Archive for January, 2015

Natural imagery: Tom Mangelsen travels far and wide to where the wild things are for his iconic photography, but always comes back home to Nebraska

January 30, 2015 2 comments

Tom Mangelsen’s journey to becoming a world-class nature-wildlife photographer is told in my New Horizons cover story now available at newsstands. The Nebraska native truly goes to where the wild things are to make his iconic photographs. His work is available at his Images of Nature galleries across the country. But as my story details, no matter how far afield he travels for his work, and he travels all over the world, he always comes back home, to where the Platte River flows and the cranes migrate in his native land. There, among the shallows and sandbars, his love for nature and photography first took hold and every year he returns for the song and dance of that perennial ritual that speaks deeply to his heart and soul.















Natural Imagery

Tom Mangelsen travels far and wide to where the wild things are for his iconic photography, but always comes back home to Nebraska

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in the February 2015 New Horizons


Growing up on the Platte

Thomas Mangelsen had no inkling youthful forays along the Platte River’s sandbars and shores would be the foundation for a world-class nature photography and conservation career.

He didn’t even take pictures growing up in the 1950s into the 1960s. That calling didn’t come until later. Without knowing it though his Huck Finn-like boyhood spent closely observing the natural world around him was perfect preparation for what became his life’s work.

His retailer father Harold Mangelsen, founder of the family crafts store now run by Tom’s brother David, was an avid hunter who championed Platte River Basin conservation before environmental stands were popular. The Mangelsens made good use of a family cabin on the river. There, Tom gained a deep appreciation for the wild, an ardor imbued in the painterly images he makes of species and ecosystems. All are available as framed prints at his nationwide Images of Nature galleries. Then there are his photo books, including his latest, The Last Great Wild Places. His work sometimes accompanies articles in leading magazines, too. Best known for his stills, he’s also shot nature films.

From his Jackson Hole, Wyo. residence he travels widely, shooting on all seven continents. He returns to Neb. to visit family and friends. Every March he’s back for the great crane migration, often in the company of star anthropologist Jane Goodall, a board member of the nonprofit Cougar Fund he co-founded to protect wild cougars.

He’s won national and international recognition for his work and brought wide attention to the annual crane migration, the importance of the Platte and endangered animal populations.

None of it may have happened were it not for that outdoorsy, rite-of-passage coming-of-age that gave him a reverence for nature. That, in concert with an abiding curiosity, a restless spirit and a good eye, are the requisite qualities for being a top wildlife photographer.

His earliest memories are of the meandering Platte’s well-worn life rhythms. Mangelsen largely grew up in Grand Island, where he was born. The family moved to Ogallala, where his father opened his first store, before moving back to Grand Island and finally to Omaha when Tom was 15. Wherever he lived, he spent most of every summer on the Platte. When not hunting waterfowl, there were decoys to be set and tangles of driftwood to be dislodged. Mostly, though, it was sitting still in anticipation of a good shot.

“That’s all we did all summer,” says Mangelsen, who got a .410 shotgun at age 6 or 7.

On hunts his father bemoaned the low river levels resulting from diversions to irrigate farms and to feed city water supplies.

“He felt there should be some water left over for the wildlife.”

At times water management policies left the Platte dry.

Mangelsen says, “It went in 50 years from a lot of water to like 15 percent of what it used to be. It’s probably still only 20 percent now from its historical flows. My dad was very much into that. He testified, he wrote letters. So in that sense he was the first conservationist I knew. He taught me all the ethics of hunting – don’t shoot stuff you can’t kill or don’t have a good chance of killing. He taught me how to call, too.” Coached by his father Mangelsen twice won the world’s goose calling championship.

Under their father’s tutelage Tom and his brothers learned to make their own decoys. painting them every year.

Tom wanted to know about sustainability before it had a name.

“When I wasn’t asking questions I saw what worked and what didn’t,” he says of dam releases and other efforts to regulate river flow and to balance the ecosystem.

Watching and waiting became engrained virtues.

“Basically we’d sit there for a week without seeing a flock of geese maybe, That’s just what you did. The challenge was waiting and then when you had the opportunity maximize that by calls, by setting decoys. We changed decoy sets five or six times a day depending on the wind and my dad’s moods or boredom. We’d see pheasants, hawks, eagles and lots of other birds. I’d watch through my binoculars because I was curious. So I fell in love with birds and not just a few.”




From gun to camera
He eventually discovered what makes a good hunter makes a good photographer.

“In reality I traded in my guns for a camera. It’s all the same process, except I don’t have to pick ’em and I don’t have to clean ’em and I can shoot ’em again. It’s like catch-and-release.”

Both disciplines depend upon patience.

“Well, that’s my biggest asset. I didn’t know any better because that’s how we grew up. I don’t mind sitting in a blind for days. I’m entertained just by watching things. People ask, ‘What do you do – read?’ Well, you can’t read if you’re in a blind. If you are, you’re not watching. If you’re not watching you don’t see something, and if you don’t see something you’re not going to photograph it. So you sit there and you wait and you look. So, yeah, I’m very patient and that’s the biggest gift to have.

