Tag Archives: vibrant

Show Of Hands

February 22, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If you love trips to the museum and trips to the manicurist, Imagine Uhlenbrock is your one-stop shop for a day of art, style, and self-care all rolled into one stunning experience.

Uhlenbrock is the “nail genie” and artist behind Just Imagine Nails. Keratin is her canvas and her work is constantly showing on the hands of happy clients throughout Omaha.

“I started doing my own nails when I was about 4, because I was an only child and it was something I could do for myself,” Uhlenbrock says.

Her interest in nail art grew through middle school and high school, culminating in her first steady nail job at a downtown Omaha salon. It was meant to be her college job, but Uhlenbrock loved the craft so much she launched her own business doing natural, ethical nails at age 19.

For those skeptical that a manicurist can be a “real” artist, one look at Uhlenbrock’s vibrant Instagram portfolio provides ample evidence of her artistry and talent. Intricate, hand-painted designs, patterns, and messages mingle with hand-placed bling. Colors and textures pop, and unique, creative themes inspire the urge to scroll right on down the rabbit hole because no two sets are alike and your eyeballs will want to collect them all.


 “It’s just like commissioning any other piece of art,” Uhlenbrock says. “I always have ideas, so I have clients who just come in and let me do whatever I want every two weeks, or sometimes they come in with a theme or idea in mind. Most of the time it’s a collaborative process and we customize it based on the vision and what they’re feeling like that week.”

This process has resulted in galaxy nails, Vegas- and beach-themed vacation nails, desert sunset nails, snowflake and Christmas nails, Fourth of July “red, white, and bling” nails, Ouija board nails, Netflix and chill nails, ice cream and French fry nails, nails that are geometric, plaid, rainbow, floral, color-blocked, gradient, holographic or chrome, and nails that mimic abstract paintings, among others.

“I take inspiration from everywhere. The print of your dress, the pattern of that chair, the texture of this pillow, someone’s artwork,” Uhlenbrock says.

Then there are the pop culture nails. She’s done sets that honor artists including Eartha Kitt, Prince, Beyoncé, and Frida Kahlo, that appreciate cultural icons ranging from Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson to Grumpy Cat, that recognize the Broadway Hamilton phenomenon, that reference literature from Harry Potter to local author Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park, and that celebrate TV shows from The Golden Girls to The Powerpuff Girls. Her popular annual Halloween special has taken inspiration from The Addams Family, Stranger Things, The X-Files, and Hocus Pocus sets, as well as one of her personal all-time favorites: Michael Jackson “Thriller” nails.

“You can see from my themes that I like weird,” Uhlenbrock says. “I’ll put anything on a nail as long as it’s not problematic.”

Uhlenbrock’s political work is also incredibly compelling. She’s done anti-pipeline nails, Black Lives Matter nails, and nails that read “Go Vote,” among others.

“One of the roles of an artist is to get people to think or to spread certain messages. Nail art is no different than any other art form in that way,” Uhlenbrock says. “That’s how art and social justice can intersect by creating visuals, sounds, or whatever the medium to raise awareness, to educate, or to relieve pain and pressure for the oppressed. So, a lot of what I do is people’s regular self-care.”

In December 2016, Uhlenbrock opened her Hand of Gold Beauty Room space in the Fair Deal Village Marketplace, near 24th and Lake streets. She currently shares the space with two subcontractors, Qween Samone and Ria Gold, who help support the service menu of natural nails, makeup, and braiding. Uhlenbrock enjoys working in the thriving area among neighboring small business owners and she’s committed to using her space to support her peers.

“We support small businesses here,” Uhlenbrock says. “Economic disenfranchisement has been a huge tool of oppression against people of color. So, it’s really important to me as I grow and have my own economic development to reach out and empower others through that as well.”

Uhlenbrock stocks body care products from Lincoln-based Miss Kitty and Her Cats, pieces from Omaha’s Amaral Jewelry, and gets all of her regular polishes from Ginger + Liz, a black woman-owned, vegan-friendly, toxin-free nail lacquer company. She also sells jewelry from her other business, The Bigger the Hoops.

Besides providing an important platform for a network of artists and makers, the petite Hand of Gold Beauty Room just feels like a place you want to be. A plush, amber-colored couch beckons from the pedicure platform that Uhlenbrock and her mother hand-built. The walls are decked with striking work by Lincoln artist Brittany Burton, featuring black-and-white depictions of “thick” women with sparse flashes of green and yellow. Soul music fills the air and large windows let ample natural light stream in.

