Nebraska City

If you’re looking for me, I’m in Nebraska City, NE. I’ll be here all week. This morning I walked around downtown. Everything was closed. Is it because it was Sunday? Is it because it is three degrees outside? I saw a tumbleweed roll across Main Street. A man in a pick-up truck stopped to ask if he could help me. It was a good question. I don’t know, I said.

Departure / Arrival

KIMMEL HARDING NELSON CENTER FOR THE ARTS: I have landed in Nebraska via Portland via Seattle via Kansas City via Omaha and all is finding settle in this immediately quaint little town of only 7K (and it’s kept that same pop. for many decades), Nebraska City, home of Arbor Day (these folks are serious about the well being of the trees) and a whole lot more.

On the first leg of the journey I had a rather peaceful, otherwise uneventful stay, at the Doubletree Hilton (save for their signature cookie and nice workout room) at SeaTac (my first departure from this airport). Flight was perfectly on time. It was off to Kansas City where I was also staying at an even more undescript late 60s/early 70s tower Hilton, though still quite comfy hotel right by the airport. Only thing of mention about this stay was the wonderfully odorous toiletries and the housemade veggie burger w/tossed lemon champagne arugula salad on a toasted wheat cibatta roll and a side of garlic parmesan fries, simply divine and nine bucks! The city was nearly twenty miles from where I was staying, so I rented a vehicle from Avis, and they gave me a Mazda 5 (not necessarily the ‘economy’ car I requested). This burgundy four-seater was super roomy, but drove slightly erratically and with cruise control enabled guzzled more gas. As I zipped in and out of the city (two 40 mile round trips) I managed to thoroughly get lost both at night and in the daylight (mostly the good kinda getting lost). On these circles to Kansas by night my hungry self veered towards a drive-thru Sonic (of all things) for a medium caramel shake, which was oddly priced at $1.61 (and was more like 'supersize’) and served up by a guy was covered in sleeve and neck tattoos and giant earholes - I had arrived.

Kansas City was completely charming, jewel-like with its fountains and thriving downtown, very immediate architecture that speaks loudly of the arts: big buildings (mostly rather newish) dedicated to ballet, theater, and the wonderful Nelson-Atkins Museum (one of the best I’ve ever been to sine the Tate Modern and the Miro Museum) and the much smaller scale Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art among others. KC is also renowned for its BBQ, but as a mostly vegetarian I didn’t really have time to research my options too extensively. Though when I go back I want to try Eden Alley.

Then it was a near 190 mile trek up Route 29 North (about 3 hours) towards Omaha so I could grab a cab (provided by the KHN Center) back about 50 miles to Nebraska City. The open road spoke volumes about the heartland this year. After last years’ pummeling floods, this year it was a devastating drought, and the fields of corn show the definitive crisp weariness that comes with it. It’s a bit off-putting, but the enormous amount of sunflowers sprinkled in and around and about sorta slightly made up for the hardship of the general roadside onlooker.

So, I’ve landed in small town America, and I couldn’t be happier as its most certainly out of place (and time to a lesser extent) and have become more excited to get to work on things. I have a decent studio space all to myself (w/AC!), a suite that is comfy enough with a 'Carrie Bradshaw’-like closet space as one other resident said, a borrowed older Mac laptop (thanks Jenni!), a Brooklyn-based writer roommate, Arielle Angel (who happens to speak Boston-ese!). My fellow residents also include a painter (Jave Yoshimoto), composer (Oren Boneh) and another writer (Jen Bergmark) as well. My first night was filled with Jave’s delicious homemade fruit curry (believe it or not, grapes, bananas and pineapple can work in this format) and other treats as we did somewhat of a makeshift potluck. I brought the champagne, after all a stranger at the airport in Omaha couldn’t bring it on the plane and stopped me in my tracks to ask if I wanted it…sure! It was even better to share and celebrate.

In the studio I will be working on some portraits that will be first advertised in this week’s newspaper. The series will be called ’Straight Face’. These will include head/shoulders shots of local men who belong to various fraternities (Oaks Lodge, Knights of Columbus, tribesmen, etc). This is my first return to portraiture since my series 'docuMENtary’ (circa 1993-98). I’m looking forward to interviewing subjects for this and eventually the work will be presented in installation format. I rode my borrowed dirt bike by their office on Central Avenue today, there’s just a great feel of camaraderie here. As I rode past the driveway the local school was holding band rehearsal right in the street a block away. They are most likely rehearsing for Applejack Festival in a week. It will be fun to see how the townsfolk emerge from their quarters and on to the main streets for this. I also photographed the amazing Timber Bridge right outside Steinhart Park which provided a small but pleasant bike trail for my cruising pleasure. Reportedly there’s a fantastic thrift shop and taxidermist museum (the proprietor is 99yo and still working!). I will report on these and other adventures as the month unfolds. PS: there are no Starbucks or big box stores here, save for a single Walmart a few miles away.

Today, oddly enough, my best bud Chris, while on a big road trip with his wonderful mom, drove through town after visiting Mt. Rushmore and other locales in South Dakota and elsewhere int he past week, on their way to Missouri! It was wonderful to see them and catch-up a little. We went to lunch at The Pantry of Chris’s Cuisine with the residents and my lunch was, get this, $5.88 for two salads (green and pasta) and an iced tea. It was great biking earlier in the day, however the temperature rose to the very high 90’s and it was humid, so it was a sweatfest under that big ball of light. Tomorrow promises about 10-15 degrees cooler and overcast skies - a welcome relief! With my Oregon-based friends we took a sidetrip (17 miles south) to look around Syracuse, NE for ice cream and not much else. We had a fantastic near 90-minute docent tour of the Wildwood Historic Center. This Victorian home (circa 1869) was the highlight of my trip thusfar, the woman who gave the tour was incredibly helpful, warm personality and interactive with us, detailing greatly the period costumes, furnishings and other wares. It reminded me on a smaller scale of Old Sturbridge Village.  And lastly, a quick grocery shopping adventure at Walmart (of all places) - my very first purchase at this corporate supplier of low cost goods to the people. Said goodbye to my friends heading south. And finally had a nice studio visit with director Jenni Brant (have a look) to see her newly remodeled studio and work, great way to complete a sultry evening!

As we move forward tomorrow I will receive a driving tour of the town, and on Thursday we will have an Open Studio for the public as well as a trip to the farmers market. I will keep this summary of events posted with the goings-on at least once weekly as I can. Better get some z’s!