“But I’m also a very keen observer. From a photographic standpoint you have to anticipate where an animal might be, what it might do. Is it going to go here or there? Is it going to go by its mate? Is it going to sit on the eggs and if so how long will it be there? If it comes flying in will the best cottonwood be in the background.”

He might never have picked up a camera. Like his brothers he worked in the family’s Omaha store. To please his dad he majored in business administration at then-Omaha University. Preferring a smaller school, he transferred to Doane College in Crete after two years.

“It was probably the best thing I did,” he says.

He changed majors from business to biology, with designs on a pre-med regimen, until finally settling on wildlife biology.

Finding his mentor
After graduating from Doane an important figure came into his life to encourage his new path.

“To continue my graduate studies in wildlife and zoology I went down to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to see Paul Johnsgard. Even at that time at age 39 he was considered the world’s authority on waterfowl. I was intrigued by his background, He’s a duck carver and a sketcher and a photographer and a writer and a teacher.”

But Mangelsen first had to convince Johnsgard to take him on, which required a leap of faith since this would-be protege was no academic star. With the military draft hanging over his head, Mangelsen needed Johnsgard to overlook his deficiencies before Uncle Sam called.



Paul Johnsgard


“It was 1969 and the height of the Vietnam War. I asked Paul if he would be interested in being my advisor in graduate school. I showed him my transcripts and he said, ‘These are really not up to snuff.’ He always took straight A students and only took five students a year. I said. ‘Well, I won the world’s goose calling championship twice and I have a cabin on the Platte, and could you maybe make an exception.'”

Johnsgard did, vouching for him to the dean of students. “I think he was mostly trying to stay out of the service,” Johnsgard quips about Mangelsen. The student didn’t let the teacher down. “Paul told me, ‘You may have been one of my worst students but you probably did the best of all.’ So in the end it worked out.”

Johnsgard soon recognized familiar qualities in his student.

“What i saw in him was mostly myself. He was a hunter and although by then I had long since given up hunting I went through a short period of loving duck hunting and that got me to love ducks. And I think Tom already had begun to stray well away from hunting as a passion to be much more interested in photography.

“I set him to work on a little duck counting project but it mostly became lessons in photography, and having a grand time.”

At Johnsgard’s direction Mangelsen bought his first camera, a Pentax, and first lens, a 400-millimeter.

Tom says, “Paul and I would meet on weekends and we’d photograph ducks, geese and cranes, mostly birds in flight, and I got hooked on it.”

The bond between master and pupil was forged during those times.

Johnsgard says the Mangelsen family’s hunting blinds “proved to be perfect photographic blinds,” adding, “I long wanted to spend time on the Platte photographing and this was a perfect chance, so we both got something out of the deal and we became very close friends.”

It was all manual focus, settings and exposures then. Johnsgard helped teach Mangelsen the ropes.

“He told me, ‘You focus in the eye and you shoot at five-hundredths of a second – that will stop the wings,” Mangelsen recalls.

That and a Nikon workshop were Tom’s only formal training. What Johnsgard provided was more valuable than any camera lessons.

“Paul turned me onto watching birds and he gave me a respect for the waterfowl. The more I learned the more I got interested in being a photographer,” Mangelsen says. “I didn’t have any plans other than doing it for a hobby. Then I started a darkroom in the basement of my family’s home in Westgate. I processed my film and I made prints. All black and white. Then I switched to color because it’s more conducive to shooting wood ducks and mallards.”

Tom and his brother David framed those early prints themselves. They banged away late at night in the garage of the family home until their father banished them to a spare warehouse.

Johnsgard says Mangelsen’s talent was apparent from the start. “Tom was very good. He had very good eye sight and hand-eye coordination in terms of focusing on birds moving very rapidly. When we compared pictures his were usually better than mine. He had great ability and it might have been a carryover from his hunting skills.”

Several kindred spirits shaped Mangelsen, who says, “there were all these interesting people I kept meeting along the way,” but he regards Johnsgard as a second father. These men bound by shared interests still get together on the Platte most every year.

“There’s always been a kind of parental sense dealing with Tom, especially in those early years when he was still lost in the woods, if you will,” says Johnsgard, who knows Mangelsen’s career has been no overnight success story but rather a slow steady climb. Once opportunity knocked, Mangelsen was prepared.


Paul Johnsgard and Yom Mangelsen


Making photography his life

By the time Tom heeded a long-held desire to live in the high country of Colo. he’d “found a different calling” than the family business though he concedes those retail roots taught him how to sell his work.

The mountains had beckoned from the time his family took trips to Estes Park. Then as a young man amid the counterculture movement, with peers joining communes, he moved to Nederland, Colo. outside of Boulder to live in an old one-room schoolhouse. He mastered photography and continued his education there.

“I was still taking some courses, like arctic alpine ecology, from the University of Colorado. At one of the classes this educational filmmaker, Bert Kempers, was doing a dog-and-pony slide show and the teacher knew I was interested in photography and introduced me to him after the class. Bert invited me to come have a beer and a burger with him and asked me if I was interested in work. I said sure.

“I told him I’d never used a movie camera and he said, ‘If you can shoot stills, you can shoot movies,’ which isn’t necessarily true because they’re quite different mindsets. But I didn’t know any better, so he taught me how to use a movie camera. We had an old Bell & Howell with the three-turret lens. Then we moved up to a Bolex and then to an Arriflex. We were doing educational biology films for the University of Colorado. Our advisor there, Roy Gromme, had a famous father, the nature painter and conservationist Owen Gromme.”

