June 27, 2008 Straight-line Winds Rip Omaha Artists

Finally, after about an hour, and rumors of another storm approaching, we trooped outside to assess the damage. It was extensive in some areas of the show, with a great many artists losing weeks or months of work. Tent poles were twisted and display panels collapsed and tents torn up and artwork soggy and broken. It was so sad.

For the past decade I have traveled extensively across America, selling my photography at art shows and photographing details of the landscape between shows.  During this time it has been the Great Plains that have made me the most nervous because the weather can be so intense.  During one show in Fort Worth, Texas, I remember seeing a skyscraper that had all of its windows blown out by a tornado, leaving small shards of glass in every garden downtown.  That storm didn’t occur on an art show weekend, but the cars around Texas deeply dented by grapefruit-sized hail were a reminder of what could happen.  So it was with some trepidation that I came to Omaha for the Omaha Summer Arts Festival in the stormy early summer of 2008, and set up my booth with about 130 other artists.

The first day of the show started nicely, with warm temperatures and mild gusts, but there were just a few clouds in the sky.  Then, in late afternoon when the weather was still pleasant, a tornado siren started blaring continuously nearby.  Soon a staff member came to each booth and said that 70 mph winds were about 25 miles out and were headed our way–and to get ready for the storm.  I didn’t hesitate; I hauled all my boxes and other gear inside the tent and “battened down the hatches” (I had been hit by straight line winds in Omaha several years ago, and knew what they could do).  Then the staff person said to take refuge in the Landmark Building immediately, so I headed that way, snapping a few cell phone pictures of the oncoming storm.  The dark clouds were ominous.

Inside, we were herded (or as much as artists can be herded!) down into the basement of the building, where we waited, and waited, for the storm to pass overhead.  We heard reports of 90 mph winds and golf ball-sized hail nearby, then someone said the huge beer tent outside had toppled.  One artist said he had gone up and looked out and his booth had been destroyed.  I called my wife on my iPhone and told her the situation, and virtually everyone else was chatting with family and friends on their cell phones.  

Finally, after about an hour, and rumors of another storm approaching, we trooped outside to assess the damage.  It was extensive in some areas of the show, with a great many artists losing weeks or months of work.  Tent poles were twisted and display panels collapsed and tents torn up and artwork soggy and broken.  It was so sad.  Most of the artists have insurance that will cover the broken display structures, but generally it only covers the cost of art materials rather than the retail price of the works of art, so the cost of labor is not compensated.  For those artists who lost nearly everything at the show, it means a major loss of income.  Those of us in this profession live on the edge, often unable to afford some of the benefits that most workers are accustomed to, so a storm like this can be devastating.

By the way, I was lucky; my booth survived, mostly because the location was perhaps a bit less windy.  The straight-line winds from the thunderstorm were clocked at 80 mph.

The staff and administration and volunteers at this art show did an excellent job of warning people of the incoming storm.  They had plans in place for bad weather and executed those plans well.  After the storm they had a meeting with the artists and laid out the plan for the night and the next day.  They handled it well, and I thank them.  Nobody at the show was hurt, thank God.

This is part of a weblog documenting my travels and photography. I am primarily a nature photographer and you can see more of my work at http://www.leerentz.com

Click on the photographs below to see a larger version with captions.

May 11, 2008 Homage to Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper is among my favorite artists, and his paintings influenced my photography of classic old buildings. He is most famous for his painting “Nighthawks,” in which late night patrons of a lonely urban diner are playing out some vague drama.

Today my wife Karen and I made a special trip to Chicago to see the last day of the Edward Hopper exhibit at the Chicago Institute of Arts.  Edward Hopper is among my favorite artists, and his paintings influenced my photography of classic old buildings.  He is most famous for his painting “Nighthawks,” in which late night patrons of a lonely urban diner are playing out some vague drama.  This painting is one of the best-known paintings in America and, as an icon, is much parodied.  I have a favorite Starbucks cup that features this painting–only the setting is a Starbucks coffee shop.  I also have a Christmas card that portrays Santa and his reindeer stopping for a 3:00 am coffee break in the same diner.

My favorite Hopper works are his studies of light on classic old buildings; the psychodramas that make up much of his later work are interesting, but they don’t add that much meaning for me.  I think a great deal can be implied simply by the human details (without the humans).  Besides, I think he was better at rendering buildings than humans.  

The Chicago exhibit was among the best art exhibitions we have seen.  It is over, but you can review some of Hopper’s work at the following websites.

http://www.artic.edu/aic/exhibitions/exhibition/hopper

http://www.artchive.com/artchive/H/hopper.html

On the return trip from Chicago on the South Shore Line, an interurban railroad, I photographed a woman sitting alone on the passenger seat across from me.  I think it shows how I was channelling Edward Hopper on this wonderful day.

This is part of a weblog documenting my travels and photography. I am primarily a nature photographer, and you can see more of my work at http://www.leerentz.com

Click on the photograph below to see a larger version.