Tag Archives: W. Dale Clark library

Nadia Shinkunas

June 13, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The shapes and forms in many of Nadia Shinkunas’ works have a geometric rigidity about them. To achieve their three-dimensional feel, the angles are sharp and defined. Her career path, on the other hand, is anything but a straight line. 

Born in San Bernardino, California, Shinkunas’ family moved to Iowa when she was 5 years old. She returned to California to study at Riverside City College in 2002. In 2005, she moved to Omaha and took photography classes at Metro Community College. She later studied at the Omaha School of Massage Therapy, and moved to Tulsa in 2008. A year later, she returned to Omaha and considered studying architecture, but instead opted to pursue a field in sculpture. In 2014, she received a Bachelor of Studio Arts at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

Her education isn’t done yet, though. This year, she is pursuing a tattooist apprenticeship at Artists Unbound. 

“I love everything about tattooing,” Shinkunas says from her studio in Council Bluffs. “I always thought it would be a really cool thing for me to do, but I never focused on drawing.” 

On top of the 30 to 40 hours she puts in a week at her apprenticeship, Shinkunas also runs Random Arts (formerly Random Arts Omaha). The group stages pop-up art exhibits each month with several artists participating in each exhibit. 

“The theme is always really loose,” Shinkunas says. “But even if the theme is love, you can still make a piece about anger or hate, because it all connects.” 

One of Random Arts’ exhibits last year, Portrait of a President, was nominated for an Omaha Entertainment and Arts Award for Best Presentation in a Non-Traditional Format.

Shinkunas’ experience with running exhibits began in 2012 when she submitted a piece of work for Benson First Friday. Alex Jochim, director of Benson First Friday, saw her work at one of the events. Soon after, Shinkunas was asked to handle the First Friday events at Jerry’s Bar. 

“I love working with Nadia,” Jochim says. “She’s all about helping artists in the community.” 

Laura Vranes and John McIntyre, two notable art collectors in Omaha, saw one of Shinkunas’ earliest First Friday forays at Jerry’s Bar. Impressed with Shinkunas’ energy and creativity, the couple began working with her on the Random Arts exhibits. McIntyre focused on promotions while Vranes contacted other artists to submit their work.

 “The common thread was to help Omaha artists have a voice—to be seen by more people,” McIntyre says. 

Like many artists, Shinkunas has worked “non-art” jobs to pay the rent. But last year, one of those jobs briefly sidelined her artistic work. While working in the bakery at Costco, Shinkunas began to experience pain in her arm. She went to the doctor, and had two MRIs. She went back to work, and the pain got worse. 

“I was at work, and my left arm just went dead,” Shinkunas says. “It felt like all my bones were being crushed by a huge vice.” 

More doctor visits followed. She was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease. Then more tests showed she didn’t have an auto-immune disease. She left Costco and went on disability, and the pain started lessening. 

“Now, I have no pain at all,” Shinkunas says. 

This July, Shinkunas’ work will be featured as part of an exhibit in the Michael Phipps Gallery, located on the first floor of the W. Dale Clark Main Library. She’ll share the exhibit with two other artists, Joe Addison and Jamie Hardy. In August, her work will be displayed at Petshop in Benson. Between the apprenticeship and the upcoming exhibits, Shinkunas said she had to put Random Arts on hiatus. 

“With everything else going on, I don’t have time,” Shinkunas says, but not before adding with a laugh, “unless someone wants to pay me.”  

Shinkunas does not take a commission for Random Arts. She says she took on the role because she wanted to see how different artists interpret a theme. 

“Solo shows are great, and I love them, but seeing 50 artists together, and their ideas of love or hate is really, really cool,” Shinkunas says.


Visit nadiashinkunas.com to learn more about the artist. 

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

Staircase to a Magical Mural

October 15, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A house hunting expedition 30 years ago, spurred by the needs of their growing family, eventually led Maureen and Jim Waldron to tour a Spanish-style home of ivory stucco on South 56th Street between Farnam and Harney streets in Omaha’s historic Dundee-Happy Hollow neighborhood.

