Beautiful. That’s the only word I can use to describe the past weekend at Gateway to the Arts. Beautiful artwork, beautiful connections, beautiful people of all walks of life. I was left speechless on Saturday as I said goodbye to the first guest artist, Nicoleh Radenahmad, and his daughter Anusana. As I closed up shop, I felt like sitting in the middle of the space and crying. I was overwhelmed with emotion. It had been amazingly beautiful to have Nick share his work with the community and to personally spend time with him! Though quiet at first, he opened up mid afternoon and we shared stories and joked around. I have made some life-long friends!
Watching the community respond to Nick’s work was fascinating. Because Nick is a visitor to the U.S. he brings a different way of portraying the city, both public and residential areas. People excitedly pointed out paintings of places they knew, like a bridge in Taylor Park, or a residential street they lived on. As a young artist friend said, “He views our city objectively.” And I would add beautifully.
The space saw visitors all day Friday and at the First Friday. I’m so thankful for the support of the Lincoln Arts Council by showing up at the reception and meeting Nick and his daughter. Nick had visitors and even sold a painting! I was so happy for him. Friday, I finished up the rose vine I had set aside a couple weeks ago and then moved on to trying to make a water lily for the two gals that periodically show up to make flowers. By the end of the day Saturday I had it down! Or at least am on my way there.
Saturday brought beautiful relationship building opportunities and conversations with Nick’s family including his son-in-law. I am honored when I have the opportunity to hear about someone’s story and circumstances. Sometimes, that leads to art making, sharing, or giving. I am reminded, as I look back on last weekend, that every person carries stuff with them – deep stuff-- when they walk into the space and I just hope that when they leave they sense peace and possibility. Maybe they can’t explain what they encounter, maybe they can, but I hope people do not leave this space the same as when they came in!
So another weekend in the history books and more ahead of me – onward and forward in this journey.
Nebraska's been windy the past couple months and it seems to mimic the movement of my life since mid-January when it became official that I would be the first Artist-In-Residence in a partnership between Gateway Mall and the Lincoln Arts Council. I tell people that I've tried to stay under the radar with organizations for the past several years and somehow the arts council found me as they reached out to the mall in an effort to bring art and artists to the space. Robert Goldberg, the Outreach coordinator for LAC, contacted Jennifer, the leasing agent at Gateway and soon Robert was told the artist the mall works with was none other than me. Yes, I've partnered with Gateway on numerous occasions, but to have them call me their "go to" I was above honored. So, Robert reached out and eventually asked me what it would look like to be an artist in residence for six months and what I would need to be paid to create a project while there. SO, I spent a good many of my morning walks pondering what to propose and came up with building a paper garden. I have this strange need to create art that requires hundreds of pieces to complete.....so why not a garden with hundreds of handmade paper flowers. The proposal also contained a collaborative component with the public where in they are invited to create flowers to help it "grow." AND sitting where I am, almost a month into the project, I will definitely need everyone's help to make this garden a reality!
We began working through the details and by March we were ready to prepare the facade of the chosen space and began setting up for an April Grand Opening. I was excited and a bit nervous at the idea of being relegated to a weekly Friday / Saturday schedule in the space we entitled "Gateway to the Arts." But work moved forward as I gave a week and a half to painting the facade and the final week to setting the gallery / studio space.
On April 1, at 12:30 pm, we opened, and the day was filled with curious folks. The space selected for Gateway to the Arts was none other than the entrance space to a restaurant called the Tilted Kilt which had closed down some 6+ years prior and had since had most of its space retrofitted for other stores. Nothing but storage occupied this unit until now and people were naturally excited and interested to see what was up. I greeted so many amazing people that day. Some had watched me paint the facade and came to say hi and look at my art on the walls, others had seen the many Facebook posts about the opening and came to look around. I was overwhelmed by the interest and two weeks after that day with a hugely successful first First Friday / Grand Opening I wrote:
Reflecting on the grand opening weekend, I realized that throughout the day on Friday and into Saturday, I had been blessed with the support of someone from every area in my life over the past 20 years plus! Cousins, in-laws, siblings, neighbors, UNL Art college classmates, co-workers from Hobby Lobby and Nebraska Public Television, bible study group members, mall walkers, and connections to organizations I had the honor of being part of. New people came in to look around and I even connected with a few ladies who participated in The Breakthrough last spring! Stunned by the pockets of my life represented, I couldn’t help but be thankful, humbled, and inspired! Humbled by the privilege to be part of these communities over the years. Blessed by the staff of Gateway Mall and Lincoln Arts Council, I can only pray that the next six months will be a reflection of community and connection. I always aim for relationship building when I place art in a space. Art can be a catalyst of hope and open the door to conversation.
