Tag Archives: Ireland

Art is Life

September 4, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

 

This article appears in the Sept./Oct. 2015 issue of Omaha Magazine.

When Laura Vranes and John McIntyre celebrated their first wedding anniversary in October 2008, they wanted to do something special. Not only was it a year since they exchanged vows, they also both had birthdays that month. They didn’t go out to dinner. Nor did they exchange gifts. Instead, they bought one piece of art. It was something they saw as the beginning of an annual tradition: they would buy one piece of art for every year spent together.

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Except it didn’t pan out that way. The next day, they purchased another artwork. Yet another quickly followed after that. Seven years later, their collection numbers over 300 pieces, and there are no signs the couple will quit acquiring anytime soon. Collecting art—street art in particular—has become more than a hobby. It’s their passion.

Vranes has always been attracted to street art, which, loosely described, is a blend of graffiti and pop culture. “When I was six my family went to New York City, where I saw graffiti,” she recalls. “It just stayed with me. I thought it was beautiful. People are intimidated by it and don’t give it a chance, but lots of stories can be told through street art.”

McIntyre was more than willing to give street art a chance. “My interest began with Laura,” he says. “We like the same things. I had no problem jumping on board. I had liked street art for years but was too busy to look into it. Laura pushed us in that direction.”

Pushed she did. Their collection includes mostly emerging artists as well as some of the genre’s most famous names, including Banksy, Mr. Brainwash, and Shepard Fairey, who created President Obama’s iconic “Hope” campaign poster.

But for the couple, collecting big names isn’t what their passion is about. Through their collecting, Vranes and McIntyre have gotten to know artists all over the world in countries as far afield as China, Russia, Norway, and Ireland. “I’ve communicated with just about each of them,” remarks Vranes. “I’ve had conversations. I’ve emailed, I’ve phoned.”

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While most people might be intimidated at the thought of contacting artists out of the blue—particularly ones with such names as Zombie, Zeus, and Polar Bear—Vranes is unperturbed. “I just say, ‘I love your work.’” she explains. “I’m interested in collecting your work. I’d like to inquire about a piece.”

“She just goes after it,” McIntyre laughs. “It’s quite interesting to see!”

This is what makes their collection so much more than the works that comprise it. It’s the people behind each and every acquisition. “We’ve made so many friends,” comments Vranes. “For almost all of the pieces, there is a personal relationship.”

When the couple purchased a work by Kansas City artist Ryan Haralson, for example, they did so on a payment plan. McIntyre communicated with him over seven months, and the two established a rapport, so much so that the artist visited the couple. While in Omaha, he created a painting of Alice in Wonderland, a character Vranes loves, and presented it to her. “We didn’t know it was going to be a gift,” recounts McIntyre. “Not only did we get a fabulous piece of art, we got a friendship.”

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Still, if one were to choose any of the 300-plus works that best sum up the couple’s often quirky passion, it would perhaps be one by Paris-based street artist Polar Bear. It features a little girl in pigtails scrawling graffiti on a wall.

And what is it that she is writing? “Art is life.”

For Vranes and McIntyre, nothing could be closer to the truth.

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Retirement on the Road

July 30, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article appears in 60-Plus June/July 2015 edition.

Fritz Sampson says he likes to travel slowly, but the words “travel” and “slowly” can conjure up thoughts of lounging over three hour-long dinners in Italy, or spending an entire afternoon wandering through a village in France.

For 65-year-old Fritz, “traveling slowly” means moving about 200 miles a day across Europe and Asia by motorcycle.

Last March, Fritz undertook a 115-day motorcycle journey through southern Europe, the former Soviet bloc, and Mongolia; but his plans were cut short by more than three weeks after an accident
in Mongolia.

It’s an itinerary that sounds crazy, but, when explained calmly by Fritz, seems perfectly reasonable.

“Whether it’s breaking a shoulder, or getting stopped by police, or running out of food, things are going to happen,” Fritz says. “And that’s why you take the trip, because it’s an adventure.”

According to Sampson and his wife of 40 years, Mary, he always had a daring spirit.

