Tag Archives: London

Lisa Roskens

January 10, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A group of horses first caught Lisa Yanney Roskens’ attention from a picturesque pasture beside her childhood home in Bloomfield Hills, a subdivision near Westroads Mall. Ever since, she has been enamored with horses.

By the time she was 5 years old, her parents, Gail and Michael Yanney, bought her a pony named Taffy. A year later, Roskens began taking Western riding lessons, and by her preteens, she joined Jan Mactier at Ponca Hills Farm and began learning English riding. She rode and competed in equitation (the art of riding) through high school, through her college years at Stanford University, and eventually sold her horse upon returning to Omaha in the early 1990s.

At that point, she began running instead of riding. But her former riding master knew where Roskens’ heart lay.

“Jan called me up one day and said, ‘let’s go for a ride’ and I’ve never gone back,” Roskens says.

Roskens began training again, in earnest, eventually getting back to competition. She rekindled her passion for horses, and in 2009, began looking at bringing the sport to Omaha when she attended the FEI World Cup in Las Vegas, the world’s top equestrian event.

afterhours2“I was a junkie, and I went to see my heroes, and I wanted to see what this top level competition was like,” Roskens says. “I was overwhelmed at the level of horsemen, but I was underwhelmed with the facility, the layout, and how everything was set up, from both a spectator’s perspective and a horseman’s perspective.”

She began to work towards bringing the event to Omaha.

“I found some friends. What does a girl do but get all of her friends together and say, ‘let’s figure out how to solve this problem,’ ” Roskens says lightheartedly.

The friends she brought together included businesspeople, horse people, and marketing and promotions people. She brought onboard Harold Cliff of the Omaha Sports Commission, whom Roskens says was “incredibly helpful.” By 2013, she and her friends watched their sport in their hometown (at the International Omaha), and last year, they won their bid to secure the 2017 World Cup. Omaha’s bid beat out London, Hong Kong, and ’s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands.

“To be honest, I thought the bid was kind of a trial run,” Roskens says. “We threw everything we had at it, but I really thought they’d get to know us, and we’d win for 2018. The entire equestrian community was surprised, and pleased.”

Roskens, who trains on two horses six days a week, frequently rides in the mornings before getting ready for her day job as chairman and CEO of Burlington Capital. While she pondered riding professionally in the past, she appreciates that her business acumen can bring knowledge to this sport.

“It’s easy to get caught up in how things are done and not look at them with innovation and a fresh set of eyes,” Roskens says. “That’s what I can bring to my sport.”

Roskens also credits some advice given to her by her parents for allowing her to keep her hobby as a hobby.

“Back when I was in high school, and I was considering becoming a professional rider, they said, ‘remember, when your hobby becomes your career, it’s no longer voluntary, and it changes the nature of your hobby fundamentally,’” she remembers. 

So while it may seem as though Roskens has two careers, she is happy to continue pursuing riding as a hobby.

“[People who turn hobbies into careers] go at it with this joy, this sense of fun, which is great, but if you don’t know how to balance your books, and you don’t know how to negotiate a lease, you either need to find someone who does, or you need to learn how,” she says.

Roskens and her friends have learned how, and that has enabled them to bring a world-class event to Omaha. When the FEI World Cup rolls into town in April, visitors will find an event that has been set up by a team of disciplined and passionate horsemen ready to welcome (and take on) the world.

Visit omahaworldcup2017.com for more information.

afterhours1

Greg Eklund

October 14, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Omaha’s appeal is simple for Eklund: “There’s a lot of artists and musicians, but it’s still affordable.” He says Omaha is like Portland 30 years ago: “It wasn’t a big town, but it was super cheap, that’s why all the musicians and artists moved there.”

In a previous life, Greg Eklund was pounding out noisy, angst-filled alt-rock anthems—such as “Santa Monica” and “Father of Mine”—for the Grammy-nominated band Everclear.

Eklund is a relatively new resident of Omaha. He moved here in June of 2015 with his two children and wife, Ellie Kevorkian, artistic director of residency programs at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.

He has since enthusiastically embraced the city’s art and culture scene. Meanwhile, his current job involves touring international concert halls as drummer for Le Bonheur, a band fronted by Storm Large, a Portland-based singer with cult-like following.

“My friends (back in Portland) are always telling me ‘what’s in Omaha?’” says a barefoot Eklund sitting on his home’s couch talking about the coolness of Omaha. “I tell them, ‘a ton of stuff.’”

