Tag Archives: Jack Becker

Fibers Rooted in Nebraska

June 23, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The world-renowned fiber artist Sheila Hicks never forgot that she started in Nebraska.

“Why am I coming to Nebraska?” says the Hastings native. “I’m coming because I owe it to Nebraska. It gave me so much. Such a feeling of well-being. I had an extended family of grandparents and great aunts, and cousins.”

Hicks says her formal art career, which is “sometimes relegated to the category of craft, sometimes to fine arts,” began taking shape at Yale University School of Art and Architecture, where she studied under Bauhaus artist Josef Albers.

It was a trip to South America, however, that inspired her unique work in textiles.

“Having been given a Fulbright to go to Chile (in 1957-1958), I economized and ended up visiting every single country in South America except Paraguay,” Hicks says by phone interview from her home in Paris. “I found I could go down the West Coast starting in Venezuela. One year later I had missions and tasks to complete; I went all the way down to the southernmost city in the hemisphere. Then I came back up on the east coast. I did a show in Santiago at the National Museum. It was  a great privilege. I did an exhibition in Buenos Aires.”

SheilaHicks2That next year, she came back to Yale and earned her MFA, partly because Albers convinced the faculty that her trip counted as field work. She relocated to Paris in 1964, where she has continued to work for more than 50 years.

Her current art exhibit, on display at Joslyn Art Museum through Sept. 4, will give Omahans a glimpse into Hicks’ unique work.

“We are so delighted to be able to share such a large and important body of work by one of the world’s most exciting and engaging artists,” says Jack Becker, Joslyn Art Museum Executive Director and CEO. “Sheila’s work at present is featured around the globe in Australia, Asia, throughout Europe, and this year, in Omaha.”

“They will never have seen anything like this, the innovative use of materials,” Hicks says. “They are meant to go into the history of our civilization and to earlier civilizations and earlier cultures. That’s why I’ve chosen this medium because people can see textiles historically.”

That innovative use of materials includes using corn husks in her work, a tribute to Nebraska. A concurrent show running in Hangzhou, China, includes shells of things she has eaten, such as seafood. Hicks was particularly excited about this show as Hangzhou has the world’s biggest silk museum.

Textiles, Hicks says, “Also helps with remembering things from other cultures as being reinterpreted and actualized.”

As much as the use of materials, it’s the use of color for which Hicks is known. She once painted her childhood bedroom royal blue with scarlet and orange accents, and has preferred bright colors her whole life.

She feels inspired to work with fibers because they are so intertwined in people’s lives and belongings. But she also enjoys working in many other mediums.

“I don’t consider myself a fiber artist any more than I consider myself a watercolor artist or a black and white photographer,” Hicks says. “I am a maker of things. I love to invent and make things.”

This particular show will impress people with the breadth and depth of the work. Hicks says, “It swims back and forth between painting and sculpture and environment and architecture.”

“I think that we are most excited by the diversity of the work and the remarkable way Sheila employs color and design to engage viewers,” Becker says. “The accompanying catalogue provides a lasting record of the exhibition while advancing the conversation and scholarship around this important artist.”

One thing is for certain. No matter where she goes, she knows her Nebraska roots have helped her feel at home in many places.

“I am up to my ankles in Nebraska,” Hicks says. “Wherever I go and whatever I do, I don’t feel foreign or confused. I am a very well grounded person coming from a Nebraska family of many generations.” 


Urban Oasis

January 9, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Imagine a back-door setting that rivals the headiest expanses of Fontantelle Forest nestled just seconds off busy Center Street. Such a dreamy place does exist and it’s home for two men of the arts—Lester Katz, interior designer with LK Designs and Jack Becker, executive director and chief executive officer of the Joslyn Art Museum.

“It’s like a tree house. There aren’t many views like this,” Becker says. “It’s a great little refuge in the city.”

The duo purchased the home in May 2013. “We got into serious remodeling mode immediately the day after we closed,” says Katz. The five-bedroom Mid-Century Modern home was built and designed in 1968 by Omaha architect Gary Goldstein.

You can’t miss the mounted head of a wildebeest lording over the inviting living room. It’s befitting that his domain is the  “tree house.”  Wildebeests, who are natives of Africa, prefer life among the open woodlands.

The walls are treated with grass cloth in a cozy caramel hue. “It’s warm and it has texture,” says Katz. “In a way, it gives it a dressy look, but also a very relaxed look. I think it fits the room perfectly.”

Katz says he had a vision when he first walked in the house. “I wanted this bright, open feel when you walked in.” He chose a unique porcelain tile for the flooring. “It’s made to look exactly like Calcutta marble. It creates this expanse that you don’t get with a hardwood.”