I’ve reflected on my art this week as well. I try not to compare my work with others, but sometimes the temptation to do so creeps in. It leaves me wondering how I fit into the grand scheme of the world of art. Contemplating on my corner of a market hell bent on angst, inner turmoil, social issues, and the like, I came to the conclusion, I have but one thing to offer – hope. Not only through the art, but through conversation and connection. To the art critic, my art may not fit in current trends, and I’m ok with that. After all, VanGogh, who worked during the age of Impressionism, never really fit into that genre, instead he paved his own path. I can only hope that in the same way, my art can stand on its own going counter to culture and bring joy, good memories, and healing to those who encounter and participate in the creation of it.
And so, here we are the last weekend in April and ready to embark on a new month with new possibilities for Gateway to the Arts as May's First Friday will celebrate the work of Nicoleh Radenahmad (or as he says "simply Nick") from Thailand! He came into the space one of the first weekends and I knew right away I had something to offer him! I look forward to seeing his work alongside mine this next weekend.
As for my May exhibit, I'm pulling out work that I've made over the years in an attempt to process difficult circumstances. Though much of my work IS hope-filled and about beauty I felt it was important to show some of the work I often keep to myself. The more vulnerable stuff. The pieces I'm not so sure I accomplished what I wanted to say, but those in which the process was the important part. At this moment, I'm nervous to share those, but am excited about the conversations this work will create! I'm not sure if I'll keep the work up all month or just the first weekend, we'll see how it goes.
What can I say, life, like Nebraska's weather, changes in an instant and sometimes the wind takes us where we never thought possible. So I'm embracing this project and the months of Fridays and Saturdays ahead and as the Garden of Possibilities grows, so will I.
So I sit here to type finished. Sign, sealed, done! The mural project: Some Bigger None Better officially closed. I don't know all that I've learned from this incredible opportunity just yet, but I am sure that in the coming months i will process many things. It was good to be back for the three weeks, it was good to see a small town still thriving and people enjoying their lived there. It was good to see old friends and meet new ones. It was good to push myself physically to work 8-10 hour days painting. It was good to wrestle with painting mistakes laid bare for the public to see. It was good to stay with my parents and chat about life on a more regular basis. It was good for my family to live without me for a few days at a time to understand my role as a mom. It was good for me, for us. It was good.
Now I sit here, done. All things wrapped up and supplies put away. And in the done I'm trying to celebrate, drink in the experience and ward off my tendency to move on to thing next. So I'll sit here, outside (cause after three weeks outside, I can't stay in) and breath, reflect, and rejoice. Later will I process more deeply.
So to end the mural project blogs, I wanted to share some thoughts I typed out last Friday night that never got posted to a blog. I was exhausted that evening, didn't think any of my ramblings made sense, and I wanted to take a picture of the sign where the some bigger, none better saying came from so those who aren't from Henderson understood my thoughts. So here it is...
Some Bigger, None Better. (10-18-2019 around 10 pm)
As I’ve met with students this week many of them have asked about the saying on the center of the mural and I explained that it came from a billboard sign that used to stand just outside of the north end of Henderson. When I created the sketch for the mural that sign was nowhere to be seen and I wanted to pay homage to that piece of the past. Now that sign which inspired the mural resides at Kroeker Grain and can be seen from the mural sight when looking west.
As I painted those words today, I reflected on the meaning of the words in greater detail. I guess in some way those words were my welcome wagon every time I drove in to town from the interstate. If I was coming home through Henderson, I looked for that sign - it signified a journey was over, I was home. But this wasn’t something I could verbalize or ever even cared too, it was just something I was drawn to time and time again. As I’ve talked with students and others from town over this past week in particular I am reminded of what it is like to be privileged enough to grow up in a small town in Nebraska. These places have a strong core that bind the people of the area together so that no matter where they are, what year they graduated or lived in the town, they have an instantaneous connection. I’m even experienced this on a larger scale as I meet people from the same region I’m from, having graduated from schools in a similar conference for sports and drama.
What is interesting to me, are the relationships that surface over the years. Some people move away while others stay. Some swear they will never return and are now raising their kids in a house near where they grew up themselves. Some will only return to visit, others knew they wanted to be nowhere else. Yet no matter what describes the person, they are still part of that community regardless. They still have part of their story written in that place. And that becomes the common thread.
