Tag Archives: Josh Powell

A Space of Their Own

October 30, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Theirs was a passion born from a common frustration framed by a Great Recession America, one that had stricken Omaha with a bounty of empty storefronts and too many starving artists.

So when visual artists Joel Damon and Josh Powell began to liaise the two under the collaborative guise Project Project—a roaming, repurposing art gallery that now has a permanent home in the heart of the Vinton Street Historic District—it was to help those left behind in the local arts community. They had no idea that they’d be transforming the act of showing artwork into an art form all its own.

“I was getting really upset about the level of support for young, emerging artists in the city,” Damon, 32, says in reflecting back on the 2008 epiphany that would eventually launch the initiative. “And so I decided to find some artists who were super rad and put up an exhibition of their work.”

The former curator of the Bemis Underground says one of those artists happened to be Powell, 34, a Myspace friend (or acquaintance in real-life speak) whose artwork caught his eye and whose ethos resonated with his own.

ProjectProject2“While he was setting up his work,” Damon says, “there was this immediate sense of collaboration with other things happening with the show. We just hit it off.”

Most events, Damon recalls, gave local aesthetes the opportunity to appreciate artwork from virtually unknown Omaha-area artists.

“You were also given the chance to go into these vacant, beautiful spaces that you probably never would have had a chance to,” Powell adds. The duo would go on to co-curate a half dozen pop-up art shows in unlikely places across the city over the next half decade before landing a space of their own last year.

The repetitively named Project Project gallery doesn’t stray much from that sentiment: It’s a former alley—about the width of a covered wagon—turned butchery, with a floor that intentionally declines 3 inches on one side so that blood would flow away from work areas. The “horse door,” as Damon jokingly puts it, connects the gallery to a pseudo-atrium, which was once a livery stable.

“It was just going to be another one-night deal,” Damon confesses about the space. “After we thought, ‘Let’s give it a shot next month,’ and then the next month came, and then the next.”

After a year of free rent, the gallery held a $100 art sale last summer to finance their 2015 campaign. Damon says they met their goal in one night after hosting a turnout in the hundreds.

That kind of support, he believes, is a testament to the public’s desire for an art space whose very nature—just like in their pop-up days—is defined by an element of risk in showing “stuff that can’t be sold or stuff that probably wouldn’t sell.”

“This is not a business,” Damon says. “This strains both of our pocketbooks. This strains both of our times with our wives. This is some stupid compulsion. I don’t know what this is, but it’s what we enjoy doing…we enjoy helping other artists.”

Visit projectprojectomaha.com to learn more.


On the Cutting Edge

June 17, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Helga doesn’t drink. Please keep beverages away.” That sign is a gentle reminder for people not to go remotely close to Helga with anything potable.

Helga, however, isn’t a woman strangely averse to hydration; instead, she is a highly sophisticated Trotec SP 1500 flatbed laser machine from Austria, one that can cut and engrave with breathtaking precision and accuracy down to 1,000th of an inch.

The affectionately nicknamed machine is what MTRL Design (pronounced like “material”), located in downtown’s Mastercraft Building, uses to create its distinctive custom chairs, tables, frames, boxes, cutting boards, coasters, signage, touch tablet stands, cell phone holders, puzzles, games and, honestly, just about any other object you might imagine. Helga’s laser can cut through almost anything from wood to acrylic but is also delicate enough to engrave glass, leather, and even paper.

Founded by partners Josh Powell and Nick Mauer in 2012, MTRL Design does more than create products with Helga. The design studio also handles design and creative services, which include brand identity and graphic design. But it’s the partners’ unique creations that frequently generate buzz. That’s because aside from being aesthetically appealing, Powell and Mauer’s custom objects are made from sustainable materials, an approach markedly different from the majority of the manufacturing industry, which uses wood treated with formaldehyde and other chemicals.

Their sustainable material is bamboo from a fair-trade-certified company in China. The bamboo arrives in flat sheets similar to plywood. Bamboo, though, is nothing like plywood. Not only is it an organically sustainable and readily renewable material, it also has a tensile rate stronger than steel and has both anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties. The duo also uses almost no glue and minimal hardware. Rather, the clean cuts make assembly quick and easy by creating interlocking pieces, which are then shipped flat to diminish the carbon footprint even further. “It’s a really holistic approach,” notes Powell.

The design studio has a strong client base that includes a wide variety of businesses such as architectural firms, restaurants, breweries, and bars. For example, the firm created Masonite tree shapes for the Mellow Mushroom restaurant in Lincoln as well as coasters for Plank Seafood Provisions, Secret Penguin, and Cunningham’s Bar in Omaha. MTRL Design additionally creates orders commissioned by individual clients that have included items such as a remote-control airplane and keepsake boxes. Recently an archeological team in Jerusalem even contacted the studio about creating a model of a city dating to 500 B.C.

While it might seem ironic that a cutting-edge contemporary machine is rebuilding an ancient city, it’s indicative of how far-reaching MTRL Design has become. “Everyday someone walks in the door and asks us to come up with something unique,” says Powell. “It’s hard to keep up, and we need to bring on someone else. We’re at a stage now where we need to.”

To make Helga rise to her fullest potential, that’s probably a very good idea.