He says Film Streams is high on his list of favorite Omaha haunts. “To be able to take my son to see Willow in the day and then go back and see a new indie film that night is so cool,” says the part-time stay-at-home dad.

Eklund references his list of Omaha highlights against his former home of Portland: “I’m a member of Hi-Fi House, which I’m excited about. Here’s Portland, the hip of the hip, and they don’t have anything like that…oh, and Under the Radar! What Amanda (DeBoer Bartlett) has done with that is incredible.”

Omaha’s appeal is simple for Eklund: “There’s a lot of artists and musicians, but it’s still affordable.” He says Omaha is like Portland 30 years ago: “It wasn’t a big town, but it was super cheap; that’s why all the musicians and artists moved there.”

He moved to Portland in 1988 after graduating from high school. He enrolled in the University of Oregon, which didn’t go well. After three semesters, he was kicked out for poor academic standing. Eklund knew what he wanted to do, and it wasn’t study. Cue the drumroll.

His drumming career first began when his parents bought him a set for Christmas in 1982. The gift was negotiated. They promised to let him play drums after he took piano lessons for two years.

But that initial drum set didn’t come with a cymbal, so he used pizza boxes to keep the beat, mowing lawns until he earned approximately $100 to purchase “the cheapest cymbal I could get.”

His passion and talent bloomed throughout high school. His career-military father moved the family from Florida, to London, to the suburbs of Washington, D.C., where Greg attended Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia. The school boasted a top-notch band and symphony program, with music teachers who performed in the military band.

The young Eklund managed to secure the last chair in the percussion section. Knowing the competitiveness of the school’s music program, he sought extra lessons to improve. He also knew Garwood Whaley, a Juilliard-educated percussionist who wrote several popular method books.

“I just happened to be dating his daughter at the time,” Eklund says. “He took one student a year. Because I was dating his daughter, she prepped me for the audition, and said, ‘don’t tell him you want to play drum set.’ So when he asked, I said I wanted to a symphonic percussionist.”

It was listening to records, however, that gave him the chance to play rock ’n’ roll. In 1994, he joined a band that was about to be signed to Capitol Records. With Everclear, Eklund rode the tidal wave of alt-rock through the 1990s, moving from city to city each night for performances. By 2003, he was ready to slow down.

He played guitar and sang vocals for another band, The Oohlas, began raising his kids with Kevorkian, and evolved from a noisy rocker to keeping beat for a symphonic performer.

“It feels more mature,” Eklund says of his current place in life. “We play in these gorgeous opera houses and beautiful old theaters. Because of her stature, we are taken care of. And the fact that I’m able to do this now, I’m really fortunate.”

Visit stormlarge.com for more information.

Encounter

gregeklund1

Scott Blake

October 10, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Scott Blake looks giddy as he weaves between traffic on 72nd and Pacific streets. He holds a tattered and discolored “now hiring” sign covered by a piece of cardboard—which he calls his “security blanket”—and his dark, disheveled beard frames a mischievous grin. In place of the ragged employment sign stands a provocative work of street art reminiscent of old-fashioned directional street signs. But instead of pointing viewers to local streets or nearby towns, his sign details distances to Benghazi (5,951 miles), Gaza (6,512 miles), and Guantanamo (1,920 miles) in crisp black letters. A three-dimensional star-spangled bomb tops his message like a star on a Christmas tree.

Blake is no stranger to unique and controversial art. Born in Florida in 1976, he first received widespread recognition for his Y2K-inspired barcode art, a project that has become increasingly interactive thanks to the emergence of smartphones and barcode-reading apps. His barcode portraits range from Jesus to Marilyn Monroe, Bruce Lee, and others.

His 9/11 Flipbook project also garnered national attention, which allowed him to donate proceeds to the Twin Towers Orphan Fund, the Red Cross, and other charities. His work has been featured in publications like Adbusters, FHM, and The New York Times, and has been exhibited as far away as London, Paris, and Vienna. His accolades include several Adobe Design Achievement Awards, and a 2009 Omaha Entertainment and Arts Award for Best New Media Artist. But his controversial and covert signpost project is less likely to earn him any official recognition.

The current iteration of the street sign project has been ongoing for about a year. Blake cites two primary sources of inspiration. First, a San Franciscan friend who painted directions to Guantanamo Bay on driftwood. “I get a lot of my ideas from talking with people,” he explains, “but I also go the extra mile—I take it and do this, that, and the other, and make it specifically about Omaha.” Blake initially utilized wood for his own signposts but soon realized that the ubiquitous “we buy houses for cash” signs lining streets and cluttering medians were “like Omaha driftwood” begging to be repurposed.