I think of these things as people stop to talk with me that I remember as a child or young adult. I think of the stories being written in the lives of school kids and how they will see this part of their lives. I think of this as old friends pause at the mural to chat and others who I only knew as my brother’s friends or “those older kids in school or 4-H club” have taken time out of the day to share a word of encouragement or say hello.
It is over now, done and as I left Wednesday afternoon Connie (my point person) asked if painting and being in town made me want to move back. I responded sort of so so. In one aspect I'd love to move back and engage in the small town life complete with country living and on the other, I know God has Jason, the kids, and I in Lincoln for a reason. And until He would move us from this place, this is where we will stay. THANKS ALL for following along on this journey, sharing it is what makes it special for me!
Until the next project or the next blog -- thanks and see you around.
All but the outline of the yellow and the words some bigger none better need black paint after today. Maybe the end is in sight, maybe there will be more “touching up” than I anticipate but being this far on the mural I am in a state of awe. It is hard to believe this process, which began 2 years ago is nearing completion and yet I don’t feel like I’m that close to being done. I am in awe with how beautiful the weather has been and how the days available to work have fit so perfectly into life. I cannot help but believe and know deep within me that this whole process has worked out exactly as it was supposed to. Nothing that looked like a hiccup from the outside was a snag or road block. The timing of every step of this process came at just the right moment in my life, personally, to teach or show me something. And as I shared with my parents and boys this evening, being in Henderson this many days in a row during harvest is something I haven’t experienced since I was in high school and it looks different through my current lens. I notice so much more like the color. There are familiar sounds and smells that make me smile or transport me to a memory. Then there is the crispness of the air each morning. And every day as I head back in to town to work, I get excited to see how much of the harvest has come in from the day before.
It reminds me that in the rhythm of our daily lives it is so easy to miss the moments or want to rush through them for the next thing. It is easy to miss the gifts, beauty, and joy. As an artist, I hope that when people look at the work I create, they experience something that causes them to stop, take in the moment, enjoy, smile, and leave a little bit different. Maybe they have a question or another has been resolved. Maybe they are challenged or just find themselves happier. I have no control over the response to the art, I can only make with my hands and trust with my heart that God will do His thing through each offering.
So today, I end another day with a little more to process mentally and so much more to be thankful for. I am different for having spent the past two weeks working in Henderson and we’ll see how much more the work spills in to the next week and what other things will be revealed.
Another day of painting black lines and chatting with students from Heartland Community School. Today is almost a blur. As I played back the time-lapse video this evening, I was stunned by how much work was accomplished in five short hours. An answer to my prayer this morning. The day started out a bit chilly so I met with the first class of students eager to learn about the mural and then proceeded to clean up some scaffolding I had around from when I projected the design on the wall. Then I headed to my dad’s gallery and finished up some waxes so they could go to the foundry. By the time I was done with that, it was just barely warm enough to start painting again. It only took a few lengths of a line to get in the groove once again and work was underway. Things just moved along smoothly and somehow 5:00 pm rolled around and I packed things up and headed out of Henderson to spend a night at home with my family before coming back out tomorrow. Words describing today: smooth, calm, peaceful, full of thanks, impressed, amazed, steady, full of thought . . . I am once again thankful for my husband and his willingness to be flexible with my schedule today as I stayed 2 hours longer than I had originally planned due to the morning starting so coldly. I’m thankful for the time with my parents as I’ve stayed there overnight many nights during this process. And thankful for the encouraging chats and conversations with the kids, many who hollered out a hello as they headed home from school. I look forward to working on the wall again tomorrow.
What’s more fun than starting the day in the country, walking down that dirt road I walked so often as a kid, taking in the sunrise and revisiting the fields I saw last week still ripe with harvest now half picked? A gorgeous sunrise was almost out done by an equally amazing sunset this evening and I am amazed at the day and the faithfulness of God through the wind and colder temps.
