Tag Archives: Minneapolis

Reggie LeFlore’s Street Art

March 19, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann, artwork images provided by Reggie LeFlore

His portraits may share similarities to the vandalism-tarnished genre, but for LeFlore, his art form is all about transforming communities.

“I love working with organizations and community leaders to create a series of work that’s out in the public,” explains LeFlore, who works primarily in portraiture. “My portrayals can help uplift an otherwise drab space with art.”

LeFlore’s mission started from humble beginnings, including art classes at Benson High School where he would meet his friend Gerard Pefung. After high school, LeFlore’s aspirations to illustrate cartoons and comic books led him to pursue graphic design while Pefung went in a different direction. A chance meeting years later would lead to LeFlore’s first foray into street art.

“I go to a party, and I see this massive indoor mural and Pefung is standing in front of it,” LeFlore reminisces. “I find out that he created it, and I’m flabbergasted. At that moment I decided to take my craft and elevate it by jumping into public art.”

Leflore would pick up an aerosol can for the first time at Pefung’s studio, eventually developing a signature style remixing existing images with his hybrid stencil method. He became acquainted with community art organizers—including folks involved with Benson First Friday—and he started to pay more attention to public art and murals around town. With his desire to showcase his art, LeFlore participated in shows at The Union of Contemporary Arts’ Wanda B. Ewing Gallery in North Omaha and exhibited in Chicago (in a gallery and on the street). But he longed for an international platform.

After admiring constant social media posts about Hong Kong’s street art scene from a Nebraska friend (Craig Schuster) living in the Chinese territory, LeFlore became determined to showcase his art there. With income earned from personal commissions and teaching at The Union of Contemporary Arts, he was able to move toward his goal with a trip to the former British colony.

“I did research and found that I didn’t need to know Cantonese or Mandarin to live in Hong Kong,” LeFlore says. “It made it easy for me to adapt, and I utilized my time there to build opportunities and meet my friend, Hughie [Doherty], who owns a screen printing shop in Stanley, Hong Kong.”

During the day, Stanley is a busy seaside marketplace with a labyrinth of shops selling clothing, trinkets, and toys. When the neighborhood shops close for the night, a vibrant street art scene emerges. Artworks reveal themselves, painted on the shutters of local establishments.

Schuster, his Nebraska expat friend, introduced LeFlore to a local arts nonprofit called HK Walls. HK Walls “aims to create opportunities for local and international artists to showcase their talent in Hong Kong.” The nonprofit helped LeFlore with resources in Hong Kong, introducing him to Doherty and a host of local street artists. From there, LeFlore set off to create his masterpiece amongst the shutters.

A collaboration with Schuster led to “Kowloon Influence,” an art piece depicting Tsang Tsou Choi, a legendary Hong Kong graffiti artist (known as the King of Kowloon) who spent decades scrawling his family’s ancestral claims to Kowloon—a large portion of Hong Kong’s land area—in calligraphy that he painted on public walls throughout the bustling city.

In order to pay homage to the King of Kowloon, LeFlore made stencils of Tsang Tsou Choi’s calligraphy and combined them with a friend’s referenced photographs creating a surreal portrait on a city street.

LeFlore’s recent move to the Twin Cities has immersed him in Minnesota’s own thriving visual arts community. While his girlfriend, Heather Peebles, pursued her Master of Fine Arts at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, he linked up with a comprehensive group of like-minded creatives.

“I still keep my connections in the Big O,” LeFlore says. “I consider Watie White as a mentor, and my cousin, Joanna LeFlore helped me establish my style. The Union for Contemporary Art has also been amazing.”

LeFlore is in the process of pursuing a collaborative project with Omaha photographer Alicia Davis, but here is where street art clashes with the rebel spirit of graffiti. Their project has run into some unexpected roadblocks.

“The graffiti artist in me says to stop asking for permission, come down, and get some stuff up there,” he says. “North Omaha should have a bigger public art presence. The conversation behind street art is what makes it cool, and I’m sure it could help reinvigorate the community.”

Visit ral86.com for Reggie LeFlore’s personal website.

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

 

Beansmith

October 23, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Beansmith Coffee Roasters’ immaculate bar still feels brand-new—it just opened this past spring—but its original wood floors, exposed brick, and some of the design details resonate of a much earlier era. The Old Market building Beansmith occupies at 1213 Harney Street dates to 1880,  says owner Chris Smith. He’s the Smith in the cafe’s name, but another Smith was the building’s namesake.

“Its first owner was George Warren Smith, and it was known as the Smith Building. So we thought it was pretty appropriate that Beansmith should be one of its tenants,” Smith says. “We feel really honored to be part of the heritage of the building.”

The history of Beansmith itself starts 30 years ago, when Smith’s degree in electrical engineering helped pique his curiosity about coffee.

“Engineers in general are curious as to why things work the way they do,” he says. “That ultimately brought me to the point where I wanted to own and operate my own coffee roaster. I had more ability to source exactly what I thought would be great, and those elements—why coffee could taste much better and what’s making that happen—brought me to where I am now.”