Mangelsen later met and was befriended by the elder Gromme.

“Owen was one of the first men making limited edition prints of his paintings, so I thought, Well, why couldn’t I make limited edition prints of photographs? I was stupid and naive at the time and thank God I was because that’s how I started selling the prints.”

Mangelsen opened his first gallery in Jackson Hole in 1978.

Not only did Gromme show him a way to market his work, but he modeled a fierce commitment to bio-diversity reinforced by others he met, including Mardy Murie Didl, widely considered the grandmother of conservation, and Jane Goodall. He also found inspiration in the work of such great photographers as Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, Ernst Haas, Edward Weston, Minor White, Paul Strand and Dorothea Lange. He and fellow Nebraska-native nature photographer Michael Forsberg are good friends. Nature painters like Robert Bateman are influences, too.




Projects with personal meaning
Learning filmmaking from Kempers paid huge dividends.

“I did most of the camerawork and Burt wrote, edited and put the films together. That was a great experience. For five years I made films. Out of that grew other films down the road.”

Among these later films was Cranes of the Grey Wind about the birds’ reliance on the Platte habitat.

“My whole deal with that was to do something about the Platte River, which was running dry. I wanted to show people, mostly in Neb., that we have a resource here that’s vital to the whooping crane migration – a natural phenomenon so incredible that it matches any in the world.”

This was Mangelsen’s chance to combine his talent for photography with his passion for the river and his interest in seeing its ecosystem valued and protected. The fact he could shed light on something so dear was irresistible. He didn’t want to see past mistakes repeated.

“The Platte literally went dry when I was a kid because they sucked so much water out of it for irrigation and for cities like Denver. They were putting more and more dams up. My brother Billy and I would go down to the river to see how deep the water was and sometimes couldn’t even find it. Then when the water came in the fall when the irrigation season was over it would trickle down from (Lake) McConaughy and Johnson Reservoir and people would call us and say, ‘The water’s coming, the water’s coming,’ and we’d wait for it. That’s the truth.

“It was a shrinking river with shrinking channels. It was becoming a woodland not that useful for ducks, geese and cranes. That’s changed quite a bit now. There’s been lawsuits over the dams and things. They have to keep a certain amount of water in the river now. Thank God for the whooping cranes or it probably never would have happened.”

He made Cranes of the Grey Wind for the Whooping Crane Trust. His mentor Johnsgard wrote the script and a companion book.

Johnsgard also turned Mangelsen onto Jackson Hole.

“We had spent time in greater Yellowstone,” Mangelsen says. “He introduced me to that area. I fell in love with Jackson Hole because of that trip I made with him when I was his assistant in the field.”

Johnsgard was doing field work in the Tetons when Mangelsen wheeled-in via a jeep. After a week there Mangelsen was sold.

The two men long talked about doing a book together but it wasn’t until last year they finally released one, Yellowstone Wildlife. They’re working on a new book about the cranes of the world.

Mangelsen’s interest in cranes led him on a kind of pilgrimage that helped generate more projects.

“I wanted to see where the cranes lived in the summer, I wanted to see where they nested in Alaska, where they wintered in Texas off the coasts and all the migration stops along the way.”

National Geographic got wind of this intrepid photographer following the cranes’ migration patterns and they commissioned him for a project that led to a PBS Nature film and so on. His reputation made, his books became best sellers and more people started collecting his prints. He opened more galleries to keep up with demand.



Staying true to his convictions
Even though he’s gained fame few photographers ever attain, the values, principles and rituals of his work remain immutable.

“You photograph birds in the spring when they’re breeding because that’s when they’re most colorful. You photograph mammals in the fall when they have their antlers and their best color.”

He works in all kinds of weather and even prefers when it’s not a picture postcard day. “Blue skies and sunshine are boring to me,” he says. Old Kodak film stock required “you put the sun at your back because the film was so slow it was sensitive to light.” But, he adds, “it’s all changed with higher speed films and now of course with digital.”

Catching the best light is a sport unto itself.

“They call it the golden hour, around sunrise and sunset. But you can also have wonderful light around storms and rain and fog, so there’s not one light I look for. But obviously the golden light, the early light or late light is classically the best light.”

He once made an image of a mountain lion during the last light of the day, the creature silhouetted against a black cave containing her den.

“That very direct light is really beautiful,” he says.

An elephant “against a black, windy, dusty African sky can be beautiful, too,” he says, as it was when he photographed one amid a rolling storm that shone “this golden light sideways across the plain.”

Another time he captured a group of giraffes in the noon day light but with a storm riding in to create a black sky.

“So there’s millions of different kinds of light,” he says.

From the start, Mangelsen’s viewed his work with an eye to education.

“I looked at all this as not collecting trophies as most photographers do early on, you know, shooting the biggest bucks or the biggest bull elk or the biggest rams or whatever. Instead, I was trying to collect animals in their environment – showing how they live.”