His second—and more personal—source of inspiration is the iconic signpost from M*A*S*H, the show from the 1970s that features a fictional team of doctors stationed in South Korea during the Korean War. The sign in M*A*S*H points to locations like Boston, San Francisco, and Coney Island, places that represent home for the characters, but Blake’s signposts flip this idea on its head. “I’m already home,” Blake says, “so I want to know where the wars are at—I want to remind people where the boogeyman is.” He also notes that many of the locations have American bases and personnel: “In a way, I actually am pointing to a little piece of America.”

Blake’s process has become part of his daily routine. He takes his signposts with him when he runs errands, and he makes mental notes when he sees “Omaha driftwood” ripe for pilfering. He prefers outdated or illegally placed signs and avoids those that are political, charitable, or artistic in nature. The collected signs are taken to his home studio where they are painted white, cut into arrows, and labeled before being placed into the back of his car to await installment on one of Omaha’s major thoroughfares.

Blake argues that this kind of thought-provoking public art is particularly important when both major presidential candidates treat military intervention as a matter of course. “I consider (our ongoing) wars to be illegal and unjustified and I’m obviously anti-war,” he explains. “There’s no way I’m going to stop the wars; but at the same time, I’m not going to roll over. You can’t be against something—you can’t subvert something—without talking about it.”

Responses to the signposts have been mixed. “Is it weird to think that the bombs are cute?” asks Sarah Johnson, owner of Omaha Bicycle Co. Many locals have expressed confusion over the signposts’ ambiguous nature. An employee of SignIT (a local company that provides the materials for the star-spangled bombs) asked, “Is this a Fourth of July sign?” The conversation about Blake’s public art has even extended to the digital world. Reddit user ZOUG posted that the works are “Not much of a statement if no one understands what they are saying.”

But Blake isn’t too worried about these reactions: “A lot of people have asked me, ‘Are you for the war or are you against it?’ My number one thing is to get people thinking. I’m just reminding people that, whether they’re for or against the wars, these things are happening.” Blake has considered crafting signposts with directions to Boston, Orlando, San Bernardino, and other American cities affected by domestic terrorism and civil unrest, but for now he’s content with his current project.

“I’ll stop when the wars stop.”

Visit barcodeart.com for more information.

Encounter

scottblake1

All Hail Hal France

April 1, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In 1970, when Hal France began his freshman year at the University of Vermont as a football player, the little light that had been flickering above his head of black curls suddenly clicked on in all its megawatt splendor. The epiphany changed the course of his life.

“In just a matter of months, I got completely driven into music and became a different kind of person,” says France, who started piano lessons when he was a boy, in his native northern New Jersey. “I was a jock who went from not playing the piano to practicing intensely every day.”

France never veered from the path he chose all those years ago, but he did broaden it considerably. The young man who became a virtuoso pianist branched out into opera, transforming himself into one of the most sought-after conductors in this country and throughout Europe.

Omahans know him as the artistic director of Opera Omaha from 1995-2005. His responsibilities covered every aspect of a production, from the music to the scenery and costumes. A permanent resident of Omaha since 2003 (after spending eight years flying into Omaha several times a year), France’s many other roles include performer, teacher, coach, executive director of KANEKO, humanitarian, volunteer, mentor, friend, and one of Omaha’s most tireless advocates for all the arts, not just opera.

Hal-France-3

“It’s really important that live music and the classics be continued,” says France, 63. “Whether you like classical music or not, live gatherings of human beings, face to face, is not replaceable.

Sipping black coffee in lieu of his usual drink preference, hot tea, France reflects on his life’s improbable U-turn. “I played football and basketball through high school and all my friends were athletes.” But didn’t the cultural mecca across the river from Jersey draw him? “Yeah, except I was a Yankees fan and went to their games from a young age. The Yankees, Jets, and Mets—that was my culture,” he says with a dimpled grin.

France praises his late parents, both musicians, for patiently allowing him to find his own level. Once he decided on a “purposeful life” in music, he transferred to Northwestern University for a degree in piano performance. His next stop: the prestigious Juilliard Opera Center, followed by a degree in conducting from the Cincinnati Conservatory.

Why opera? The answer may lie in his heritage. “I’m Italian on both sides, and my grandparents spoke Italian,” he says, indicating the family name had been shortened along the way. Music of all kinds, including opera, filled the house daily.

France started out in the orchestra pit as a rehearsal pianist for a small opera company in Colorado and fell in love with “all the excitement and the energy of that collaboration.” He joined other companies and moved from the pit to the podium in a short time, working his way up the conductor ladder with zeal and an unbridled passion “to bring music to life.” He would soon bring life to the music in Omaha.

