Tag Archives: Tara Spencer

Chloe Kehm

October 11, 2018 by
Photography by Keith Binder

With her bobbed blond hair, flowered orange dress, and a jean jacket covered in pins (mostly cats in some form or another), artist Chloe Kehm looks like she could have stepped out of one of her favorite anime shows. But while her art may often depict that culture, her interests and influences are far more diverse.

“I listen to podcasts a lot,” Kehm says. “I’ve just been listening to this one podcast and hammering out stuff.” 

Kehm is describing a part of her creative process. One of her favorite podcasts is Saw Bones, a medical history program. “It’s about all the stupid things we’ve done medically in the past…they talk about the Victorians a lot. They did a lot of weird things,” she says with a laugh.

Also, she adds, “If my room’s a mess, I can’t do anything. Which is unfortunate, because I’m not the cleanest person.” Regardless, she manages to get a substantial amount of creating done, including an entire comic book for her BFA program at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. It’s something she’d been putting off because she says she wasn’t confident in her skills. But after many life-drawing classes, she finally thought, “Let’s just do it now.” 

Having grown up watching animated shows such as Powerpuff Girls and Sailor Moon, it’s not surprising she became interested in drawing what she calls “fandom things,” such as characters from video games, comics, and television series. But what she really enjoys is making her own, original work, and a big part of that is telling a story. Besides working with digital mediums, watercolor, oil and acrylic paints, and experimenting with ink and marker drawings, she also creates short, four-panel comic strips. “I love writing,” she says. “I took a couple of creative writing classes before and I’m always writing comic strips.”

While pop culture clearly influences a lot of her current work, she does have an appreciation for the classics, such as Van Gogh. Her favorite work of his is “Almond Blossoms.” “His colors are gorgeous and I like to think I could pull some of those into my own work.”

Her pieces are definitely more contemporary, though. “A lot of the artists I really love right now are currently living,” she says with a smile, “and they are young female artists in the comic book industry.” She lists Babs Tarr, Fiona Staples, and Leslie Hung as her top three, but adds that there are countless others. “It’s just really inspiring.”

It’s unsurprising that Kehm admires these artists. She says that, while she didn’t really start considering herself a feminist until college, she has always believed equality is important, “across the board.” She credits those animated shows she grew up on with helping her develop that ideal. “A lot of animated shows directed at young girls [are] showing them in positions of power and being strong and independent. I think that just kind of sat in there…and it inspires a lot of what I want to do with my storytelling and my animation,” she says, before wryly adding, “And I’m a woman. I should care about that stuff, right?”

Kehm says she likes her creations to be fun, but also to have a message. “I like depicting different people in different ways. I like to show the vastness of the human race.” She pauses, then breaks into laughter. “Which sounds…a little lofty.”

She says she believes art in general has a hand in almost everything we do as a society. “You don’t realize how much art plays into everything you interact with on a day-to-day basis. Like your shoes. Someone designed that, someone drew that.” She gestures around the coffee shop as she speaks. “The layout of the building you’re in, the house you live in—an architect did that. They have artistry skills, and I think it gets overlooked a lot. But I think art is pretty integral to everything that we do. Be it political or day-to-day life.” 

While she hopes her message of equality comes through in her work, Kehm says she’ll be happy if it just makes people smile. “That’s ultimately what I want to come out of it.”


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This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Encounter. 

Encounter Founder

September 7, 2018 by and
Photography by contributed

Encounter Founder

by Tara Spencer

Encounter Magazine recently underwent a pretty major transformation. For some, the product you see now may not resemble the original at all. It shouldn’t. Media has evolved, and Omaha Publications has consistently leveled up as time and progress demands. Encounter has expanded its focus, and now features individuals who represent not just the Old Market neighborhood, but all the burgeoning artistic areas of Omaha. 

Looking at issues of the original The Old Market Encounter, it’s easy to see why Barbara Shaffer felt the need to cover the bustling neighborhood she loved. It was the place for creatives to gather and exchange ideas, resources, and support as they grew their businesses. She felt it was underrepresented in traditional media and wanted to ensure its significance was recognized. 

Shaffer passed away on Sunday, June 3, 2018, at The Nebraska Masonic Home in Plattsmouth. Her contributions to Omaha’s cultural scene were enormous, and Encounter would not exist without her.   

We at Omaha Publications also feel a need to cover the artistic and cultural landscape of an ever-changing Omaha. In our own way, we are carrying on her tradition of giving voice to those who may not otherwise be heard. 

Encounter in its current form is ground zero for Omaha’s emerging artists. Shaffer was the woman who started it all. Without her work on The Old Market Encounter, Omaha’s beloved arts and culture magazine might not be in your hands today.

Her longtime friend, Paula Steenson, recalls here how it all got started.