His by now iconic image of a brown bear catching a sockeye salmon in its mouth – entitled ‘Catch of the Day’ – has been so often reproduced he’s lost count. But that picture taken in 1988 at the head of Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park, Alaska and which adorned the cover of his first book, Images of Nature, would not have been possible if he didn’t intentionally look and wait for it.

“It was a moment that hadn’t been recorded before,” he says. “There’s thousands of pictures of bears at the falls. I’d seen them, I’d gone there. I’d researched bear footage. I happened upon a book about the bears of Brook Falls and I saw a picture from a distance of fish jumping and I wondered if you could shoot that, just head and shoulders.”

To get this image he’s now most identified with meant having a plan, then letting his instincts take over. It’s still his M.O. in the field today.

“Anticipation, pre-visualizing, observation is a huge part of it,” he says.

For “Catch of the Day” he was 45 yards from the bear on a platform 10 feet off the river. From his homework he says he knew the bears positioned themselves at the top of the falls, “which is kind of the prime fishing spot,” where they practically call to the salmon, “come to me.”

He says the picture became a sensation because “it’s unique – nobody got that moment before.” Some felt it was too good to be true – suggesting he’d manipulated or altered the image. “It was shot in ’88, before photo shop was invented,” says Mangelsen, who’s emphatic that the picture was not enhanced in any way.

Wherever he is, no matter what he’s photographing, his interest is documenting animals as they actually behave in their natural habitats.

“That’s my goal,” says Mangelsen, who decries the short-cut method of shooting animals on game farms.

“These farms have everything from snow leopards to tigers to deer, bears, foxes, cougars, every animal imaginable. Well, snow leopards don’t live on this continent, but for a few hundred dollars in the morning and for a hundred dollars more you can shoot a snow leopard and a raccoon in the morning and a cougar and a wolf in the afternoon and a fox and a caribou the next day, and by the time you’re done with the week and for a few thousand dollars you can have quite a collection.

“But baiting is used and the animals are half starved to death. There’s electric fences around them so they don’t leave. They are released to perform for the camera and the rest of the time they live in cages the size of a coffee table, which is criminal.”


Tom Mangelsen and Dr

An activist artist
His work in the wild has instilled in him a passion and activism.

“I’ve learned that all animals are really important, from the smallest to the largest, not just the bears and the wolves and the cougars but tiny animals. People may joke when certain things are put on the endangered species list – it might be a mouse or a small bird or a frog. But we’ve learned that the disappearance of something as tiny and familiar as bees is a whole chain reaction.

“We need to recognize they’re all important and we shouldn’t take it for granted. We also need to recognize individuals within a species are important. We shouldn’t be killing wolves. There’s no good reason to shoot a wolf unless it’s threatening your livestock or your person or your baby. Then you’re entitled to do something about it.”

But he says lawmakers tend to get their priorities mixed up.

“Nebraska’s a great example. They started this stupid cougar season even though there’s only 20 animals in the whole state. The season’s based on a couple legislators who think they saw a cougar moving across their pasture. I dare say I’ve seen more cougars in downtown Boulder, where I lived, than anyone in Neb. has in their entire life. They’re just part of the ecosystem there.”

He says in Colo. human encroachment on wilderness areas means foraging animals become part of the foothills experience. He says the answer’s not to kill displaced cougars but to coexist with them.

“Studies show it’s counterproductive to hunt things like cougars and wolves. Some people like to create fear of these hard carnivores. Some Joe Blow who hasn’t done his homework thinks they’re going to save babies and create safe zones if they kill all the big guys that prey on other animals. What they don’t realize is the big picture. They think they’re heroes somehow because they’re killing things with big teeth.

“It’s a Duck Dynasty kind of mentality.”

He’s outraged by Neb’s recently enacted cougar hunting season.

“It’s unconscionable to basically have open season on this great animal that you have so few of in the whole state. There’s no reason to kill a cougar other than a real valid threat to humans and none of that’s occurred in Neb. or in Wyoming. There’s no scientific reason. It doesn’t create more deer, it doesn’t make it safer. If you end up shooting the older, knowledgeable cougars which are still teaching their young how to hunt then the young are the ones that go out there to become juvenile delinquents looking for food in people’s backyards.”

He says the public has largely unfounded fears of animals like cougars or bears attacking humans.

“You’d be much more likely to get hit by lightning. People don’t put that into perspective. They’re fearful of what they don’t know.”

He supports well-informed hunting policies and practices. “I’m not against hunting if you do it ethically and cleanly and you do it for meat.”

He disdains hunters who kill animals for trophies. “They’re totally insensitive to the fact these animals have a great place in the ecosystem. Without them there are too many deer, they over graze, then there are no rabbits and beavers. It’s a top down thing.””

He’s quick to criticize hunting and wildlife management abuses. “I took a picture that appeared in the Jackson Hole Daily of these hunters at Grand Teton National Park shooting elk off the road. There were no rangers on duty – they were all at a meeting that morning and the hunters knew it for some reason. The game and fish and the park service got their tits in a wringer so to speak.

“National parks ought to be refuges for animals.”



The Cougar Fund tries to prevent mishaps like this from happening.

“The biggest threat to cougars is sport hunting. About 3,500 cougars a year are killed. Seventy five percent of those are females who are pregnant or have dependent young who will die without their mother. That’s tragic. It’s criminal to be shooting an animal that has young dependents. What our job to do is to educate people that cougars have a place and that killing cougars does not make it safer for people.”