“I first came to Omaha in the mid-’80s as a guest conductor at the opera,” he recalls in his low, well-modulated voice. At the time, France was paying his dues at the Houston Grand Opera under the tutelage of John DeMain, who functioned simultaneously as Opera Omaha’s music director. “One year John couldn’t come up here, so he sent me. That marked the beginning of my freelance conducting career, setting off on my own.”

Over the next 10 years, the charismatic France brought an insightful, entertaining, and masterful command to each orchestral or operatic production, from Santa Fe to Stockholm, London to St. Louis. But he never forgot Omaha’s level of talent, community involvement, and impressive philanthropy. In 1995, he readily accepted a position with Opera Omaha and built upon its growing national reputation for high artistic quality. Says attorney David Gardels, a longtime opera board member, “Hal instituted long practice and rehearsal sessions. It was very professional. The chorus people loved him.”

And France loves singers, whom he considers smart as well as skilled. More importantly, he respects them. The admiration flows both ways. “There is no one who believes in a person more, or who has pushed me harder as a musician,” says Opera Omaha soprano Tara Cowherd. “He will memorize an entire opera and sing every note. He’s amazingly talented and humble.”

Strands of gray now weave through his black curls, but France still racks up frequent flyer miles. His coming opera engagements include a production with the Hawaii Opera Theater and Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. He’s also teaming with the Omaha Conservatory to present a series of community-based programs about music, while continuing his mentorship of young singers at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Divorced from Grammy-winning soprano Sylvia McNair, France enjoys being in a committed relationship with Judi M. gaiashkibos, executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs. “Being connected to her life, which is so different from mine, is a real blessing,” France says. “I love music, but one becomes a better musician as one becomes more connected.” With no children of his own, he dotes on his nieces and nephews, hoping a light will some day lead them to a life of fulfillment.

Visit operaomaha.org for more information.

Hal-France-2

Stranger in a Strange Land

December 30, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Growing up in London, Stuart Chittenden found himself a bit obsessed with America: its historical complexities, its social turmoil, its pioneering spirit, its glitz and glamor. He read tons of American authors, luxuriating in the majesty of the open road as portrayed in works like John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. He watched Taxi and Mash.

Eventually, Chittenden moved to Omaha, married an American woman (fashion writer Amy Chittenden), and landed probably the most interesting job title ever: chief curiosity officer for David Day Associates. He’s a perennial TEDxOmaha presenter and something of a conversation artist. His consultancy, Squishtalks, offers conversation-based workshops for businesses, organizations, and individuals.

Chittenden’s recent project, “a couple of 830 mile long conversations,” marks his most significant offering to the cultural fabric of our state (so far).

“a couple of 830 mile long conversations” traverses the state’s vast geography to explore the ways in which landscape—physical, historical—informs a sense of community. The effort, one that received funding from Humanities Nebraska/Nebraska Cultural Endowment, Omaha Creative Institute, and several individuals, is part field recording, part personal quest to understand an unfamiliar place.

Last summer, Chittenden packed some pricey mobile audio-recording equipment—on loan from Clete Baker of Studio B—into an aging R.V. and rambled west down highways and gravel roads seeking to capture a representative sample of the voice of Nebraska as it exists in the moment.

By recording unscripted, spontaneous conversations in public (libraries, cafes, sidewalks) he began to discover the feeling of life in Gordon, Chadron, Norfolk, Alliance, Broken Bow, and other places formerly alien to him.    

“I had a sense of what Nebraska could be,” he says. “I’d seen photographs. I’d heard people describe their experiences growing up in smaller towns. I expected to be surprised by some of the beauty in different places, and maybe to find some places to be a little drab—this idea of rural communities sort of collapsing in on themselves.”

That’s pretty much what happened. Some communities emanated vibrancy; others seemed bleak. The prairie’s “very quiet but intimidating beauty” struck him as sublime, most evidently in the lakes and waterways. The Sand Hills, greatly exaggerated by friends and colleagues over the years, did not blow his mind.

“Overwhelmingly, I was warmly received,” he notes. “I was really impressed with the courage of many people to engage with someone who was obviously a stranger. Even those people that didn’t choose to join in the conversation, they were warm.”

Happily, the conversations he recorded dug deeper than weather and the Huskers. “I remember one gentleman, he was in a mobile electric wheelchair. I literally sat on the curb for 90 minutes and chatted with him.”