I’m overjoyed at the response of the kids to the mural and their eagerness to ask questions and learn. My prayer to enjoy their visits today was answered from the very first one where I engaged in some deeper, meaningful, contemplative discussions about art and the context of the mural in a small rural town. A town which isn’t used to seeing abstract, public artwork and as one student said “work with so much color.” I can’t help but think of my thought this morning about my high school English teacher and our study my sophomore year on something called our “sense of place.” I was thankful for those lessons and that unit (though I’m not sure I was at the time). I learned the history of where I lived, was from, and who was part of the context of my home town on the prairies of Nebraska. I don’t know if I really knew the gravity of learning about and knowing this though, maybe not even till this morning, as I verbalized my thankfulness for my childhood home. As I talked with students, who do not yet appreciate the roots they are receiving growing up in Henderson, I thought again of “sense of place” and how knowing it helps one respect the work of others in the past and guides one through opportunities to gently push and challenge others as time progresses. I told the students today that when I start a piece of public art somewhere I find out about the place first and learn about it. I ask for themes from those who work, live or congregate there and use what I discover in the designs. In a way, I’m finding out the “sense of place” of the place and its people. It caused me to recall how that is what happened when I was asked to make sketches for the mural. I met with the council and others from the community as I knew Henderson had changed since I had lived there almost 20 years prior. It was interesting and exciting to learn how a new generation of men and women were taking pride in the rural community still so dear to me.
Today I learned so much more about the young residences of Henderson. All of them so excited about the artwork and watching the process of it going up. During one conversation with the high school students, we discussed how many murals go up in cities and conversely how few are in rural communities. As we talked, I realized how unique and special this opportunity really is in and of itself. And I am thankful for the chance to be part of it and the privilege of meeting the students and teachers learning and working at Heartland Community School.
I am thankful again for the people who visit the mural and check out the progress hollering out encouraging words as they pass by. I’m thankful for conversations with former classmates and chats with others I never really talked to as a young person. A huge smile is how I end this day. Happy to have stayed on the scaffolding. Relieved I haven’t dropped a paint brush or a bucket of paint --- yet. And pleased with the slow, steady process of painting black lines on the design’s “grid” to enhance the colors and word hidden within.
I’ll end this blog with this thought: One second grader asked me why I make pretty things. I responded with something like I was created to do this. That is one hundred percent the truth. God made me to make things for His reasons and purposes and I am reminded that part of seeing Him honored, for me, is helping others in their journey to know who they are created for and what they are wired to do.
It just happened to be one of THOSE days. Things didn't go as anticipated and something inside just felt off a good portion of the day.
It all began with my "normal" routine at home. I got up, got dressed, prepped lunches for everyone, ate breakfast, took my youngest to orchestra, walked the dog, etc. and then I loaded the car and headed to Henderson to begin week 2 of the Some Bigger None Better mural. I pulled in to town just a bit before 11 am, which is later than I wished, but due to cold temps this morning, I would not have been able to work anyway. I prepped everything and took it over to the wall and started painting. As I began, I wrestled internally. Not over anything in particular, but I was unsettled. The first two tones of red went on just fine through the nerves or whatever was going on inside. Then things started to unravel. I mixed up some paint ... Pepto pink - maybe a shade darker and started painting even though I wasn't sold on the color. I kept feeling a push to stop painting that color and change it, but that would take more time and I thought it'd be ok so I painted a little more. The feeling got stronger -- wrong color... it needs to change. This happened a couple of times and finally I heeded, mixed a new color, which I was way happier with, and proceeded to change the color. Changing a color requires waiting for the paint to dry, painting gesso (or primer) over the color, waiting for that to dry and THEN paint on the color desired. So as I waited, I worked on the rest of the red and was able to finish it and somewhere in there God settled my heart. The challenges of the day kept coming, but my focus was different.
It is interesting how the journey of making a change on the mural paralleled the transformation process of my focus. There were moments of revelation that something needed to be different. The waiting for paint to dry was like waiting for the calm to come. Then there were times of listening to discover what adjustments to make. And more waiting -- waiting for the shift in my focus -- waiting and trusting for God to do His thing. And finally, a transition and resolution to my attitude and to the work.
The challenges continued the rest of the day and finally at 7 pm I decided it was time to walk away for the night. My goal today was to get some of the black lines started and ultimately have a solid idea of how the lines would go on and what they would look like. I did reach that goal despite the hiccups I encountered and I chuckle at that and wonder why the tense, internal twisting of the morning. Maybe just so I could learn, through experience and metaphor, what is said in Romans 12:2 ...but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing, and perfect. (NLT version)
Oh and by the way: that just so happened to be the verse I began my day with this morning.
