Artist’s drawings for English-Spanish language children’s book featured in exhibit

by Leo Adam Biga

 

Omaha fine art drawer Joseph Broghammer got more than expected in 2015

at the Puerto Vallarta, Mexico artist residency program offered by art

collectors and patrons Karen and Robert Duncan of Lincoln, Nebraska.

 

Little did he know that the couple’s dog, Chica, would steal his heart

and become the subject of an English-Spanish language children’s book

he’d illustrate.

 

The book, Chica, is written by Karen Duncan, who commissioned

Broghammaer to create original pastel on paper drawings to illustrate

the story of Chica’s friendship with Karen and their travels in

Mexico. Those drawings, plus others that didn’t make the final cut,

are displayed in the exhibition Chica showing through August 24 at El

Museo Latino in South Omaha.

 

The exhibit will travel to other venues (TBA).

 

Broghammer’s work is steeped in symbolism and iconography of many

cultures, including Mexico’s.

 

“I’m huge into milagros,” he said. “I happen to be obsessed with them,

so when I went to Mexico I bought a ton of them. I was already

obsessed with a lot of Mexican symbolism, which is another reason why

Karen (Duncan) chose me.”

 

Then there was the connection he made with Chica at the Duncans’

Puerto Vallarta resort home.

 

“It was the same night they had a number of executives from Duncan

Aviation (the private jet service and supply company Robert Duncan’s

father started and that Robert later ran). I saw the dog there, and

feeling like an outsider, I spent time with the dog. Chica was very

friendly. Warmed up to me pretty quickly. I got a little obsessed with

this dog, so at the end of the event I did a little drawing of the dog

and let Karen discover that.

 

“When I got home I thought, There’s something about this dog,’ and I

decided to do a better job than a two minute sketch. I had some

pictures of the dog I’d taken, so I did a drawing and sent it. I

didn’t want anything in return. I didn’t want them to buy it. I just

wanted to really say thank you for inviting me to the residency. The

Duncans liked it and then Karen talked about wanting to do this book.

Many people drew the dog, but nobody seemed to ever really capture

Chica. Not just a dog or a dog of that breed, but Chica. So she

thought of me right away to do the book. i jumped at the opportunity

because I thought it was a fascinating story.”

 

“I chose Joseph to illustrate the story in part because he has great

love for animals that comes through in all of his paintings and

drawings,” Duncan said. “His artwork is beautiful and I am pleased

with the finished product.”

 

Chica’s personality beguiles everyone who meets her.

 

“It seems to be a dog very confident within herself,” Broghammer said.

“The dog doesn’t come running right up to people with that pet me, pet

me, pet me kind of personality. The dog comes around when the dog

wants to come around. She’s like, I’m here, deal with it, not deal

with it, I’m comfortable however you handle it.

 

“It’s not the typical running-scared-because-there’s

too-many-people-in-the-room or constantly-trying-to-get

attention-from-everybody kind of dog. It reminds me a lot of Karen.

You know, they say dogs and owners end up being alike after awhile.

There was something interesting about their relationship, the two of

them.”

 

Karen Duncan was taking a siesta in a town square in Mexico on a road

trip she and Robert made with friends when she noticed the dog at her

feet. It was a sick, smelly, emaciated mess. She cleaned, nursed and

fed Chica back to health.

 

“Something made her feel she needed to save that dog,” Broghammer

said. “I had to build that relationship there. What did they do

together? How did they start to form a bond? We really didn’t talk

about what I was to draw. For the most part Karen just kind of let me

go to do what I do. She didn’t want to stifle my creative process,

which was nice. I didn’t do watercolors and have a lot of white

background. which a lot of illustrators do because I’m not an

illustrator. I did drawings not that much different from what I do in

my own work.”

 

Most of all, hr didn’t want his drawings to pander or sentimentalize.

 

“I didn’t want to make it schmaltzy. I wanted to be real. I didn’t

want people to think Karen was saving Chica from her country. That

wasn’t the case. I wanted the reader to experience what Chica’s

country has to offer through the path the dog and Karen took. I drew

scenes they would have seen while driving or on the stops they made. I

had a map of Mexico and Karen told me the trip they took from one end

to the other. I just started looking at specific areas they were and

their historical significance and what they could have experienced

along the way.”

 

He tried being true to each region’s cuisine, architecture, dress in

his drawings, He pictured Chica resting in front of an ancient stone

head. As a homage to a famous Freda Kahlo work, he adored Chica in

decorative garb.

 

“I wanted to have the dog experience its culture, to learn its

history. So I added to the story in that sense without changing

Karen’s story.”

 

The drawings portray Chica with her friend, not her master, and their

shared love. Since the dog’s adoption, Chica”s become a fixture in

the couple’s life.

 

“The dog has traveled the world with them. It’s not one of those

pampered little dogs that you carry in a purse or that has fancy

collars or booties in the winter. It’s not that kind of privileged

life. It’s privileged more in love.”

 

Broghammer and Ksren Duncan signed many copies of the book at the

Chica exhibit opening.

 

“I’m thrilled people like it and find a connection to the story and to

the drawings,” Broghammer said. “I hope more people get to experience

the story. I think it’s a great love story.”

 

Proceeds from the book’s sale go to the Duncans’ Clarinda Carnegie Art

Museum in Clarinda, Iowa. The book can be purchased there or at the El

Museo Latino gift shop. For Chica exhibit hours, visit

www.elmuseolatino.org.

 

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.Joe Broghammer photo (1) (1)

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