Tag Archives: Jennifer Litton

Sketches of Omaha

December 19, 2018 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Illustration by Derek Joy

A watercolor print featuring Joslyn Castle is the centerpiece of a young couple’s remodeled living room in the Dundee neighborhood. The image is a reminder of their wedding day and the location where they married.

The artist responsible, Julia Mason, doesn’t know the couple. But she’s happy her work can evoke this sentimental feeling. “It makes me feel proud and happy that I can create nostalgia for someone else,” she says.

It’s not the first time that a sighting of Mason’s artwork has come back to her with a personal anecdote attached. Mason’s friends often snap photos of her art in the wild and send evidence back to her. Sometimes they notice a print hanging in someone’s home; other times they notify her of a print gifted to some dislocated Omahan longing for familiar scenery.

“It’s exciting, and it makes me feel happy to see my work popping up someplace I wasn’t intending,” Mason says.

The daughter of mixed media and metal artist Vicki Mason of Plattsmouth, she appreciates the beautiful masonry patterns found around Omaha as she walks to the farmers market downtown, and she is fascinated by details in older architecture.

“Just by walking, you can observe a lot more character from a building than you would driving,” she says.

Although best known for her sketches of local neighborhoods, Mason says world travel has inspired her Omaha-centric work.

While studying secondary education with an emphasis in art at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, a two-week summer study abroad experience took her to the British Museum, the National Gallery in London, Scotland National Gallery, and traipsing through Britain’s many beautiful cathedrals.

In Edinburgh, Scotland, she discovered the work of Glasgow artist Libby Walker. She bought a print—a detailed pen drawing of a local scene—to remind her of the city, and she has since purchased more of Walker’s work for display in her home.

Mason kept a journal to document the trip, and the journal inspired her first solo art show at Paperdoll in Benson. “I started with showing at Benson First Friday, and that gave me the confidence to start making art for other people,” she says.

The travel bug bit again, and she went to Costa Rica for four months to study at Veritas University. At the end of the trip, she organized an art show at a local cafe. She presented observational drawings of her neighborhood and images of fruit and flowers from her host family’s residence. She titled the show, Costa Rica Through My Eyes.

“I like to remember the places I have been through my art collection,” she says. “I wanted to bring that kind of nostalgic experience to our community.”

After Costa Rica, she decided to try her hand at depicting Omaha’s beloved local scenes. Her first print consisted of a montage of Dundee scenes. She now has prints for many of Omaha’s older neighborhoods, which are available for sale at Hutch in Midtown Crossing, at local pop-up markets throughout town, and her website.

Travel remains a major source of inspiration for Mason. She recently returned from a leisure trip to Hawaii where she gravitated toward local illustrators that represent the community in their work.

When traveling, Mason always carries a travel journal with her to draw and paint from observation. “I think of it like a souvenir,” she says. “Drawing and painting the waves of North Shore was a new experience for me, so it was a bit of a challenge with the moving waves. I always feel like a better person after painting than I do before sitting down. It recharges me.”

Three years into her teaching career as a traveling art teacher at Beals and Indian Hill elementary schools, Mason decided to go full-time as an artist. “If I fail, I always have a career to fall back on. Now I get to work in my yoga pants and listen to podcasts as I paint. It’s the dream,” she says, adding that she continues to substitute teach for Omaha Public Schools.

She says that life is too short to be unhappy in your career and has this advice for others seeking to start their own business: “Build your small business with your full-time job, and when you are ready, find a way to supplement your business part-time until it thrives on its own.”

Since making the entrepreneurial leap of faith, demand for work has filled her calendar. “Inventory is something I am always trying to keep up with,” she says, adding that prices are intentionally reasonable. She wants her work to be accessible to all, and she receives orders from Oregon, New York, South Dakota, and across the country.

“It’s reaching a bigger audience than I ever anticipated,” she says. “I am happy that so many are connecting with it. Omahans are everywhere!”


Visit juliamasonart.com for more information.

This article was printed in the January/February edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Lincoln Fairview Historic District

November 1, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

From the bluffs, an expansive view overlooks the Missouri River Valley and a landscape full of promise.