As for how landscape shapes a community’s self-perception, Chittenden noticed a marked shift the further west he went. The primary difference between eastern and western Nebraska, he contends, has to do with geography’s time-compression effect. The buttes, vast skies, and wagon ruts of western Nebraska seem to shrink the years, creating a visceral connection to history.

That’s not to say the pioneering spirit is dead in Omaha. It simply takes a different form here: the entrepreneurial mindset.

“In Omaha,” Chittenden says, “they don’t look for wagons. They look for Warren.”

Visit 830nebraska.com to listen to stories from the project.

StuartChittendenWeb2

Lauren Garrison

December 11, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Demand for haircuts begins early in Omaha’s up-and-coming Blackstone District. It’s 10 a.m. on a Wednesday, and customers have already begun queuing inside the Surly Chap’s renovated storefront near the intersection of 40th and Farnam streets.

The Surly Chap Barbers offer a traditional barbershop experience—affordable men’s haircuts, shaves, and beard trimming—that have attracted a rapidly growing clientele. They don’t offer reservations. It’s first-come-first-serve only.

So, with obvious need for more manpower, they hired a British fashion model to bolster their crew of tattooed, male barbers with slicked-back hair. Lauren Garrison isn’t a chap, but she is a barber with plenty of sass. It rolls off her lips in a thick British accent that she describes as a “mix between East End and country.

LaurenGarrison2

“Have a seat, darling,” she beckons. I catch a glimpse of tattooed cursive script inching across her chest. Her hair is tied up in an immaculate top knot. She has bright red lipstick, long painted eyebrows and big eyelashes; huge hoop earrings, designer sneakers, and a chic black-and-white outfit inspired by the latest London fashion.

Garrison describes her own style as a little bit of everything: classy, modern, retro; inspired both by English trends and passersby on the street. But with her clippers now readied, she is all about the customer. She asks what I want to do with my hair. Garrison cuts conservatively, then re-trims as needed to ensure satisfaction.

Garrison was born in the British countryside and spent most of her youth in London. Her “mum” helped her get into modeling at age 14. After various gigs, she hit the catwalk of London Fashion Week as a high-schooler. At 18, she narrowly missed the final cut to advance to Britain’s Next Top Model.

Her father’s side of the family hailed from Nebraska, and she had visited before. A Navy man, he relocated to Colorado. Garrison moved to be with him after finishing high school in 2012. Culture shock didn’t fully set in until she later moved to Lincoln.

“Oh my gawwwd,” she says. “I’m out in the sticks!”

Still interested in pursuing a career related to fashion, she decided to study at the College of Hair Design in Lincoln. That’s where she met the Surly Chap Barbers. They were among the many professionals scouting for talent (only to overlook the female trainees, she says). Fate—along with Garrison’s surly attitude—intervened.

“They didn’t pay much attention to us, so I threw a fit.” she explains. “I said ‘Why aren’t there any barber shops interested in talking to me? And my teacher went and told them.” Then, the recruiters came and talked to her. They liked her enough to invite her to a job shadowing session.

“I ended up just loving them,” Garrison says. Soon after graduation she had a job in Omaha. Here Garrison found the pace of life more agreeable, faster than Lincoln but still fairly relaxed. She fell in love with neighborhoods—Blackstone and Benson with their plethora of hip bars—which reminded her of home.

Unfortunately, a day doesn’t pass without unwelcome commentary on her accent, questions about her kinship to the Queen of England, whether she lived in a castle, teasing about the Revolutionary War (she admits history was not her best subject in school), and other “bloody irritating” comments conversely familiar to any Omahan traveling afar, a la “Did you ride a cow to school? Are you a farmer? Etc.”

She misses British food—bangers and mash, curries, fish and chips, full English breakfast—but was pleased to discover elusive British-style Heinz beans in tomato sauce, Ribena, and a sparse selection of overpriced British fare at local groceries. She relies on annual trips back to see her mother to satisfy her homesick yearnings. In the meantime, she has come to appreciate the finer side of American cuisine: fast food, deep-fried Oreos, Twinkies, Gushers, and Fruit Roll-Ups.

I ask what the tattoo on her chest reads.

“Dream like you’ll live forever and live like you’ll die today,” she says.

For now she’s content in Omaha. “If I was home, I wouldn’t have gone to barber school, or met the boys from the shop, or even realized how much I love Omaha,” Garrison says. “I’ll definitely be setting up my nest here for a while.”

That’s good news. My hair grows pretty fast and I’ll need to see her soon for my next haircut.

Visit surlychapbarbers.com to learn more.

LaurenGarrison1