He says the organization also monitors game and fish departments “to hold their feet to the fire.”

For his book Spirit of the Rockies: The Mountain Lions of Jackson Hole he followed a mother cougar and her kittens for 40-plus days, detailing their precarious existence and overturning some myths along the way.

Mangelsen’s travels around the world have put him on intimate terms with the challenges certain animals face on other continents.

“Africa’s in dire straits right now mostly because of the illegal trade in wildlife. Elephants are being slaughtered for their tusks and rhinos for their horns. They say one elephant is killed every 15 minutes. A lot of large elephants are gone. Poachers are shooting baby elephants that have tusks the size of a hot dog. Ivory and rhino horn are worth as much as gold is now. America has its own guilt over that in buying ivory trinkets. People don’t understand that every ivory trinket adds up to a wild animal. Most of the ivory and rhino trade is in China now because of the growth of the middle class there. The middle class didn’t exist not that long ago and now that millions have become affluent they want the cars, they want the fashions, they want the trinkets.

“Rhino horn has absolutely no more value than your toenails or fingernails do. There’s absolutely nothing there for medicinal purposes or aphrodisiacs or any of that. It’s all culture, all tradition, all bullshit. And ivory is just for ornamental purposes and as a status symbol.”

He’s appalled by this rampant destruction of species.

“It’s an amazing crime. People are trying to stop it. People need to stop buying the stuff. It’s not the poor villager who trades in it who’s the problem. I mean, he’s going to feed his family, that’s what comes first, and this is a lot easier than trying to eek out a living goat herding. It’s the people buying it and then of course all the middle men. Terrorist organizations are involved. Elephant ivory is considered valuable enough to be traded for guns, so not only are elephants being killed, so are people. I’m working potentially on a feature film on this issue.”



Full circle
By now he’s photographed just about everything that walks or runs or flies – from elephants to elk and from penguins to peregrine falcons. Two bucket list exceptions are wild snow leopards and pandas. He’s developed some favorites, especially polar bears, brown bears and grizzly bears, and he just hopes it isn’t too late for these creatures.

“They’re really intelligent, they’re beautiful to look at, they’re at the top of the food chain. They’re like wolves in that way. Wolves are terribly persecuted for no good reason. With all these animals there’s a competition with man. It’s not only a competition its a threat.”

There are consequences to being so outspoken. He says, “I’ve been threatened by people for speaking out.”

If there’s one place in the world that has the greatest pull for him it’s the Serengeti in East Africa, which is where he was in January.

“I went to photograph elephants before they’re gone. They really figure they’ll be extinct in 14 years.”

In March he’ll be back home, on the Platte, where his journey in photography began, watching the cranes again. Jane Goodall at his side. He still can’t believe she’s a friend.

“She was always a hero.”

He’d briefly met her but it wasn’t until 2002, when he was asked to introduce her at a talk she made in Jackson Hole, he got to know her.

“She happened to have the following day off and I took her to Yellowstone and we just had a great time. We talked about cougars and Jane joined the Cougar Fund. She asked about the migration of cranes to Neb. and I told her we just happen to have a cabin right in the heart of that crane migration and she said I’m coming to see you and the cranes, and this will be her 13th year she’s come.

“Jane has been to thousands of more places than I have been and yet she comes to Neb. to see the cranes. That should tell you something – that these cranes and the river are very meaningful to her.”

He’s still in awe of her.

“She’s an inspiration to me in that she can keep going through a lot of adversity. She sees a lot of poverty and animal abuse. She’s working very hard on elephant-rhino preservation because it’s coming now to be such a big deal. She’s known for chimpanzees and yet she joined the Cougar Fund. She has more causes and energy than the man in the moon. She’s 80 now and yet she won’t let anything slow her down.

“She’s got so much energy, drive, passion. She’s unstoppable.”

As anyone who knows Mangelsen can attest, he could be describing his own indefatigable self. One that knows no bounds. But like the cranes he loves, no matter how far afield he travels, he always migrates home.

Follow his adventures at



January 28, 2015 2 comments

I have the distinct pleasure of being friends with a remarkable group of women musical artists in Omaha who are all related to each other. Once in a while they gift the community with their individual and collective talents in concert. Their DIVA 3 concert on Sunday, February 8 at New Life Presbyterian Church will commemorate Black History Month with performances of arias and spirituals from the classical canon that celebrate the legacy of African-American women in classical music. Nola Jeanpierre, her daughter Carole Jeanpierre and Carole’s daughter Elyssia Reschelle Finch possess powerful, dramatic soprano voices that will raise the rafters and give you goosebumps. They are all classically-trained. Nola’s sister Johnice Orduna will add her fine vocals as well. As if that’s not enough this musical line, those three generations of performers will be joined by a fourth generation, in the person of Nola’s aunt, Claudette Valentine, who will accompany this family of vocalists on piano. It will be a program you won’t soon forget. Your heart and soul will never be the same. I’ve always thought that if someone with a video camera would record oen of this family’s concerts and post it to YouTube that the video would stand a good chance of going viral because people all over world will be struck by the magic of their music. Nola, Carole and Elyssia deserve the recognition.



