When Judith Welk died this past summer, art lovers mourned the loss of one of Omaha’s most gifted and prolific chroniclers. Known for her ability to bring a sweet sentimentality to the city’s landmarks and neighborhoods, the artist celebrated the simple sites that make Omaha home to so many.
She memorialized our schools, churches, parks, museums, theaters, university campuses and so much more. In her painterly prints, the city of Omaha always felt like a small neighborhood where everyone was welcome.
Welk delighted imaginations and, more importantly, she captured hearts.
This weekend, Anderson O’Brien Fine Art gallery pays homage to the artist and her legacy with “Backyard View: Omaha Through the Eyes of Judith Welk,” a comprehensive career retrospective featuring about 30 of Welk’s most iconic images.
Picture scenes like a snowy Elmwood Park in winter, a balcony view from Dundee Presbyterian Church, the Orpheum Theater packed to the rafters and the legendary Broom Man walking past the erstwhile Baum Drugstore.
Welk created all of them in her inimitable folk art style. The images are at once timeless, but tinged with the rose-tinted lens of a bygone era.
Husband Bob Welk worked with Welk to produce the majority of her images. Judith typically painted the scenes, and Bob then printed them as serigraphs, which are made via a silkscreen printing process. Judith’s rich colors often dominated, with as many as 17 appearing in a print.
Bob began working with his wife in the early 1970s, when the Assistance League of Omaha asked if she could create a cover for its annual fundraising calendar.
The image, Bob recalled, was of the Memorial Park pedestrian bridge that spans Dodge Street.
Some 22 more calendar images followed over the next two decades, as well as commissions by organizations like St. Margaret Mary School and UNO.
Some of the scenes in Judith Welk’s work no longer exist, such as the red barn petting zoo at the Henry Doorly Zoo and the Central Park Mall.
“She captured memories through her images,” said Laurel Thiel, Anderson O’Brien Fine Art’s gallery director. “They’re snapshots. I used to buy my flowers at Baum Drugstore, so that means a lot to me.”
The couple was painstaking in its approach, which lent an authenticity to Welk’s imagery.
Take, for example, the depiction of fireworks exploding over Memorial Park for the annual Fourth of July celebration.
“I remember our being in Memorial Park, running around with cameras, taking photos of the fireworks,” Bob recalled, giving insight into Welk’s process.
The artist often saw what others overlooked. Her depiction of Union Station at Christmas is a fitting example.
“It shows the tree being brought in from the outside,” Bob said. “Most people want to see the tree already inside, but she didn’t care about that. She remembered that the tree used to arrive on a train. She always had a nostalgia bent to her work.”
While many images often were commissions, Bob said the couple also created scenes that had particular meaning for them and them alone.
Like the image of the Dundee Theater created in 2002 — the last Omaha-specific image Bob says his wife created.
“We did that just for ourselves,” he said. “We depicted it at twilight. Dundee was our neighborhood. It’s where we lived and raised our family.”
That sense of family comes through in each of Welk’s images — even if people are not always present.
“She captured the community,” Thiel said. “It’s the scenes and the people that make Omaha unique, and she got that. It’s why people still flock to her work.”
Thiel is happy that Bob can share in the celebration of his wife’s work.
“Bob collaborated so much, and it’s so important he can be a part of this tribute,” she said. “I’m thrilled that we have this.”
Anderson O’Brien Fine Art, 3201 Farnam St. “Backyard View: Omaha Through the Eyes of Judith Welk.” Opening reception: 5 to 8 p.m. Friday. Through Jan. 31. Gallery hours: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday. aobfineart.com or 402-884-0911.
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This complete guide of local music, movies, dining and entertainment will have you weekend ready.
NEW THIS WEEK
Artists’ Cooperative Gallery, 405 S. 11th St. “Area High School Art Exhibition.” Features work by Nebraska and Iowa high school artists. Opening reception: 6 to 9 p.m. Friday. Through Feb. 2. artistsco-opgallery.com or 402-342-9617.
Cali Commons, 518 N. 40th St. “January Drink n Draw.” A drawing session featuring a live model. 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. $8 exact change. calicommons.com or 402-513-2321.
Douglas County Historical Society, 5730 N. 30th St., #11B. “History & Appreciation of Antiques: Fairings & Trinket Boxes.” Features hands-on examination of artifacts and explores the sociological, economic, historical and political impact of these artifacts on the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, as well as their implications for today and tomorrow. Attendees can bring one antique for “Show and Tell.” 9:30 a.m. to noon and 1:30 to 4 p.m. Tuesday. $15. douglascohistory.org or 402-455-9990.
El Museo Latino, 4701 S. 25th St. “Frida Kahlo’s Garden Exhibition Closing Reception.” A closing celebration of the current exhibition. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
Also at El Museo: “Saturday Art Fun.” Hands-on art making activities for the family. 10:30 a.m. and noon Saturday. Free. elmuseolatino.org or 402-731-1137.
Hardy Coffee Co., 6051 Maple St. “Heather Tomasello.” Features work by the artist. Opening reception: 6 to 9 p.m. Friday. hardycoffee.com or 402-916-4190.
The HideAway Art Gallery, 5701 Northwest Radial. “Open Art Studio.” Studio time for artists to work on art. Some materials provided. 2 to 8 p.m. Friday. facebook.com/pg/hideawayartgallery.
Jake’s Cigars, 6206 Maple St. “Zachary Storz.” Showcases reimaginings of the human body. 6 to 9 p.m. Friday. jakescigars.com or 402-934-9633.
The Little Gallery, 5901 Maple St. “Conditions.” Features work by Mary Ensz, Jeff Mack, Jennifer Novak Haar and Jennifer Shannon, who create art while quietly battling medical issues. Opening reception: 6 to 9 p.m. Friday. Through Jan. 25. facebook.com/thelittlegalleryandbuff or 402-681-1901.
Modern Arts Midtown, 3615 Dodge St. “Origins.” Includes work by Graceann Warn, Michael James, James Freeman, Jason Papenfuss, Edgard Camacho and Paul Konchagulian. Opening reception: 6 to 8 p.m. Friday. Through Feb. 28. modernartsmidtown.com or 402-502-8737.
Petshop Gallery, 2725-2727 N. 62nd St. “Art Basel.” Features a performance, plus the public sculpture “Long Division, Meditations on the Difference” by Dwight Edward Brown III on display in the alleyway behind the venue. 7:30 p.m. Friday. facebook.com/bensonpetshop.
The Sidney, 5918 Maple St. “Nell Horgan.” Includes acrylic paint on canvas, markers and pen on paper and collaging on photos. 10 p.m. Friday to 1 a.m. Saturday. thesydneybenson.com or 402-932-9262.
Star Deli, 6114 Military Ave. “Dany Reyes.” Features paintings by the artist. 6 to 8 p.m. Friday. Through Jan. 31. omahastardeli.com or 402-880-8481.
W. Dale Clark Main Library, Michael Phipps Gallery, 215 S. 15th St. “Illuminations.” Features work by Rachel Cunningham, whose work focuses on clouds, and Emma Westbrook, who uses found imagery from medieval and early Renaissance printmaking in contrast with contemporary digitally based images to explore how information dissemination has changed. Opening reception: 5 to 6 p.m. Friday. Through Feb. 28. omahalibrary.org or 402-444-4800.