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Omaha Magazine

Scarlet, Cream, and an Abstract Dream

Aug 22, 2023 02:56PM ● By Megan Bartholomew
art culture Ashley Spitsnogle

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

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Ashley Spitsnogle’s creativity comes in many forms. Whether fans know her from her illustrative work, her abstract pieces, or her larger-than-life Huskers portraits, the passion, artistry, and joy present in each piece remain constants.

Spitsnogle initially honed her talent through painting and drawing courses at Doane College, bolstered by a graduate intensive in Florence, Italy. She has nurtured a career as a self-employed artist ever since, seeking new opportunities and tackling fresh challenges to do what she loves. 

One of Spitsnogle’s first gigs as an artist was to illustrate Josh the Baby Otter, a children’s book promoting water safety. After losing their son in a tragic drowning incident, Blake and Kathy Collingsworth of Lincoln, Nebraska, wrote the story to teach parents and kids alike how to enjoy swimming safely. Both Spitsnogle and the Collingsworths now work with organizations like Rotary International, the Coast Guard, and the Michael Phelps Foundation, and have printed over a million copies of the book.

“I loved working on the book and promoting it because of how passionate everyone in those organizations is,” Spitsnogle said. “But I’d say that abstract is probably my favorite way to paint.” 

According to Spitsnogle, she quickly took to abstract painting during her studies at Doane and now primarily produces abstract works out of her Elkhorn gallery. 

“The actual physical painting usually happens quickly with abstract art, but the preparation often takes weeks or even months ahead of time,” she explained. “I establish a visualization of what I want to paint and a plan of what colors to mix and how to make them stand out, but even then sometimes it goes a totally different direction on the canvas.” 

Following this intensive preparation period, Spitsnogle can often finish an abstract piece in a single day. This pace has also opened opportunities in the sports world, though not in the ways one might expect. 

Her first introduction to the professional Husker world was at a fundraising gala for TeamMates, a teen mentoring organization, where Spitsnogle was asked to do a live painting. After considering a subject that would have broad appeal, she decided to reproduce a famous sideline scene of former Husker Football Coach Tom Osborne and the late Brook Berringer.

The painting was received positively by Osborne, the Berringer family, and Big Red fans online—revealing a unique opportunity for artistic connection, eventually leading Spitsnogle to obtain licensure from the university to produce and sell Husker artwork. 

Now alongside her abstract pieces, those visiting Spitsnogle’s gallery are quick to notice the iconic Cornhusker scarlet spanning several of her canvases. The collection includes a variety of Husker sports scenes, from interviews with coaches to frame-by-frame recreations of classic Husker moments and legendary players.

One such legend immortalized in Spitsnogle’s art is Heisman Trophy-winner Johnny Rodgers, who’s thoroughly impressed by her skill. 

“Ashley is a young artist with oodles of talent, and even more personality,” Rodgers said. “You can be as sweet as can be, but without skill and dedication, you won’t go anywhere.”

Rodgers lauded Spitsnogle for her dedication, and emphasized that greatness can’t be achieved without hard work. 

“You can tell she has respect for herself and her craft, but also respect for the people she is working with,” he noted. “I hope I am around 20 years from now to see what she does. She will be a world-class artist one day.” 

Rodgers shared that he will sign as many autographs and make as much in royalties from a signing at Spitsnogle’s gallery as he will at large-scale events in some of the biggest cities in the nation.

One of her most popular works captures that fan-family mentality, showing a timeline progression of historic Husker styles in a panoramic view outside Memorial Stadium’s iconic east gate, blending from black-and-white top hats and cigars to corn heads and Husker scarlet. The painting features suggestions from fans and captures generations of team spirit and nostalgia in a single canvas. For Spitsnogle, capturing these memories and moments of hope makes each Husker piece meaningful. 

“After our signing with Johnny, my dad told me that when he was watching Johnny play growing up, he never could have imagined that he would be sitting in his daughter’s studio watching one of his heroes sign her artwork,” Spitsnogle said. 

Another highly regarded piece features two Nebraska football stars whose lives were tragically shortened—Brook Berringer and Sam Foltz walking through a brightly-lit game day tunnel together. Spitsnogle said that the feelings of hope and love the piece inspired in both players’ families makes it a personal favorite for the artist.

Admirers of Spitsnogle’s work can look forward to seeing more abstract canvases, a second installment of Josh the Baby Otter, and, later this year, another fan meet-and-greet signing at her Elkhorn space with Heisman Trophy-winners Eric Crouch, Mike Rosier, and Johnny Rodgers. 

As for the longterm, she’s simply excited to take on more opportunities to create, whatever they may look like. 

“I just really freaking love what I do,” Spitsnogle affirmed. “I love getting to be around other artists every day. I love being able to work with so many passionate people and organizations. I love being able to capture meaningful memories both for my family, and the rest of the Huskers family. 

“I love being able to have a job that furthers my art.” 

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This article originally appeared in the September 2023 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

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