Omaha Magazine July/August 2023 - The Annual Arts & Culture IssueJun 23, 2023 01:07PM ● By Julius Fredrick
Photo by Bill Sitzmann.
I turned 30 this past May—a bittersweet occasion, wherein my madcap twenties were laid to rest and the possibilities of a somewhat wiser decade lay ahead. I was gifted a familiar tome at my birthday party, one I’d lost years before: The Collected Poems of W.B Yeats. Yeats’ poems, and his prose, had made a great impression on me during my studies at UNL. One passage in particular, from The Celtic Twilight (1893)—an unpolished yet ambitious collection of Yeat’s essays—has stuck with me:
“I have desired, like every artist, to create a little world out of the beautiful, pleasant, and significant things of this marred and clumsy world […] Hope and Memory have one daughter and her name is Art, and she has built her dwelling far from the desperate field where men hang out their garments upon forked boughs to be banners of battle. O beloved daughter of Hope and Memory, be with me for a little.”
Indeed, it seems no matter how rich or barren the landscape of one’s circumstances, artistic expression finds fertile ground.
Take for example our cover subject, prolific painter and Holocaust survivor, Samuel Bak. It was in the Vilna Ghetto in modern-day Vilnius, Lithuania—with the help of Yiddish poets Avrom Sutzkever and Szmerke Kaczerginski—where he first exhibited his art. Sutzkever and Kaczerginski feared it might be the then 9-year-old Bak’s first, and last, opportunity to share his talent. However, Bak and his mother managed to evade capture; the only two members of his family to survive. The 89-year-old hasn’t put down his paintbrush since, with thousands of works to his name and numerous gallery exhibitions internationally—including a permanent hub at the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s newly established Samuel Bak Museum.
Returning to Yeats, it was regrettable to learn that the young poet who once championed free expression and founded Dublin’s Abbey Theatre stared too long into “a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun” following the Easter Rebellion and the aftermath of the first World War—turning to fanatic mysticism and even flirting with Fascist ideology to reframe his shattered worldview prior to his death in 1939.
With that said, I’d like to turn a new page—one I discovered while editing our feature on Samuel Bak—to a stanza by one of the Yiddish poets he met in Vilna, a fellow survivor and friend of Bak’s who passed in 2010. From Avrom Sutzkever’s “Grains of Wheat” (Vilna Ghetto, 1943):
“Perhaps these words will endure,
And live to see the light loom —
And in the destined hour
Will unexpectedly bloom?
And like the primeval grain
That turned into a stalk —
The words will nourish,
The words will belong
To the people, in its eternal walk.”
Best of Omaha: Every Vote is a StoryVoting for Best of Omaha 2024 is now open! Make sure to cast your vote for your favorite business. Read More »
Calendar of Events: July/August 2023Summer in the metro is jam-packed with tons of stuff to do—art, concerts, theater, festivals—we’ve got you covered with our comprehensive list and highlighted picks! Read More »
A Twist of FateGraham Brooks seizes opportunity, The Orpheum Stage, in his opera debut. Read More »
Look Like SomebodyWMK Media Enterprises brings redemption stories to the silver screen. Read More »
On The RecordOmaha Teacher, Farmer, and DJ Joe Benson waxes poetic on Music, Spirituality. Read More »
The True Meaning of GritMaggie Wadginski has studied, struggled, and danced toward a message of hope for those in crisis. Read More »
The Picture of (Mental) HealthOmaha-based art therapy provides creative approaches to healing. Read More »
Something to Say, Something to Ask: An Exercise in Humanism.Samuel Bak, renowned artist and writer, depicts the Holocaust through his work. He's the namesake for The Samuel Bak Museum: The Learning Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Read More »
Breaking the Fourth Wall of Omaha’s “Little Theater”A spotlight on the Omaha Community Playhouse. Read More »
The Art of War: Chad Noahr Wields His ‘Marker,’ and His Passion for Paintball, with PrideChad Noahr is the general manager of Mad Cow Paintball, a multi-course outdoor paintball facility located in Louisville, Nebraska. Read to learn about how his love for this sport started. Read More »
Building Community Through Arts EngagementBFF Omaha leads rejuvenation of inner city neighborhoods. Read More »
Anonymous, Androgenous, Unique: Revisiting the J. Doe Project22 years ago, 107 fiberglass sculptures appeared throughout Omaha. The project went by “J. Doe” and served as the metro’s first wide-scale public art project. Read More »
Molding Omaha’s Art CommunityOld Market virtuoso Peg Watkins continues to evolve and inspire. Read More »
Omaha, Lend us Your Ears! The Metro's Concert Venues Offer Music For AllWhether you’re into classic rock, southern soul, heavy metal, country, funk, rap, blues, pop, indie, R&B, or smooth jazz, there's a place to get your groove on. Read More »
Turning Up the Heat, Raising the Stakes: The Farnam Hotel’s Dynamite Woodfire GrillAs Omaha continues to expand and its people refine their tastes, Dynamite Woodfire Grill smolders as an emerging hot spot. Read more about it! Read More »
A High-End Music Have: Serving Tasteful and Well-timed Fare.Nestled in the Capitol District in downtown Omaha, The Jewell is a sophisticated music club that offers a unique and immersive experience for music enthusiasts and food connoisseurs alike. Read More »
Omaha Magazine July/August 2023 - The Annual Arts & Culture Issue