Jen Bockelman art

Combining embroidery and police reports, artist Jen Bockelman explores her community through the eyes of an outsider. An exhibit of her work continues on display at the Museum of Nebraska Art through Oct. 6. She will talk about her work during an artist talk and reception at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the museum.

KEARNEY — Jen Bockelman’s exhibit at the Museum of Nebraska Art takes something temporary and seeks to give it permanence.

The Seward resident took quotes from the police reports in the Seward County Independent newspaper and incorporated them into her art.

“Anytime someone calls the police, a reporter will summarize it and put a little blurb in the newspaper,” Bockelman said. “I thought it was an interesting way of social control. I didn’t grow up in Seward but my grandparents lived there. I could visit them and my grandparents would look through the newspaper with us and be like, oh, we have to give this person a hard time because they got a speeding ticket again.”

She embroidered the words on cloth as part of her artwork.

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“What I like about that is that it takes something that was meant to be temporary and thrown away, and puts it into the language of things that are meant to be kept,” Bockelman said.

“Nebraska Now: Jennifer Bockelman, Fiber Art” continues in the Skylight Gallery until Oct. 6 at the Museum of Nebraska Art. The MONA Guild will host an artist talk and reception with Bockelman at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the museum.

Admission to the exhibit and the reception is free.

“It’s telling,” she said of the artwork in the exhibit. “It’s like a little snapshot of Seward, Nebraska, with all the foibles. You get people calling in, wanting a squirrel out of their yard, or whatever.”

Bockelman recognizes how the desire to peer into the lives of others reflects more on the viewer than the subject.

“I think we’ve all got this tendency to see what other people are doing, to sort of check ourselves,” she said. “Is what we’re doing proper or correct?”

Bockelman teaches art at Concordia University in Seward and at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Although she knows the city of Seward well, she admits to feeling like an outsider.

“This is a town where people know your relatives,” she said. “People have generations of family here. Coming back to it and being an artist, that puts me on the outside a little and lets me fly under the radar.”

The act of embroidering words came slowly to Bockelman. She received an embroidery kit for Christmas one year.

“It was a gift but I also considered it a commentary and I had no patience for that,” she said. “I never finished a single one.”

Several years later, Bockelman’s father showed the artist a gift he had made for his mother. He had embroidered the faces of his children on it.

“Yeah, it was our portraits,” Bockelman said. “I learned then that it’s not just a female thing. It’s a way of giving attention and giving care and showing that care with your time. That’s the reason I use it.”

While the subject of Bockelman’s latest work might seem political, she doesn’t consider herself an activist artist. Rather, she observes and reports, allowing the viewer to decide the meaning.

“I like art to have more than one reading,” she noted.

To reinforce the concept of an outsider, Bockelman has traveled to Europe for the last four summers.

“I did residences in various little places,” she said. “I went to Macedonia a couple times. Last summer I went to Hungary and this summer I went to Portugal. I find that being in a situation where you don’t know the language makes you rely on your visual senses more. I find that I get a lot more work done in the summers when I can concentrate.”

Returning to Seward always allows Bockelman to see the town with new eyes.

“The first time I came back to Seward after I had been in grad school in Colorado, I took a walk around town,” she said. “I knew who lived in that house and I knew who lived across the street. I decided to count up how many people I knew and where they lived. It was over 50 people. And so I made each of them a pie and took it over to their house.”

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