The size and openness of the living room with its honest-to-goodness slate floor—a testament to 1925 architecture—decorative tiles, carved wood, and wrought-iron accents throughout the house, not to mention several bathrooms, appealed to both their aesthetic and practical senses.

But nothing prepared the couple for what they saw when they passed by the dining room and reached the stairs leading to the second floor.

A mural of a cornfield, in shades of green and accented with gold leaf, filled the east wall adjacent to the staircase and followed the wall’s narrow angle upwards. A second mural of a barn and rustic fence covered the entire wall facing the bottom of the stairs. The artist camouflaged the light switch by making it a part of a fence post. Connecting the two oil paintings, there is a continuation of the field along a narrow strip of wall between the ceiling and the frame of a door leading to the kitchen.

Who painted it and when? The Waldrons didn’t know, but they believed only a professional hand could have created something so unique, so vibrant, and so unexpected. Not everyone touring the house that day shared their sentiment.

“Well, this thing is going to have to go in a hurry,” a woman sniffed to her husband, waving her hand dismissively toward the mural.

Maureen remembers closing her eyes and thinking, “Oh please, don’t let this woman get this house. We may not get it, but she doesn’t deserve this house.”

The Waldrons prevailed and so did the painting.

Shortly after moving into their new home, a neighbor, who happened to be an art appraiser, walked across the street and asked Jim and Maureen, “You haven’t touched that mural, have you?”

She had good reason for concern.

The staircase cornfield, the neighbor informed them, was drawn by artist Eugene Kingman. He and his family moved to Omaha in 1946 and lived in the house through the early ’70s, during his tenure as director of the Joslyn Art Museum.

The name Eugene Kingman didn’t ring a bell with either Maureen or Jim. But from that day forward, the couple’s son and daughter, ages 2 and 4 at the time, heard “don’t put your hand on the painting!” every time they climbed the stairway to their rooms.

For the next 24 years, Jim built his law practice and Maureen worked in corporate public relations before co-founding the online ministries program at Creighton University, their alma mater. In 2011, Maureen finally found the time to “Google” Kingman’s name and write letters. She realized that he painted more than just walls in Omaha—her research and perseverance proved a catalyst for a chain of events that still resonates from Omaha to New York City.

Kingman, she discovered, had already won awards as a cartographer, painter, and muralist when (in 1946) then-publisher of The New York Times Arthur Hayes Sulzberger commissioned him to paint a 20-foot-long mural for the newspaper giant’s newly renovated lobby on West 43rd Street in New York City.

That same year, Omaha came calling with a job offer at the Joslyn.

“He asked for—and got—permission from the Joslyn, his new employer, to do the high-profile mural for the Times,” Maureen says. “We have pictures of him painting the mural in the Joslyn. We now believe he painted it in one of the Joslyn’s galleries, not the basement.”

Kingman’s iconic post-war mural, a depiction of the Northern Hemisphere as viewed from space, greeted famous newsmakers and crusty news reporters in the Times lobby for more than 40 years before winding up in storage for another three decades.

With the help of the muralist’s two daughters, Elizabeth Kingman and Mixie Kingman Eddy, Maureen and a group of Omaha friends persuaded the Times to part with the mural. In 2014, a rolled up, dusty, and nicotine-filled canvas arrived in Omaha, donated by the Times to the nonprofit Joslyn Castle Trust. Kingman’s newly restored work now hangs in the W. Dale Clark Library downtown.

Having shined a light on an under-appreciated talent, Maureen, in turn, became enlightened on the origins of the staircase mural.

Kingman, a native of Rhode Island, “fell in love with the Midwest and West when the U.S. Department of the Interior commissioned him to paint seven national parks while he was an undergraduate at Yale,” Maureen says. “He absolutely loved the openness of Nebraska and loved to paint cornfields.”