Diva3 (NS)



Three generations of classically-trained Omaha singers bound by blood, faith and black musical heritage will perform a DIVA 3 concert on Sunday, February 8 at New Life Presbyterian Church, 4060 Pratt Street.

The 6 p.m. Black History Month show will feature Nola Jeanpierre, her daughter Carole N. Jeanpierre and Carole’s daughter Elyssia Reschelle Finch performing songs celebrating African-American women in classical music. In the tradition of Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle, the three local women will use their dramatic soprano voices to interpret arias and spirituals from the classical canon.

Nola is a veteran musical theater performer on Omaha stages. She portrayed Bloody Mary in South Pacific at the Omaha Community Playhouse. She sang the role of the High Priestess in the memorable Opera Omaha mounting of Aida at the Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum. She’s the featured soloist at the St. Cecilia Cathedral Flower Show each year. She’s done summer stock back East. She traces her vocal abilities to her mother, Bernice Bragg.


Carole Jeanpierre

Carole has performed with national artists on stage and in the recording studio. She is often a guest soloist with the University of California Davis Gospel Choir. She also composes music, including an original, faith-based opera she wrote, Noalia: An Opera of Love that she is workshopping She recently adapted the opera into a children’s book.

Ejyssia, a student at Concordia University in Seward, Neb., has a goal of auditioning for the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, which her grandmother Nola did as a young woman.

Nola’s sister, Johnice Orduna, will lend her own fine voice to the concert. Nola and Johnice’s aunt Claudette Valentine, a piano instructor and choir director, will accompany the vocalists, which means a fourth generation of musicianship will be represented.

This long line of musical talent is viewed by family members as a gift from On High they feel called to share.

“As a family music represents the fruits of the spirit,” says Carole. “It is our hope to enlighten hearts, to share the gift with love and with unity so that audiences are uplifted. That’s the bottom-line.”

“I’ve always been so appreciative that we were blessed with a gift that we could give back,” says Nola.

“Music is love,” Valentine says simply.

Carole created DIVA 3 as a vehicle for the family to sing together, just like they did at family reunions back in the day.

“We’d have family gatherings and someone would bring the macaroni and cheese and someone would bring the guitar, and we would all sit up under each other and sing. That was our best times,” recalls Carole.

“The piano was the center of everything we did,” Valentine says of growing up.

As each next generation came into the family’s musical fold, a new talent was nurtured and another voice added to the mix. When Nola and her two sisters showed a musical knack as toddlers, their mother had them start piano lessons. Voice lessons followed. Claudette formed the girls into a sweet harmonizing trio that performed widely. As Nola’s music career blossomed her first-born, Carole, soaked it all in.

Nola recalls their earliest musical bonding, “She would be under the piano and sometimes I would sit her on the stool next to me and we would sing. She’d touch the keys and play the piano. When I heard the talent then it was time to use it because she has the most phenomenal gift of pitch and mimicking a sound of a one I’ve ever known. She can sound like anybody.”

“I picked up everybody’s gift,” says Carole, who made her public performing debut at age 3 in church.

“I just gave her what was given to me and passed it on down,” says Nola.

Truthfully, it probably started in the womb,” Carole says of this music osmosis. She went on to train with some 17 vocal coaches but says her mom’s “the best.” Nola and Carole both teach vocal students.

The family’s closeness carries over to performing, where their intuitive understanding allows them to cover for one another.

“We feel each other,” says Nola. “We just know when one is going to drop out and the other needs to pick it up.”

Elyssia, who has a mixture of her grandmother’s and mother’s voices. appreciates the musical legacy she is part of and the warm comfort of performing with loved ones.

“I definitely recognize how special that is. Not everybody has that and it does bring your family into a closer connection because we all do share something and we all display our gifts in the same kind of way.”

For the February 8 concert the doors open at 5:30 p.m. for a private auction from the Creations 2 Bragg About Collection.

DIVA tickets are $15. Purchase advance tickets by calling 402-.281-5396. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Raw DAWGS after-school program.

For more information, call 402-281-5396.



January 28, 2015 Leave a comment

My place of worship, Church of the Resurrection in Omaha, does Black History Month good. We are a diverse family united in God’s love. Come and join us for these upcoming events that look at African-Americans through the lens of history, culture and social justice. We haven’t forgotten the soul food, either.









Church of the Resurrection (COR), a blended house of worship with a strong community focus, is offering Black History Month events that take stock of Omaha social justice, past and present.

The Cultural Awareness Team at COR, 3004 Belvedere Boulevard, has scheduled a February lineup of Sunday Lunch Talks, plus a Saturday, February 28 finale, that feeds the soul, the mind and the body. This diverse, progressive church family united in God’s love is calling its Black History Month slate, “Omaha Then and Now: Things Gotta Change.” Some programs reflect African-American achievements and cultural touchstones, others address problems that disproportionately affect the African-American population and another focuses on North Omaha revival efforts.

The Sunday event schedule is:

Feb. 1
Great Plains Black History Museum display

Feb. 8
Soul Food Sunday: “Come Get Your Eat On.” This is the church’s annual home-cooked soul food feast that invites people of all races to break bread and talk together.

