I tried to reach artist Jen Bockelman by email to arrange an interview, only to receive a reply that she had traveled from Seward to Europe and wouldn’t be available for several weeks. After seeing her artwork at the Museum of Nebraska Art, I knew that I needed to speak with her in person.

I immediately booked a first-class flight to Europe — putting the cost on my Hub expense account — so I could ask Jen about her artwork. When you see her pieces, I think you will congratulate me on my decision to travel to Portugal for lunch, wine and a conversation about art.

If only.

Instead, I waited until the Seward-based artist returned to the States a couple of weeks ago and spoke with her on the phone. Her artwork features embroidered text on cloth. The text came from police reports in the Seward County Independent, her hometown newspaper.

Sometimes during conversations with artists, I go too far and share more than necessary. I equated her voyeurism of the police reports with my habit of driving around Kearney and looking in the windows of people who leave their drapes open. I knew I had shared too much when Jen didn’t respond with a hearty, “Yeah, of course I do that, too.” Instead, we talked about approaching art — and life — as an outsider.

She grew up in Idaho. As a child, she frequently visited her grandparents in Seward. One thing led to another and she now teaches art at Concordia University in Seward and at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We agreed on one important concept: The status of “outsider” helps artists and writers to sharpen their observational skills. It gives them objectivity, something that translates well when we want to reflect back the values we see around us.

Oh, yeah, right. I use the term “we” as if I have all this wonderful art experience, including a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Instead, I limit my drawings to the doodles I create at staff meetings. My outsider status comes from the cartoons I draw instead of taking meaningful notes, a habit I acquired in third grade.

As an observer, I enjoy looking at things and letting my imagination fly. While on a trip to Chicago this summer, I most enjoyed the train ride into the city because I could look into the backyards of residents along the tracks. I rode a double-decker rail car so I could sit up high and peer down into the lives of others.

After telling Jen about my habit, I mentioned the police scanner in our newsroom, how it turns into background noise until something interesting happens — like the time about 4 a.m. when the microphone of one of the dispatchers didn’t turn off at the right time. I listened to vacation plans, recipes and office gossip until I finally did the right thing and called the station.

You can read more about my interview with Jen in Thursday’s BRAVO section. And you also can meet her in person during an artist talk and reception 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the Museum of Nebraska Art. Admission to the reception is free.

As for over-sharing, I would like to tell you about listening in to the party line at my uncle’s house in the country when I was quite young, but luckily for me, I don’t have enough room for that story.

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