So when his wife, Betty, lamented that their little daughters were leaving dirty fingerprints on the ivory stucco walls along the staircase, Kingman did what any self-respecting muralist would do: He painted what Mixie would later call “magical cornfields” to hide their fingerprints, thus enabling Mixie and Elizabeth to continue touching the wall—a luxury the Waldron children never had; nor does the next generation.

When the Waldrons’ four-year-old granddaughter recently visited with a little friend, the tot issued a warning of—you guessed it—“don’t put your hand on Nana’s painting!”

Visit eugenekingman.com for more information about the artist.

This article appears in the September/October 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

Wicked Omaha

April 27, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Musty newspapers, photos, archives, public records, presentations, and endless hours of research. Sure, the life of a modern folk historian sounds glamorous, but it’s not all like Raiders of the Lost Ark. In many ways, history is an occupation reserved only for those obsessive truth-seekers disconnected from their place on the space-time continuum.

Local historian, author, teacher, and Glenwood native Ryan Roenfeld has been making history entertaining for nigh on two decades. The 44-year-old nontraditional UNO student describes himself as a “hick-from-the-sticks.” A quasi-Luddite with a passion for the past, he doesn’t have a cell phone but he uses Facebook.

“I don’t know how I got so interested in history,” Roenfeld says. “Most folks see history as dry and dull, but it’s not. It really is—good, bad, or indifferent—the story of why things are the way they are.”

While decrying the modern age, Roenfeld helped popularize one of Omaha’s most frequented social media sites: Chuck Martens’ “Forgotten Omaha” Facebook page.

As one of three administrators, Roenfeld has seen “Forgotten Omaha” grow to more than 45,000 likes over the last year.

“I was surprised at the interest. Omahans didn’t know as much of their history as I thought,” says Roenfeld, who also teaches classes on Omaha history for Metropolitan Community College at Do Space. “History really is the story of us all, and I like telling people their stories.”

A folksy populist with an encyclopedic knowledge of colorful locals and criminals, Roenfeld tells the lesser-known tales of underrepresented populations, colorful characters, and swept-under scandals. He has self-published a dozen books and contributed to many articles on topics ranging from old postcards, railroads, steamboating, and local 19th-century brewers. To date, his most popular book has been Tinhorn Gamblers and Dirty Prostitutes, a colorful history of vice in Council Bluffs, which offers a glimpse at the city’s exploitation of prostitutes in the late 19th century.

“The highlights are always the lowlifes,” Roenfeld says. “People like hearing stories of cowboy shoot-outs in the street. People think the Old West happened in Arizona, but this area was really the archetype for every Wild West trope.”

The popularity of Western depravity was also obvious to Roenfeld’s publisher, The History Press. Roenfeld’s latest book, Wicked Omaha (not to be confused with David Bristow’s book, Dirty, Wicked Town [Omaha], published by Caxton Press in 2000), looks closely at “Hell’s Half-Acre,” Omaha’s red-light district in the 1880s.

Hell’s Half-Acre stretched from the Missouri River to 16th Street and from Douglas to Cuming streets. The city portrayed in Roenfeld’s Wicked Omaha makes all the stereotypes of Deadwood seem trite.

“People don’t realize that anything went in Hell’s Half-Acre,” Roenfeld says. “It was a different Omaha, when the saloons ran all night and strangers were victimized by every scheme going, all right downtown, nothing secret about it. Brothels were illegal, but ran in the open. There was drug addiction, suicide, and systematic exploitation. Prostitutes paid ‘fines’ monthly to keep operating. If they couldn’t pay, the city gave them a few weeks before they were hauled in front of a judge to either pay up or get shut up.”

Wicked Omaha made its debut Thursday, March 9, at the UNO Criss Library’s Read Local Author Showcase. Roenfeld plans to present his book at Omaha’s W. Dale Clark library May 6. The book is sold at The Bookworm, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and elsewhere.

Visit arcadiapublishing.com for more information.

This article appeared in the May/June edition of Omaha Magazine.