Feb. 15
“Profiling Then & Now” presentation by the Omaha Anti-Defamation League

Feb. 22
“North Omaha Revitalization” presentation by local community leaders

The Sunday events are free and open to the public. They immediately follow the regular 10 a.m. service in the basement fellowship hall of the church (at approximately 11 a.m.). A free-will donation lunch is served February 1, February 15 and February 22. The soul food feast is served Feb. 8.

COR culminates its observance of Black History Month 2015 with “An Evening of Music and Learning” on Saturday, February 28 at Loves Jazz & Arts Center, 2510 North 24th Street. The 5 to 7 p.m. program will feature live music by the Church of the Resurrection Choir and a talk by Douglas County District Court Judge Darryl Lowe on the topic of “Equality in the Justice System.” Catered hors d’oeuvres will be served.

The event is open to the public. Tickets are $5.

For more information, call COR at 402-455-7015.

Leo Adam Biga to deliver Nebraska Film Heritage lecture at Durham for Katharine Hepburn exhibit

January 22, 2015 1 comment

Leo Adam Biga to deliver Nebraska Film Heritage lecture at Durham for Katharine Hepburn exhibit
Join me at the Durham Museum at 6:30 pm on Tues. Feb. 17 for a lecture I am giving on Nebraska’s Film Heritage in conjunction with the Katharine Hepburn exhibit there. Kate had no particular ties to Nebraska, but she was an icon in an industry that included many fellow icons from this state. She famously worked with two of them, Henry and Jane Fonda, in On Golden Pond. She worked with another, Montgomery Clift, in Suddenly Last Summer. Her longtime lover, Spencer Tracy, won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in a movie partially shot here, Boys Town, about one of the most famous Nebraskans ever, Father Edward Flanagan, and his legendary home for boys. One of Hepburn and Tracy’s lesser films together, Sea of Grass, was set here.

My talk will touch on some of the figures from here, past and present, to have carved out successful cinema careers behind the camera and in front of the camera. These include household names and more obscure but no less important names. Far more Nebraskans than you think have made significant contributions to the industry or established themselves as solid working film artists. I will also discuss some of the significant films made here and premiered here. Additionally, I will highlight some of the legendary film artists who have passed through Nebraska. Finally, I will give props to some of the individuals and organizations that have enhanced the cinema culture here.

The lecture is part of my Nebraska Film Heritage Project that will ultimately result in a book.
Read more about the exhibit and the special programs scheduled around it, including my lecture, below.
I hope to see you at my presentation,
Leo Adam Biga
Author of “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film”
February 7 – April 26, 2015
The Durham Museum is pleased to present Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen, an exclusive exhibition of Hepburn’s personal costume collection organized by the Kent State University Museum. The exhibit features more than 35 costumes worn in 21 films and 6 stage productions spanning Hepburn’s illustrious career. Among the items on display will be an ensemble of her signature tailored beige trousers and linen jackets, vintage posters, playbills, photos and other Hepburn-related artifacts, as well as stage costumes from The Philadelphia Story and Coco and screen costumes from Adam’s Rib and Stage Door. From classic Hollywood dresses to Kate’s personal “rebel chic,” the exhibition highlights how Hepburn’s sense of style influenced countless women and fashion designers. It helped to create the informal, elegant approach to American style seen on today’s runways. Come see how this true icon of American culture came to epitomize the modern woman of the 20th Century.
Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen is supported locally by Mutual of Omaha, Douglas County Commissioners, On Track Guild, Rhonda and Howard Hawks and the Dixon Family Foundation. Media support provided by KETV.
Pictured Left to Right:
Dress by Walter Plunkett, from the 1934 RKO movie The Little Minister
White satin and lace wedding dress by Howard Greer, from the 1934 production of The Lake
Design by Chanel, from the 1976 production of Coco
*Nebraska’s Film Heritage
Presented by Leo Adam Biga
Tuesday, February 17, 6:30PM
Stanley and Dorothy Truhlsen Lecture Hall
Omaha author Leo Biga highlights the story of Nebraska’s rich legacy in cinema.*Katharine Hepburn: Master of her own Image
Presented by Amy Henderson of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery
Thursday, April 9, 6:30PMSCHEDULED TOURS
Join selected scholars for a special tour and commentary of Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen.*Backstage with Kate
February 7, 2015, 9AM and 11AM
Jean Druesedow, Director, the Kent State University MuseumMarch 7, 2015, 9AM and 11AM
Rachel Jacobsen, Executive Director, Film Streams at the Ruth Sokolof TheaterApril 4, 2015, 9AM and 11AM
Dr. Barbara Trout – Professor – Department of Textiles, Clothing and Design, College of Education and Human Sciences University of Nebraska-Lincoln

*Due to limited space, reservations are required. Please email or call 402-444-5071. Cost of admission applies and members are free.

An Evening with Kate
February 6, 2015
6:30PM Lecture, Reception and exclusive preview of the exhibit to follow
Join the Durham Museum’s On Track Guild and Honorary Chairs Gail and Mike Yanney for “An Evening with Kate.” Jean Druesedow, Exhibition Curator and Director of the Kent State University Museum will discuss the exhibit, collection and Kate’s life.