“That’s what I loved him for, was his sense of adventure,” Mary says. “No one is comparable to Fritz—he’s all out for the experience.

The couple met on the Model United Nations Team at Creighton University and married in 1975, right out of college. They, and their two children, moved to Germany in 1998 while Fritz pursued a degree in international tax law. His career took him everywhere from China to Belize; but he still craved different ways to see the world.

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A long-distance cyclist, he rode for years all over the United States. But as he aged, he turned to a new mode of transportation: motorcycling.

He bought a new Harley Davidson in 2007, and in 2008 rode with his son, Marty, from Omaha to Tierra del Fuego, an island chain off the southernmost point of South America.

“One of the reasons I do this—I like meeting people on the road,” Fritz says.

After his South American excursion, Fritz was itching to do a similar trip elsewhere. He read about two motorcycle adventures on travel blogs that looked really interesting—one to the Russian far east, another in outer Mongolia—and decided to combine the two by retiring and traveling to 17 countries. He planned to begin in Ireland, meet Mary in Turkey, and eventually end up in Mongolia and Russia, but had no other itinerary.

That meant he spent a week in Bulgaria because he felt like it. He chose to go to Kazakhstan instead of Turkmenistan because he met a fellow motorcyclist who was headed there. And when he told local policemen in Turkey the name of the hostel where he was staying, they told him he shouldn’t sleep there and took him to a friend’s house, where they hosted a barbecue for him.

He also had a run-in with corrupt police in Azerbaijan, lost 22 pounds, and experienced that fateful fall in Mongolia that cut his trip short and left him with a broken shoulder.

There’s only one thing he’s cutting out of his routine: off-roading on his motorcycle, which led to his accident. But he still wants to ride on motorcycle trips across the continental United States, Alaska, and Mexico.

After all, he says, those are “easy” rides.

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The French Bulldog

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For Bryce Coulton, part-owner of Dundee’s The French Bulldog, life is not a bowl of cherries. It’s two wedges of roasted acorn squash, roasted balsamic onions and tomatoes, house-made ricotta, and a drizzle of mint oil, otherwise known as the eatery’s Acorn Squash Salad. But a little background on the chef first…20130312_bs_9071_Web

After traveling the world while serving in the U.S. military for 20 years, Coulton went to culinary school in Ireland, then spent time in London cooking before coming back to this side of the pond. He, along with partners Anne Cavanaugh and Phil Anania, opened The French Bulldog last September in what used to be a Subway.  Now in its place, cured meats hang and a rustic décor represent one of Omaha’s few charcuteries. “We wanted to establish ourselves as a place where people can find what they want,” he says, “Dundee has all walks of life and we aim to please everyone.”20130312_bs_8983_Web

The inspiration for The French Bulldog came from Bryce Coulton’s time in Europe and the idea of creating a simplistic space with a casual atmosphere. Customers are able to interact with the bartender and waitstaff as the bar also doubles as the prep area for the food. The French Bulldog specializes in cut meats, cheeses, and even a homemade pork pie (also London-inspired). In fact, everything is done in-house, down to Coulton’s personal mustard recipe. The New Jersey native explains, “I’m not big on side salads. The salad should be the star of the plate.”20130312_bs_9116_Web

He then reminisces on his favorite memory working at a café in London. “The café was in a greenhouse, a long, 30-foot shed. There was a path down to the garden where, if we ran out, we could pick fresh herbs or chard.”20130312_bs_8989_Web

Coulton met Cavanaugh and Anania, owners of another successful Dundee restaurant, Amsterdam Falafel, two and half years ago while working at The Boiler Room. Space in the Dundee area rarely opens, so when one did, the three jumped at the chance to create a place where people can get together for lunch, dinner, and everything in between. It’s a place of comfort and simple, unique dishes, where the specials are written on a chalkboard. When asked what the best thing he’s ever eaten is, Coulton thinks for a minute, then talks of a Jerusalem artichoke purée: “It was flavorful, unique, and simple.” It seems as though his favorite dish mimics his new and already successful Dundee restaurant.