A gallery hidden in a historic downtown Papillion building features art that ties back to the past.

Biblical Touchstones Gallery, located in the Bell Place Shoppes at 134 N. Washington St., has been open for about eight months. The gallery is where Duane Pieper displays his art, which focuses on the visual portrayal of Biblical themes.

“I’ve dabbled in this all my life,” Pieper said. “I’ve always loved nature and the different colors [of the land.]”

His interest in art began in rural Nebraska, where at a young age he worked in his father’s wood shop. Now, he primarily works with “encaustic” art, using beeswax and mixing materials and building layers to create a final piece.

“It’s a very ancient technique,” Pieper said. “The Greeks used beeswax to seal their ships. Egyptians used this medium on mummies and the Romans later used the process for decorative purposes.”

The historic themes of his inspiration and the medium itself both reach back to the past, as does his interest in the subject.

Pieper and his wife, Kathy, lived in Jerusalem for five years, excavating and essentially rediscovering the history of the Bible.

“It all kind of came together there, my passions for archaeology and the scripture,” Pieper said.

When the couple returned to Nebraska, Pieper searched for a way to combine these passions.

“Digging into the soil and landscape of the Biblical narrative, in its original context in Israel, is the foundation of my current inspirations and artistic expressions,” Pieper wrote in his website’s “About the Artist” section. “Encaustic and archaeology have a great deal in common in which one layer, be it dirt or wax, builds upon another. And the relationships tell an intriguing story. Furthermore, the media of ‘encaustic’ dates back to the biblical era that I find so fascinating.”

Pieces displayed in the Biblical Touchstones Gallery explore a variety of Biblical topics: the story of Noah’s ark, the story of creation, a depiction of the Revelations reference to the lion and the lamb, and the story of Jonah and the whale, among many others.

A combination of two pieces, “Out of the Darkness” and “Back to the Garden,” is a combination of two pieces that represents getting back to the garden of Adam and Eve, essentially leaving the darkness of the earth and entering eternal paradise.

“I think everybody has an urge to go back to that blissful place in a sense,” Pieper said.

Pieper also dabbles in sculpture and occasionally uses his woodworking background to create mounts to display his encaustic pieces.

He aims to create pieces that touch on scripture, depicting verses in a visual way to help people better understand and meditate on the subject. Pieper even creates some smaller pieces on boxes to make some more affordable and functional items.

“It’s a contemplative process,” Pieper said. “I’ll read the scriptures. I’ll pray about them and then I’ll start designing.” He said that the piece often changes as he continues to work on it. “Some people believe that God guides us as we create. Pieces can change,” Pieper said.

Pieper keeps track of his ideas but is influenced by the themes that seem to reoccur in his life.

“If they keep coming back to me, it kind of gets pushed to the forefront and I probably really need to do something with that,” he said.

Pieper can sometimes be found at his gallery, though his studio is located at his home in Gretna. He offers tours by appointment and can be reached at btouchstones@yahoo.com.

“When people come in and appreciate, that’s an encouragement, but I really want to be an encouragement to them,” Pieper said. “Especially those who do their best learning visually. I really want to reach them.”

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