Who was Barbara Shaffer?

by Paula Steenson

In March 1995, my friend John Prouty from Wessco Graphics introduced me to Barb Shaffer. She was looking for someone to design and produce a new magazine that she would devote to the Old Market. Her plan was to call it The Old Market Encounter. Her goal was to have a publication that would represent all of the small businesses in the Old Market, featuring stories about them and the people moving into what were then uncultivated spaces above and around the Old Market businesses. 

Shaffer’s husband, Cliff, was a writer. He would write pieces such as “Around and About,” dropping tidbits about what was happening—and there was always something happening—in the Old Market. Independent photographers and writers would submit pictures and articles about one of Omaha’s most unusual tourist locations, including some very unique shops
and restaurants. 

The magazine was in all of the downtown businesses, as well as hotels and doctors’ offices. You never knew what was going to be in the publication, but you knew it would be intriguing.

Barb and Cliff lived in a wonderful apartment in The Greenhouse, which overlooked the Central Park Mall, and Barb was always visiting with folks and businesses in the Market to see who was new. She was always happy to feature them in The Old Market Encounter to help them grow their businesses. 

That was what Barb was all about—helping people, businesses, and her downtown community. Besides being involved in the Old Market Business Association, she was also very involved in Downtown Omaha Inc. Along with Joan Baillon, Shaffer brought about the first biennial gala in 1997 at the Embassy Suites Old Market shortly after it opened. There were 750 people in attendance. 

She also was one of the people who started Dickens in the Market, a forerunner to the Holiday Lights Festival. For a special weekend early in December, volunteers dressed in Dickensian garb and walked around caroling. Various performers danced and played instruments while the restaurants served special holiday food.

In early 2004, Barb and Cliff moved to a drier climate for health reasons, and Barb decided to sell the magazine to Todd Lemke, who owns Omaha Publications. She felt that Todd would be able to keep the feeling going that she had started.

Without Barb, the Old Market wouldn’t be the lively location it is now.

Encounter staff members reached out to other longtime friends, some of whom chimed in with their own stories about Barb.

Ron Samuelson—SamFam LLC, former owner M’s Pub 

In this time of the independent woman, Barb Shaffer may well have been the prototype. Self-made entrepreneur, well-educated, and actualized, she excelled in all of the areas life offered her—family, business, the arts, community, and public service. All were benefited by her love

and participation. She was energized to improve, and her handiwork is imprinted all over our

community. Lights in Central Park Mall, Downtown Improvement District, Encounter Magazine,

and Delice Bakery were small samples of her energies.

She was a student of life, a gentle and impassioned teacher who showed unconditional love

as a wife, mother, sister, and friend. Omaha is a better place because of her presence here and, as in all areas of her life, she left us better than she found us. Hers was a life well lived. We miss her.

Jeff Jorgensen—owner of Tannenbaum Christmas Shop

Barb was a co-founder of Delice European Bakery, originally located at 12th & Howard streets.  Perhaps that led to her involvement in Downtown Omaha, Inc., where she served on the board, and Old Market Business Association, where she served on the board and as president. When Barb identified the need to let visitors know about the Old Market, she created The Old Market Encounter and later the Old Market Directory (both now published by Omaha Publications). Barb was appointed to the Downtown Omaha BID Board where she served as chairperson to create an active organization to promote and improve downtown, resulting in the creation of the Omaha Downtown Improvement District Association. Barb was one of the visionaries who conceived of lighting the Gene Leahy Mall during the holidays. Her legacy is the foundation of many of the successes now visible throughout downtown and the Old Market.

Molly Garriott—former writer for The Old Market Encounter

Having perused the pages of The Old Market Encounter, I decided to reach out to Barb with the aim of becoming a freelance writer. I had, maybe, two bylines to my name, but she treated me like a seasoned pro. Barb was graciousness personified. Each year at Christmas, she and Cliff would treat the magazine’s writers and their spouses to dinner at a downtown restaurant. We dined at establishments like Vivace’s and The Flatiron, places a young couple with babies and student loans could ill afford. That dinner was a holiday highlight. I recall the fare and festive atmosphere fondly. But mostly I remember animated conversations, boisterous laughter, and the feeling of camaraderie Barb fostered. Over 20 years later, I am still writing, thanks in large part to my beginning with Barb.


This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of  Encounter. 

Fashion Nomad

August 19, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In the fashion world, often known for inflated egos and shameless self-promotion, it’s easy to forget that not everyone is in it for money and fame. 

Up-and-coming local fashion designer Paige Modlin isn’t buying into those ideals. And, like her clothing, it’s downright refreshing. 

In person, her demeanor is quiet. She is hesitant when speaking about herself and her sentences occasionally trail off. One look at her social media tells a different story, though. When modeling her own clothing or just hanging out with friends, her confidence in herself and her personal style is clear. 

Her style, by the way, is very street. She says she likes to focus on shape and silhouette, though color clearly plays a key role in her designs. But most importantly, she likes to make clothes that people feel comfortable in, no matter their gender. “I definitely design clothes for men and women, but that either gender could wear.” 

