride on the Other Side, and The Minotaur all but guarantee each visitor will walk away with a unique interpretation of Hinz’s work.

A Journey Through Surrealism and the Experimental contains 27 original pieces, the work of two to five years for the Nebraska artist. “I use a lot of Nebraska imagery,” Hinz says, “but I pull a lot from dreams, too. They show irrationality. It makes things more fun.” His laugh is always at the ready. “I like to have fun with things.”

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Though Hinz is following in the footsteps of the surrealist greats by studying Freud (as did his inspiration, Salvador Dalí) and using the glazing technique of the old masters, he has his own ideas about what makes great art. “If someone doesn’t stop and look at art, I’m not sure if that’s a successful painting.”

For Hinz, the true tell of a great painting is the passing of the thrift store test. “Fifty years from now,” he says, “would someone pick up my art in a thrift store so they can have the frame, or would they want to hang my own painting on their wall?”

He’s picked up more than a few pieces himself that way. For example, two paintings hanging in his living room reflect identical scenes at Cadaqués, a small fishing town where Dalí lived in his adulthood. One painting is circa 1898 and from a thrift store, and the other was buried in Hinz’s mother’s closet and dated 1925.

 “I use a lot of Nebraska imagery. I pull a lot from dreams, too. They show irrationality. It makes things more fun.”

Speaking of Hinz’s mother, the influence from her half-Lakota heritage can be seen throughout his artwork and specifically in his Sundance piece. “The spiritualists, the healers. They were the celebrities in that age.” Hinz says he tries not to “hit people over the head” with his spirituality in his art. “There’s no agenda. I just want to make people aware that God is there. We’re more than our body.”

Spiritualism and Hinz’s sense of fun come together in Radio Spirit. “My grandpa was a ham radio operator,” he says, “and I just thought, wouldn’t it be great if I could talk to him through one of those things?” The Norman Rockwell-esque painting depicts a young man with headphones watching in awe as a ghostly figure emerges from his radio. “I think I like to tell a story,” Hinz says of the piece.

Radio Spirit is a painting inspired by Hinz's grandfather and the works of Norman Rockwell.

Radio Spirit is a painting inspired by Hinz’s grandfather and the works of Norman Rockwell.

As with his art, Hinz has a specific feel that he wants his Hot Shops show to generate. “I want people to have a bit of fun,” he says. “Laugh, joke—I want it to be like going to see your favorite musician. I hate things that are stuffy and too quiet.” He adds that he’s tossed around the thought of hiring a mariachi band or maybe riding in on a bike with tin cans.

Hinz says he’s always exploring, whether it’s deconstructing the traditional gallery show or testing a new perspective in art. “Why would I not explore? Sometimes you get nowhere, but at least you tried something. It doesn’t matter if fame is there or not.”

You can see more of Hinz’ works at Hot Shops Nov. 2-25, 2012. For more information, visit hotshopsartscenter.com.

Silver of Oz

August 16, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Welcome to Silver of Oz, a handcrafted silver jewelry shop owned and operated by jewelry designer Levent Oz. (At the time of this interview, the store was located in Benson. It has since relocated to Montclair  on Center in West Omaha).

Oz’s personal story is dramatic and intricate, much like the antique silver cigarette cases, pill boxes, decorative rings, and dangling necklaces and earrings on display. Oz, who was born in Istanbul, Turkey, and lived in Vienna, Austria, before moving to the United States in 1998, has been influenced by a combination of Ottoman court jewelry and European modern style.

The son of a Turkish museum supervisor, who cared for the royal jewelry collection in the Topkapi Palace Museum, Oz had the chance to study the impressive court jewelry collection not accessible to most visitors. His awareness of and contact with classic silver pieces—such as Irish and Spanish swords designed with Nioello silver patterning and with Armenian black metal (which is tricky to work with and can shatter easily)—helped influence Oz’s silver-crafting style, fusing old and new, east and west.

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Oz’s own jewelry designs play with the surface of the metal. He creates unique pieces which embrace precious and semi-precious stones. His creations are made in a rectangular workshop at the back of the Maple Street store where he also teaches silversmith classes.

From a small burner in the studio space, Oz stirs the dark, thick Turkish coffee, Nuri Toplar; and just when the bubbles pop, he pours the sugary mixture into two demitasse cups with bright Turkish designs and tiny spoons.

After one sip, Oz excuses himself during a recent Saturday to greet customers Beth and Leon Wassenaar from Orange City, Iowa, who drove into Benson specifically to meet him. “Our friend owns this building, and we really like the wedding rings he made for them,” explains Beth.

An hour later, the Wassenaars left Silver of Oz with big smiles after buying a lovely pair of silver tassel earrings and a stunning silver and coral necklace Beth promptly wore out the door.

“The main point,” Oz said, smiling, “is not really selling. I love to interact with my customers.”

Not only does Oz enjoy talking with and getting to know his customers, he also likes to share a specialty from his homeland—coffee. With his mother still in Istanbul and a sister in London, Oz tries to visit Europe and the Middle East, but his teaching and designing schedule is hectic.

Doug Kuony took Oz’s beginner’s silversmith class a year ago when he found he had extra time on his hands after his father’s death. Oz teaches three levels of classes, two hours a week each in four-week sessions. Kuony, who lives close to the shop in Benson, said his experience with Oz “has been great.” He learned how to use the jeweler’s saw and the fusing torch, and now Kuony routinely makes his own silver designs.

For Oz, the journey to owning his own business has been a long one.

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While in college in Turkey studying English Literature, Oz worked at an antique store where he was introduced to the European art. After immigrating to Vienna in 1992, he learned how to produce the jewelry he designed since he no longer had the support of the workshops that finished his pieces.

In 1998, he decided to move to the United States and become a citizen. After landing in New Orleans where he worked as a waiter, Oz and his wife, Yeshim, a child, adolescent, and family therapist, were on their way to the west coast when they “got stuck in Omaha.” Oz ran a silver jewelry kiosk in the Oak View Mall for three months until he closed that operation.

Instead, he went to work at First Data in 2001. Oz ran a machine that inserted credit card statements into envelopes. He stayed in that position for 10 years, all the while knowing in his heart that he was an artist.

He finally got up the courage in 2008 to open his tiny shop in Benson. The following year, he moved Silver of Oz one block west into a much bigger space, adding a workshop and small art gallery. This April, Oz relocated his store once again to Montclair Shopping Center at 13013 West Center Road under the clock tower.

Perhaps the framed dollar bill he keeps superstitiously in an office drawer, signifying the first dollar he made in America, has brought him good fortune after all.

Silver of Oz
13013 W Center Rd
402-558-1307
www.silverofoz.com