Sketches of Omaha
Dec 19, 2018 01:44PM
By Doug Meigs
A watercolor print featuring Joslyn Castle is the centerpiece of a young couple’s remodeled living room in the Dundee neighborhood. The image is a reminder of their wedding day and the location where they married.
The artist responsible, Julia Mason, doesn’t know the couple. But she’s happy her work can evoke this sentimental feeling. “It makes me feel proud and happy that I can create nostalgia for someone else,” she says.
It’s not the first time that a sighting of Mason’s artwork has come back to her with a personal anecdote attached. Mason’s friends often snap photos of her art in the wild and send evidence back to her. Sometimes they notice a print hanging in someone’s home; other times they notify her of a print gifted to some dislocated Omahan longing for familiar scenery.
“It’s exciting, and it makes me feel happy to see my work popping up someplace I wasn’t intending,” Mason says.
The daughter of mixed media and metal artist Vicki Mason of Plattsmouth, she appreciates the beautiful masonry patterns found around Omaha as she walks to the farmers market downtown, and she is fascinated by details in older architecture.
“Just by walking, you can observe a lot more character from a building than you would driving,” she says.
Although best known for her sketches of local neighborhoods, Mason says world travel has inspired her Omaha-centric work.
While studying secondary education with an emphasis in art at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, a two-week summer study abroad experience took her to the British Museum, the National Gallery in London, Scotland National Gallery, and traipsing through Britain’s many beautiful cathedrals.
In Edinburgh, Scotland, she discovered the work of Glasgow artist Libby Walker. She bought a print—a detailed pen drawing of a local scene—to remind her of the city, and she has since purchased more of Walker’s work for display in her home.
Mason kept a journal to document the trip, and the journal inspired her first solo art show at Paperdoll in Benson. “I started with showing at Benson First Friday, and that gave me the confidence to start making art for other people,” she says.
The travel bug bit again, and she went to Costa Rica for four months to study at Veritas University. At the end of the trip, she organized an art show at a local cafe. She presented observational drawings of her neighborhood and images of fruit and flowers from her host family’s residence. She titled the show, Costa Rica Through My Eyes.
“I like to remember the places I have been through my art collection,” she says. “I wanted to bring that kind of nostalgic experience to our community.”
After Costa Rica, she decided to try her hand at depicting Omaha’s beloved local scenes. Her first print consisted of a montage of Dundee scenes. She now has prints for many of Omaha’s older neighborhoods, which are available for sale at Hutch in Midtown Crossing, at local pop-up markets throughout town, and her website.
Travel remains a major source of inspiration for Mason. She recently returned from a leisure trip to Hawaii where she gravitated toward local illustrators that represent the community in their work.
When traveling, Mason always carries a travel journal with her to draw and paint from observation. “I think of it like a souvenir,” she says. “Drawing and painting the waves of North Shore was a new experience for me, so it was a bit of a challenge with the moving waves. I always feel like a better person after painting than I do before sitting down. It recharges me.”
Three years into her teaching career as a traveling art teacher at Beals and Indian Hill elementary schools, Mason decided to go full-time as an artist. “If I fail, I always have a career to fall back on. Now I get to work in my yoga pants and listen to podcasts as I paint. It’s the dream,” she says, adding that she continues to substitute teach for Omaha Public Schools.
She says that life is too short to be unhappy in your career and has this advice for others seeking to start their own business: “Build your small business with your full-time job, and when you are ready, find a way to supplement your business part-time until it thrives on its own.”
Since making the entrepreneurial leap of faith, demand for work has filled her calendar. “Inventory is something I am always trying to keep up with,” she says, adding that prices are intentionally reasonable. She wants her work to be accessible to all, and she receives orders from Oregon, New York, South Dakota, and across the country.
“It’s reaching a bigger audience than I ever anticipated,” she says. “I am happy that so many are connecting with it. Omahans are everywhere!”
Visit juliamasonart.com for more information.This article was printed in the January/February edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.