It’s the same vantage (minus Omaha’s modern skyline) that Abraham Lincoln encountered in August 1859 as he dreamed of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad. Later, in 1863, as president of the United States, he selected the area as the eastern terminus of the Union Pacific Railroad. In 1911, the Daughters of the American Revolution erected the Lincoln Monument, a focal point in Council Bluff’s Historic Lincoln Fairview neighborhood

“This neighborhood has a lot of charm and a lot of character,” says Lincoln Fairview Neighborhood Association treasurer Ken Freudenberg, a longtime resident who works in risk management. “We have three major historical monuments in our neighborhood, so we want to be good caretakers.” 

The Lincoln Fairview Neighborhood Association has around 30 members, meets on a monthly basis, and has won awards for their efforts and dedication to preserve their area’s historical charm. “We try to get people to do more things and maintain their lawns and their homes so that it is a nice area for people to ride through and tour,” he says. “We get a lot of people that come through here looking at the homes.” 

Past association president Susan Seamands says the group purchased banners and placed benches and a trash receptacle at the Lincoln Monument. “It’s a historic neighborhood on the national historic registry with a very active neighborhood association, which sponsors many activities throughout the year,” she says. 

Susan Seamonds, former president of the Lincoln Fairview Neighborhood Association

Besides progressive dinners and annual picnics, the group has hosted events such as the Lincoln-Fairview Neighborhood Porchfest (hosting local band Pony Creek). “The band was on the deck and the people were on the driveway. It was a fun time. It was a beautiful night,” Freudenberg says. 

With the neighborhood surrounding Fairview Cemetery, the neighborhood association has also partnered with the city and a Civil War historical group for repairs and plantings at the Kinsman Monument located within the cemetery. The Civil War memorial was built to honor Col. William Kinsman, commanding officer of the 23rd Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment. 

“Even though it’s a cemetery, Fairview is considered a walking area. A lot of people go there to walk their dogs,” Freudenberg says. “It’s an incredible view of downtown Omaha. It’s beautiful. You’re way up high and that is nice.” 

A trip down Oakland Avenue features the Burke-Woodward House, a brick mansion located at 510 Oakland Ave. It was the former home to attorney Finley Burke and later John G. Woodward, founder of the Woodward Candy Co. 

A few streets in the neighborhood still bear the turn of the century brick-paved streets. A sleepy weekend day finds many homeowners out tending to their yards. Visitors are treated to pleasing Victorian polychrome paint schemes on the houses, which vary in architectural styles: Richardsonian Romanesque, Victorian, Queen Anne, Greek Revival, Foursquare and Craftsman. “It’s a collection of older homes and neat landscape,” Freudenberg says. 

Sheryl Garst and family enjoy their porch in the historic neighborhood.

Some may find it surprising that the same artist who created the famous statue of Abraham Lincoln in our nation’s capital, Daniel Chester French, also has a piece of art in the neighborhood—the Ruth Anne Dodge Memorial. Chester was commissioned by the daughters of Grenville and Ruth Anne Dodge to create the famous cast bronze sculpture, otherwise known as the “Black Angel” statue. 

Their mother, who was dying of cancer, had a reoccurring dream about an angel with a bowl of water who encouraged her to drink. After the third occurrence of the dream, Mrs. Dodge took a drink and died not long after. 

 “She is just incredible. She is just a fabulous work of art,” Freudenberg says. Her laurel-wreathed winged beauty stands on a pink marble pedestal among hushed gardens, her fingers outstretched while a fountain bearing the “water of life” quietly bubbles from her bowl. The Lincoln Fairview Neighborhood Association also coordinated efforts to place a security camera overlooking the sculpture, a longtime source of urban legends, and regularly does cleanups of the area.

Freudenberg remembers that a group once sued the city of Council Bluffs trying to get the statue moved back East. They claimed it “wasn’t appreciated out here in the Midwest and that it was too small of a town and that it needed to be someplace back East in a place of prominence so that more people could enjoy it.” 

“Of course, the city of Council Bluffs won,” he says. As do the residents of Lincoln Fairview keep on winning in their efforts to preserve the charm of their historic home and the monuments within.


Visit 712initiative.org for more information about the historic neighborhoods of Council Bluffs.

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

The Burke-Woodward House at 510 Oakland Ave.