“Everyone should probably go to a therapist, but not everyone does—some people get their nails done instead,” Uhlenbrock says. “They can come here, have a good conversation, and leave feeling like a million bucks with something good to look at for a couple weeks. It’s a lot easier to feel like you have your shit together when your nails are on point.”

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.

I’ll be me and you be you.

February 26, 2014 by
Photography by Dana Damewood


The last time I saw her, she didn’t look herself. Sure, she’d lost at least 25 pounds, was practically bald, and had taken a beating from radiation, chemo, and surgery. But it really wasn’t that. The fabric and colors were all wrong. Wanda wearing black? A black hoodie and sweatpants. And they did not appear to have come from Anthropologie.

I parked my car, and Wanda waved as she huffed her way up the sidewalk to greet me. She’d just finished her two-block walk for the day. Doctors had removed the entire left lobe of her lung a few weeks prior. Now, she was working to regain her strength.

She gave me a big hug, as always, and we walked up the steps to her mother’s house. Inside, we sat down, and after five minutes her rapid breathing had slowed down a bit. Ten minutes later, the rattle quieted. Her breath was shallow, but it didn’t take long before the conversation went deep. It was clear that cancer had changed her perspective on life. “I don’t know how, but things are going to be different now,” she told me.

She was eager to move back to her own house and get back to making art. She hinted at a few other changes, not knowing exactly what they would be. She wanted to make room in her life for more love—starting with a dog and opening up to wherever else love might show up. She spoke of taking on less responsibility, less struggling against the powers that be. She wanted to travel more—to places where she could breathe easy, places that accepted her and her art.

Wanda’s art was an overflow of her own personality: colorful, boldly feminine, vibrant, out there for the world to see. She often teased my husband, Caleb Coppock, and me about our “process art.” If ours was process, then hers was the presence. While our work was quiet and minimal, hers made a splash. Ours was about noticing the smallest details; her brush had the broadest stroke. You had to look twice at our artwork; with hers, you never looked away—it took up space and ended in exclamation points.
A generous mentor, she was the favorite professor of many University of Nebraska-Omaha art students. A hardworking achiever, she donated her talent, time, and energy to countless committees, exhibits, and other people’s hair-brained ideas (and many of her own). A childless, unmarried 40-something with a million friends, she always showed up.

But there was a loneliness to her that accompanied that joie de vivre. In many ways, Wanda’s very presence was a challenge to our community, and she carried the weight of it. She was brave and buxom, smart and sexy, artist and academic. She was controversial and feminist in a conservative, white, male-dominated region. She was a well-educated, successful black professional living in a racially segregated city known for its “failure to keep and attract educated, upwardly mobile black professionals” (Omaha World-Herald, Jan. 6, 2011).

Being Wanda in Omaha took a lot out of her, probably more than any of us knew. She often mentioned the statistic that black, college-educated women over 40 are the people least likely to marry. She’d make a joke about it, but we all knew she wasn’t really laughing. Let’s be honest, Omaha never fully appreciated the treasure we had in her. Wanda knew that, and she carried it with grace. But even the strongest person can only carry that so long.

To those of us who loved her, Wanda was impossible to resist. Her charm was magnetic: huge smile, funny as hell, she had a special way of connecting with people and finding common interests whether it be ’80s pop songs, scary movies, wine, shoes, or art. And there were always the inside jokes that she’d effortlessly slip into conversation. Every interaction with Wanda spoke loud and clear: “I’ll be me, and you be you.”

Last week, I was shopping the sales at Anthropologie, and a memory surfaced. I had run into Wanda at that same table about a year ago. We’d chatted over the clearanced kitchen items, laughing and pointing out the deals to each other. I bought the mildest set of taupe bowls, and of course, Wanda’s hands were on the brightest in the bunch. I use my bowls every day. I love them, but sometimes I wish I’d chosen something more colorful. Now I hear Wanda saying, “You be you.” Minimal, simple…and taupe. Yep, that’s me!

Back at the house, I began to feel I had stayed too long. She was getting tired, but she walked me outside and gave another big hug as I left.

“Love you, Wanda.”

“Love you, doll.”

“Hey, this might be one of our last nice days this year. You should stay out here for bit—soak up some Vitamin D.”

“Yeah, I think I’m gonna do that.”

And that’s my last picture of her: smiling up at the afternoon, eyes closed, November shining on her face.


Omaha artist Wanda Ewing passed away on Dec. 8, 2013. Daphne is a self-employed writer, creative strategist, and communications director (daphneeck.com). She was the writer for Wanda’s website (wandaewing.com) and owns what is possibly the only cream-colored piece of artwork
that Wanda ever created.