he mural moves right along after some nervous energy started my day. Driving back to Henderson from my evening at home in Lincoln, coupled with noticing my need to make a few minor adjustments to the mural, led to my anxious push to get to work this morning. As I drove to Henderson, passing through some rain, I had to keep reminding myself to be flexible and let the day unfold as it was meant to. I knew the weather was going to change tonight on to tomorrow, but I didn't know how quickly rain and temps would hold. When the unknown comes up in my life like that, I struggle to let go and trust God with my day and tend to get a little anxious and try and work too quickly. BUT somewhere in the first few strokes of painting green paint on the upper third of the mural, my pace slowed and I remembered to ask God for time. A number of years ago, when I was working on a series from the Book of Psalms, I needed to ask God to provide time to work because my sons were young (three and one). What I learned through asking and receiving was that God can extend time. See in those nine months of working, I finished 150+ paintings! How? The only thing I can say is God is not limited by our time. He can extend it if He so chooses. So I asked for time today. Time without rain. Moments without wind. Time to listen and be open to who He had for me to encounter or reach out to today. And He answered in HUGE ways. I completed the green paint and started on the red until mist ended my work around 5:30 pm. I was only done with the upper portion of green at 3 pm! The wind shifted and I was able to safely work on the scaffolding without fear of being blown off. Without the wind, my painting accuracy was stellar! Then to top it off, God brought to mind how two dots might be connected. These two dots were two people requesting my help with art questions and God showed my one may just be the answer to the other. We'll wait and see how that plays out! I marvel at how God speaks to me through the process of creating works of art. He often uses the journey to show me how He delights in me, reveals areas of my life I need to surrender, and triggers me to think of people who I need I to pray for or reach out to.
So I end my day so thankful. Thankful for energy and strength to climb the scaffolding and move it around. Thankful for good weather holding out as long as it did, and for a visually incredible drive out to Henderson this morning. There is something I love in the colors of storm clouds off set by those of harvest. Thankful for people who are interested in the process of the mural being created and their encouragement. Thankful for the opportunity and freedom to being doing what I was made to do - make art and hopefully bring this world a little beauty and joy.
Normally green, but today, a great start to the work on Henderson's Some Bigger, None Better mural. I started working this morning around 10 am as it was a chilly 42 degrees fahrenheit this morning. It's amazing how thick a projector makes a single thin line when a drawing is enlarged to several times, and because of this, I had to do a few minor changes to the mural in order to make painting easier. I found a few things I missed, some wonky lines that needed to be straightened, and something that was completely left out in the initial sketching phase! Nothing changed drastically from the original design, just a few lines that needed adding in order for shapes to line up. So once I had straightened out the rectangular box on the wall, I began painting the yellow. I had been contemplating what color to start with and this is where I landed. And as I painted I remembered my propensity to drop paint below the current place I am working --- SO with painting yellow right in the middle of the wall, now I have to be extra careful so I won't have too much to fix later. Truth be told - I already have a spot of blue on the yellow from painting this afternoon. Guess I'll figure that one out tomorrow
Around 1:30 pm I finished up the yellow, took a break, and then went back to work, this time correcting some lines under the rectangle so I could begin the blue paint. I worked steadily on painting from 3 to 7 pm and completed 2 of the 4 blue circles and started a 3rd. I would say rate is going about what I expected.
I'm doing my best to stay in the moment and not move ahead of myself or go through this process too quickly. I have a tendency to get "rammy" (pushy) and ignore my artistic instincts and my training to work with integrity to produce something of quality, so I am slowing myself down and staying in the moment .... listening and then acting accordingly.
I had a few visitors today. Everyone is very encouraging and excited to see the process and for that I am thankful. There is not judgement or criticism .. yet. Oh except one gentleman who wanted to know who I was and who authorized me painting on the wall. Which was a great opportunity to share that the abstract design was one of eight I created and one of four that were put before the community in July 2018 to vote on. When the votes were tallied, this design won and I was excited to get started but God had other plans. The project stalled due to the wall needing repair and then the COOP (the mural is on their building) was bought out by CVA and no one knew if they'd want to go through with the mural. BUT then just a month and a half ago, while working on painting cups for the Gateway God Big Red light bright wall, I received word the mural was a go and now I'm working on it between iterations of the wall at the mall.
I'm thankful for encouraging words, great weather, and an amazing husband who is holding down the fort at home with our three boys who are 15, 13, and 10. I'm also thankful for my mom and dad who are letting me crash at their house some nights this week so I can use all the good weather and daylight for painting. I'm thankful for this opportunity to share my gift with Henderson and for Connie Brown and all her work to make this project fly! I'm doing what I'm made to do and loving every minute of walking this journey.
Keep following along with me.
Ann has worked as a professional artist since 2006. She currently works on her own studio artwork as well as large, commercial works and with other artists in any way she can.