Smith’s original foray into entrepreneurship was a drinking water company, which led to providing water for coffee machines, which brought forth the idea of a coffee wholesale business. Smith still operates the La Vista roasting facility he launched in 2006.

“That was a good place to start because it allowed me to see how a variety of different shops and stores operated. It also allowed me to see what worked and what maybe could be better and it allowed me to see how people were reacting to the coffee,” he says. “I had been to Kansas City, Minneapolis, and of course larger cities like San Francisco and Chicago; the coffee scenes in those cities were vibrant…I thought to myself, ‘Gosh, Omaha doesn’t have anything like this—why not?’ So as I became more proficient in roasting and experiencing all these locations and takes on coffee, I really started to develop my vision for what we could do here in this area.”

A coffee bar was the natural evolution of that vision, Smith says. “I realized that for us to really have better controllability of our own brand and who we are, ultimately we needed to be serving people our own coffee. We have some great relationships with a variety of shops that serve our coffee and we want to continue that, but we also felt like the best voice for our own coffee was us actually serving it and presenting it to those people interested in specialty coffee.”

Eventually, Smith hopes Beansmith leads Omaha in becoming known to specialty coffee enthusiasts everywhere.

“We can not only just educate, but share what we know about our coffees…I do see more community coffee shops beginning to spark up that are on that same trek in terms of trying to up their game in terms of quality and knowledgeability,” he says. “I think that’s really good for Omaha because that means Omaha is in for the treat of a thriving specialty coffee community.”

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Shave and a Haircut

October 6, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Erik Anderson was new to Omaha and needed a haircut.

A good one.

The guy had a sales job and needed to look sharp. But who to trust with his precious locks—some chain?

“You never know what kind of haircut you’re going to get,” Anderson says. “You could get a great haircut or walk out of there looking like a doofus. I’m not going to go that route.

“I started going to women’s salons. I knew I could trust them.”

That was two years ago. Now, Anderson gets his ’do done at his own place—Scissors & Scotch, which opened in March at 2835 South 170th Plaza.

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As its name suggests, there’s much more to Scissors & Scotch than just a great cut. The new shop offers an upscale grooming experience featuring traditional barbering services (in plush, old-school barber chairs) and modern spa treatments: steamed towels; hot lather neck shaves; scalp, neck, shoulder, and hand massages; paraffin hand dips; facial and skin services; colorings…even nose waxings. There’s a shoe shine station on Thursdays. And full body massages are on the way.

All for dudes.

Oh, yeah, and when customers are done, one of five complimentary hand-crafted whiskey cocktails await them in a private lounge.

“There’s nothing like this right now,” Anderson says. “I would put it up against any place in the country.

“It’s not just a haircut at Scissors & Scotch, it’s an experience. We haven’t had one person come back and say, ‘That was terrible.’ Most guys are like, ‘Wow, that was awesome.’”

Anderson didn’t do it all alone. He’s equal partners with longtime friend Sean Finley, whom he grew up with in Prairie Village, Kansas, and Tanner Wiles, a friend he met at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where Anderson played baseball before earning his degree in 2011.

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Anderson later worked for Federated Insurance, which moved him from Minneapolis to Omaha in April 2013. That’s when he first went looking for a haircut. While researching his options, Anderson saw that men’s grooming had become the fastest growing part of the beauty industry.

“That really intrigued me and I got really excited about it.”

Why not open his own place? Anderson brought that idea to Finley and Wiles one night at a bar in early 2014. Not one of them had any experience in the grooming industry but the trio soon discussed the idea by group text message. Then they met regularly, working on documents and video conferencing via Google Hangouts. Wiles worked in sales at Ambulatory Care in Kansas City; Finley completed his law degree in Columbia, Missouri (he’s now a corporate attorney at Husch Blackwell in Kansas City).

They hammered out the concept of Scissors & Scotch, leveraged whatever assets they possessed at such tender ages (Finley and Wiles are 27, Anderson 26), and got an SBA loan. In August 2014 they signed a lease at Shops of Legacy. This March, they opened with nine employees, not counting themselves.

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Response exceeded expectations. Six weeks after opening, Scissors & Scotch averaged 80 new clients per week and about 30 haircuts a day. More than 60 percent of the customers opted for the $52, “15-year service” (as in the age of fine Scotch). Its membership program—the Scotch-inspired 10-, 15- and 25-year packages with escalating benefits at each level—was expected to generate 100 sales the first year. Scissors & Scotch sold 90 the first month.

“It’s really encouraging,” Anderson says. “Each week we’ve done more haircuts than the previous week since we opened.”

And all of it by word-of-mouth advertising (though Scissors & Scotch recently started advertising on AM 590).

“I’ve had a lot of guys say, ‘This is Omaha, Nebraska, right? This is something I expect to see in a Chicago or a New York or a Dallas.’”

Thanks to Anderson, Omaha it is.

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