Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Stumbling Upon Art in the Heartland

Bruning Yellow, 2010

By far the biggest surprise of my brief foray into Omaha’s industrial demimonde was the discovery of the Hot Shops Art Center. Located in an old Serta mattress factory, the Center hosts a variety of artists and galleries. The most conspicuous of these has to be Leslie Bruning’s sculpture studio. Bruning’s work is all up and down the adjacent street, bringing whimsical color and shapes into an otherwise linear landscape. You can’t help but smile at it. Bruning’s primary medium is steel. But in the side yard of his studio is littered with finished and unfinished pieces, including a cast iron tree and the two figures shown below.

Bruning Anguish, 2010

Bruning - If I Had a Hammer, 2010

Bruning Studio Entrance, 2010

You can learn more about Leslie Bruning and see more of his work here.

While I was photographing some of Bruning’s work, Jerry Neal approached me and offered me the card shown below. I’d never heard of Jerry before, but gather he’s one of those accomplished artists who's taken some hard knocks and never been heard of. I only met him because a kind do-gooder lady printed up these cards for Jerry to pass and try to raise money so that he can do a portrait of a local Omaha jazz legend.

Jerry Neal, 2010

By the way, the photo at the top is a good example of the kinds of pictures I’m sometimes drawn to take. They have no relationship to their environment. They’re just shapes. I’ve never felt I had to apologize for this compunction. But just the same, it was assuring to hear an excerpt from an interview of Georgia O’Keefe in which she explains in no uncertain terms that her interest in dried cow skulls was intended to have no association with death. (In fact, if anything, she took the skulls as evidence of once living beings.) Rather, she matter-of-factly states, “These were shapes that I enjoyed.”

That’s why I take pictures of shapes, too.


  1. Wonderful! These images and colors would not have been what my mind conjured up when I heard "Omaha." Have a great Thanksgiving.

  2. Is there any better reason to take pictures? I shoot images and scenes because they speak to me.

    Omaha still conjures up a sinister image in what's left of my mind, or more accurately Offut Air Force Base. When I was a young missile crewman I was assigned to the Strategic Air Command (SAC). Offut was SAC HQ. If you screwed up spectacularly you were sent to Offut to have your fate decided by an evil being known as CINCSAC (pronounced sinksack)who lived in a place known as the Snake Pit, buried somewhere under Offut. Tales of wayward airmen being banished to Thule, Greenland or King Salmon, Alaska never to be heard from again were rampant.....and worst of all, mostly true!