She adds that her personal style is “sort of all over the place.” One day, she might be feeling the sporty look, the next she may want to do super preppy. Or maybe she’s just feeling a certain color. 

“I was trying to wear all pink today, but I didn’t really have the jacket for it.”

Modlin says she got interested in fashion as a sophomore at Westside High School, from which she graduated last year. She says it’s “crazy how good the program is” there.

She says she was already interested in clothing and shopping, so she decided she “might as well try” making her own. 

Her mother, Pam Modlin, says Paige is the artsy one out of her five children. She was the one who liked to draw or wanted to play the flute. However, “It wasn’t until high school when she started sewing that she really blossomed on the art scene.”

“I’ve always known I wanted to be an artist, but ever since I started making clothes, I was over painting,” says the 19-year-old Modlin. 

She says she finds inspiration everywhere. For her clothing designs, she especially enjoys searching thrift shops, which she visits at least once a day. And of course, “definitely the internet,” specifically Instagram, where she tends to follow others interested in vintage clothing.  At first it may be difficult to see where that vintage inspiration is represented in her designs, but she says it’s usually in the color palette. “I like the bright, retro jumpsuits.”

Modlin says one of her favorite creators is Belgian fashion designer Raf Simons, which makes sense once you’ve peeped his classic yet contemporary designs. While they both emphasize the structure of a piece, Modlin’s clothing is definitely more colorful. That bit of inspiration stems from her affection for Japanese streetwear and designer Takashi Murakami. 

Her love of fashion also drives her to travel. She recently visited her father in Mexico, and before that she travelled to Europe to “self-study” fashion. She was in France and Italy during fashion week, though she didn’t get to attend the actual shows. But she says she found the street art very inspiring, although she did think the lack of color was odd. 

“All the young kids were wearing black or neutral colors, and I was wearing these bright colors. I stood out so much,” she says. “I have this picture [taken] in Rome of me wearing one of the shirts I made and everyone in the background is wearing a black coat…like I’m some crazy girl.” She adds that the people in Amsterdam were more relatable and “way nicer.” 

Next up on her travel list is Japan. “Streetwear is very big in Japan, and that’s where a lot of my inspo comes from.”

When it comes to the future, Modlin says she will continue to study fashion, and she plans on taking classes at Metropolitan Community College. “They have a lot of fun classes there,” she says. Besides fashion design, she also really enjoys photography. Graphic design is another medium she would like to get into more. Plus, she adds, it would be a good skill to have to fall back on. Not that she plans on falling. 

“I want to be able to make my own brand and sell it, and graphic design would definitely fit in with that.” But for now, where she’ll end up is a mystery. “I don’t know,” she says. “I never know!”


This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Encounter. 

See more on the designer’s instagram instagram/@__unknown.jpg

Big Daddy

July 12, 2018 by
Photography by Dave Weaver, Debra S. Kaplan (provided)

Regular readers of Encounter may wonder what’s going on here. We don’t really do an editor’s letter in this publication. We like to let the stories, artwork, and photography speak for themselves and leave the interpretation up to you, the reader. 

However, this issue is special. As many of you know, we lost our fearless leader, Eric Stoakes, this past February. He had only been back at Omaha Publications for a little over a year, but in that time he helped shape and redefine Encounter into what you hold in your hands now. Edgy, earnest, honest, and always pushing the envelope, it was his dream publication—his dream job. He said as much to his friends and coworkers and we’re glad he was able to find his true niche after decades in this industry.  

In this issue, we pay homage to Big Daddy—our creative and spiritual leader, our conscience, our heart. 

The Lime Punch fashion spread was his idea, his way of celebrating the colorful future of fashion. He had a whole storyline planned out in his head, though he never wrote it down (as was often the case, he enjoyed having his surprises). 

We’ve done our best to stay true to the ideas he did discuss, and we think he would approve. 

You may also have noticed the absence of our special farty unicorn kitty as of late. Derek Joy, our extraordinary designer, has replaced kitty with a simple illustration of red glasses, in honor of the ones Eric would often coordinate his own outfits around. (Kitty’s head will still be floating around, though.)

The future of Encounter now depends on us. Not just the staff here at the magazine, but also with you. We will keep bringing you stories of the up-and-coming artists, musicians, and creative visionaries who are reshaping Omaha’s cultural landscape. We ask that you keep giving us your feedback and send us your story ideas. Seriously. The weirder the better. 

Eric wanted to help develop and engage the artistic community of Omaha. It was his life’s passion. And while it may have been cut short, the work he did was important. His impact on many in the arts community is not easily measured, but I’ve encountered many who say they wouldn’t be where they are today had he not pushed them out of their comfort zones. 

So we will continue his work—creating, developing, and sometimes pushing people out of their comfort zones. 

Stay tuned. And stay weird. 

Tara Spencer, Associate editor of Encounter


This letter was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Encounter.