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
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
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
“I wanted to have the dog experience its culture, to learn its
history. So I added to the story in that sense without changing
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
Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.Joe Broghammer photo (1) (1)