The newly made bookshelves hold a treasure trove of titles on the subjects of art, architecture, and design. They make for perfect reading to cozy up in front of the linear flame fireplace with their faithful Terrier-mix pooch, Tilly, nestled on a lap.

“We’re mixing things up,” Becker says. “We have some vintage things that we found here and there. This is 1930’s French Deco, there’s an 1820‘s South Carolina sofa. The little tables are original Saarinen,” Becker says.

On a wall opposite the den which houses a fantastic Egyptian Revival chair from the 1960’s hangs Andy Warhol’s original “Cow Wallpaper.” The first in a series of wallpaper Warhol designed from the 1960’s through the 1980’s. “It was cut out and framed,” Katz says. Art dealer Ivan Karp famously said the cows were “super-pastoral” as noted in the book Popism: The Warhol Sixties by Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett.

Katz and Becker keep active by walking the wooded trails in their Oakdale neighborhood. They do a fair amount of travelling, which is their main source of discovery for all of their fabulous furniture finds. They recently visited the dreamscapes of Ravello and Positano in Southern Italy with a stop in zany, hectic Naples.

The duo admits to a shared aesthetic, which makes choosing designs virtually pain-free. “If it’s a problem, it’s because we like so many different things,” says Katz. He mentions the neutral, patterned fabric for the chairs in the dining room. “We went through
so many choices.”

They created some open space by tearing down the passageway between the kitchen and the dining room. Afterward, the dining room needed something special to offset it from the kitchen. A copper border inlaid in the porcelain floor was the perfect solution. “People are pretty surprised by it,” Katz says.

“You want it to age and kind of turn brown, which it is doing,” Becker says. The duo regularly host dinner parties and their guests help with this tarnishing task. “Where people walk on it is where it is aging the most,” he says.

The basement is home base for LK Designs. The large space was the perfect place for an impressive fabric library that contains a dizzying array of textures, hues, and patterns. “It takes a long time to collect all of these,” says Katz, who earned his Interior Design degree ten years ago from Watkins College of Art and Design, located in Nashville.

It is there just outside his workspace that clients can sit on adorably petite 1930s diner chairs from Paris flea markets to discuss their own design dreams with Katz.

Back upstairs in the living room on the coffee table is a tiny metal sign, the type that one would set on their desk. It says “Reproductions” in a cool font, possibly from the 1930’s. It is a fitting little logo for their creatively engineered lifestyle of altering objects and spaces to suit their tastes and collective desires.

“Someone gave it to me,” Becker says. “They bought it at an antique store. I’ve always had it. I just dropped it here.
I don’t know why.”

“I think it fits,” says Katz.

Jack Becker

October 31, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The dapper executive director and chief executive officer of Joslyn Art Museum, Jack Becker, agreed to play a 
rapid-fire game of “Fashion Word Association” for this issue’s Style Shot:

Leisure Suit
“Oh, boy. I think I was 7. Dingy beige. Double-knit polyester, of course. 
Ghastly. Horrible. 
Hey, I thought you promised that 
this would be a friendly interview?”

“Italian Suits. Zegna. 
A magnificent obsession.”

“Paint-splattered, torn, 
20-year-old shorts from The Gap.”


“The windowpane jacket. I get compliments every time I put it on.”

Jack Becker

On Jack—Z Zenga 
cotton velvet jacket with custom Nordstrom Egyptian cotton shirt
In the background—Al Held (American, 1928-2005), Untitled, 1964, acrylic on canvas.

“A certain edge. Fashion forward but age appropriate. Bold, but not too overly aggressive.”

“The Gillette Fusion ProGlide Power Razor. The most advanced blade ever.”

“The spatial juxtaposition of line, form, texture, pattern. How it all works together in a composition. Oh, you mean that. I thought we were still talking about my wardrobe.”

Close-up of clothing

Shown above:
Holland Esquire
 tweed windowpane jacket with suede elbow patches and built-in pocket square, purchased at Becker’s favorite Parisian haberdasher

Jack Victor Italian
 silk and wool slacks

 horsebit suede loafers

Oliver Peoples 

Sarah Joslyn

August 30, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Joslyn Art Museum

Sarah and George Joslyn came to Omaha for the same reasons people do today—job opportunities. Originally from Vermont, they arrived here in 1880. George earned $18 per week as manager of the Western Newspaper Union (WNU); as a new century dawned, he was president of a burgeoning conglomerate. The couple moved comfortably among Omaha’s wealthy and powerful elite and made plans for their dream home, which would become the crown jewel of Omaha’s Gold Coast neighborhood.

The Joslyns’ fabled life ended long ago, and no descendants live in Omaha. Still, their positive influence in our community can be felt by thousands of Omahans: by the artists who found inspiration at Joslyn Art Museum, the children who found homes through the Child Saving Institute, the students who reached their goals at UNO, the fellow church members at First Unitarian, and the strays who found some tender loving care at the Nebraska Humane Society; women and children in dire circumstances, soldiers away from home, and people old and alone—in fact, all of us have inherited the legacy of the Joslyns’ success, ideals, and vision.

“The Joslyns were a power couple,” says Daniel Kiper. “Both had intellect, drive, and ability, and they shared common goals.” Kiper probably knows the Joslyns as well as anyone can who’s never met them. After serving as a docent and board member for the Friends of Joslyn Castle, the Joslyns’ majestic home, he researched and wrote The Joslyns of Lynhurst. “I visited Joslyn Art Museum often as a child,” he says. “I felt I owed a debt to Sarah, who allowed me to see beyond the world I lived in.”

Sarah Joslyn

Portrait of Sarah Joslyn, 1941, oil on canvas, by Leopold Seyffert

Omaha proved to be the right place for the Joslyns, and they’d arrived just when the nascent city was ripe for opportunities. Ambitious, canny, and charming, George expanded and diversified WNU’s niche in newspapers and added properties, investments, and other ventures to his hand. Julie Reilly, executive director of Joslyn Castle Trust, describes George as “the Ted Turner of his day.” In 1893, he purchased a five-and-a-half-acre farm at 39th and Davenport streets. Landscaping began at once, but it would be 10 years before the house was finished. And when it was, the public gave it the name it has been known by ever since: Joslyn Castle.

“The Castle,” house and grounds, was lavished with luxury and reflected the Joslyns’ tastes: trees and shrubs, (many exotic, watered by underground pipes), a swimming pond, a conservatory for their orchid collection, stables for thoroughbred horses, a carriage house, and other outbuildings. The 34-room house, designed by John McDonald in Scottish Baronial Style, cost $250,000 to build, plus $50,000 in furnishings. The house had its own conservatory, music room, gym, bowling alley, even a lavatory for their Saint Bernards’ muddy feet. Sarah’s favorite room was the morning room, with personal photographs on light blue walls and a unique flower-display window.

Kiper says they certainly enjoyed themselves, indulging their interests in art and music, animals, travel, and entertaining. But they took the idea of noblesse oblige seriously: They gave to the community in both money and deed. Kiper cites numerous examples in his book, including their support of the Old People’s Home. Learning that the founder was near death and despaired of reaching her goal of new quarters, the Joslyns visited her with a property deed and $10,000. Once the new home was in operation, Sarah could be found sweeping the floors.

Writer Suzanne Smith Arney with granddaughters Chloe and Kaitlin Smith at Joslyn Art Museum.

Writer Suzanne Smith Arney with granddaughters Chloe and Kaitlin Smith at Joslyn Art Museum.

In Joslyn Art Museum: A Building History, former director Graham Beal includes a history of the Joslyns. “They were an extraordinary couple…who contributed so much to the early social, artistic, and intellectual life of Omaha. In my mind…[I picture Sarah as] a highly intelligent, unpretentious yet sensitive woman.” Beal describes Sarah’s charitable involvement in projects such as opening her home for fundraisers, serving on boards and commissions, and a variety of efforts during World War I. Always there was that combination of public roles and personal response; she did what needed to be done.

Wanda Gottschalk, chief development officer of Child Saving Institute, describes her image of Sarah as “a very, very bright woman who was frustrated by lack of opportunities for women.” In addition to donating $25,000 for a new building, Sarah served on CSI’s board, rocked babies as a member of the Nursery Committee, and invited the children to picnics on her home’s park-like grounds.

“It may have been one of those occasions where she met Violet,” Gottschalk says. In 1897, five-year-old Violet came to live with the Joslyns;  she would become their cherished daughter and the princess of Joslyn Castle. In 1913, seven months after the horrific Easter Sunday tornado devastated Joslyn Castle, Violet was married in the renovated, flower-filled rooms.

After George’s death in 1916, Sarah’s focus became a memorial that would honor her husband, represent his values, and provide a permanent home for the arts. She held fast to his idea that, as their wealth had derived from Omaha, it should, in some form, be returned to the city for the benefit of its citizens. Jack Becker, Joslyn Art Museum’s executive director and CEO, notes, “Sarah Joslyn built the museum as a memorial to her husband and gift to the people of Omaha. She was very clear from the beginning that her wish was for the museum to be enjoyed by as many people as possible, for as long as possible. Sarah lived to see the museum’s first decade, during which time an admission fee was never charged. The policy of free admission continued for another 25 years after her death in 1940, and we are proud to return to it this year.” Free general admission was reinstated in May 2013.

On opening day, Nov. 29, 1931, Sarah gave us not only the Joslyn Art Museum but its future in saying: “If there is any good in it, let it go on and on.”

Joslyn Art Museum Docents

February 25, 2013 by
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.