Tickets: $75

For more information or to make a reservation, contact the museum at 402-444-5071.

Hollywood Bootcamp
Saturday, March 28, 2015, 10AM-3PM
Bring your friends for a day of boot camp…Hollywood style! Walk the red carpet, learn expert tips in costuming and make-up design, star in your own movie and much more. Plus, get your own star on The Durham Walk of Fame!
Regular Museum Admission Rates Apply
Free to Members

Katharine Hepburn Movie Series
February 14 – March 30
The Durham Museum is proud to partner with Film Streams at the Ruth Sokolof Theater for a series of movies that coincide with the costume exhibit, Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen.
All screenings will occur at Film Streams’ Ruth Sokolof Theater (1340 Mike Fahey Street). For details and showtimes visit

Visit The Durham Museum Hitchcock Museum Shop, Old-Fashioned Soda Fountain and the Photo Archive for 10% off Katharine Hepburn related gifts, treats and photos as part of your membership!

Sparring for Omaha: Boxer Terence Crawford Defends His Title in the City He Calls Home

January 8, 2015 3 comments

My latest story about Omaha’s own world boxing champion, Terence “Bud” Crawford, who is fresh off his Nov. 29 title defense in his hometown. I was at the CenturyLink for the fight and some of what I experienced there is in this story for Omaha Magazine ( It’s on the stands now. My blog contains several other articles I’ve written about Terence.


Terence Crawford Crew Ready To Rock, Want Pacman First and Foremost

Sparring for Omaha: Boxer Terence Crawford Defends His Title in the City He Calls Home

In a class by himself

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in Omaha Magazine (


Terence “Bud” Crawford grew up a multi-sport athlete in North Omaha, but street fighting most brought out his hyper competitiveness, supreme confidence, fierce determination and controlled fury. He long ago spoke of being a world champion. That’s just what he’s become, too, and he’s now sharing his success with the community that raised him and that he still resides in.

A gifted but star-crossed amateur boxer, he turned pro in 2008 and for years he fought everywhere but Omaha. It was only after winning the WBO title last March against Ricky Burns in Scotland, he finally returned home to fight as a professional. As reigning champion Crawford headlined a June 28 CenturyLink Center card. He successfully defended his title with a rousing 9-round technical knockout over Yuriorkis Gamboa before 10,900 animated fans.

He made a second victorious defense here Nov. 29 against challenger Ray Beltran. Before a super-charged crowd of 11.200 he dismantled Beltran en route to a 12-round unanimous decision. The convincing win made him Ring Magazine’s Fighter of the Year.

Even with everything he’s done, Crawford, who’s expected to move up to the welterweight division, says, “I’m hungry because I want more. I don’t want to just stop at being good, I want to be great. I want to keep putting on performances that will take me to that next level.”

This warrior believes winning is his hard-earned destiny, saying, “If I fight like I want to fight, can’t nobody beat me.”

Through it all he remains devoted to community. Residents reciprocate by turning out in droves, showering him with rock star adulation.

Chants of “Crawford, Crawford, Crawford” and shouts of “We love you” filled the arena Nov. 29. When the ripped, goateed Crawford attacked, fans went wild. He fed off the dynamic energy and high theatrics, his counterpunching, dancing style a perfect fit for the pulsating music, colored lights, fight video montages and amped-up crowd. When the decision was announced family and friends swarmed him in the ring. He climbed the ropes to acknowledge the fans, his face beaming and his gloved hands raised overhead, waving. On his way way to the dressing room, the title belt around his waist and his boy at his side, he humbly accepted congratulations and posed for pictures with admirers.

Known for cool under fire, he doesn’t let the pressure of the big stage get to him.

“With him, man, he don’t give a damn if the fight’s in hell, it’s just another day in the gym,” co-manager Brian “BoMac” McIntyre says. “He knows exactly where he wants to go in this game and he knows how to get there and what it’s going to take to get there.”

North O has a history of producing great athletes. Bob Gibson, Gale Sayers, Johnny Rodgers and Ahman Green all came out of the same poor neighborhood as Crawford. But where the others achieved their real fame outside here, Crawford’s doing it in his hometown. Now regarded as the best fighter ever from Neb. and as one of the best, pound for pound, in the world today, he’s become a darling of HBO, whose telecasts of his last few bouts scored major ratings. He’s also become a true people’s champion.

His local loyalty is seen in his B&B Boxing Academy located in the heart of The Hood. He wants it to be a launching pad for more champions.

“I want to show we’re not just stepping stones, we do have talent in Omaha and I’m not the only one with the talent – it’s just that people have never been given opportunities like I’ve had.”

He’s “lost count” of the aspiring boxers trying to follow his path. He wants boxing to get kids off the street the way it did for him. “I want to be a positive influence and show them a different route.” His partner in the gym, McIntyre, says they aim “to develop young kids into young men and young men into responsible adults,” adding, “We want to let everyone know if we can make it from this community they can, too.”

Treven Coleman-Avant is among the fighter stable there trying to emulate Crawford’s ring success.

“I pray for many years to come hell be the champion and I plan to come right up along with him,” he says.

It’s not all about fighting. Near Thanksgiving Crawford gave away free turkeys outside the gym, personally greeting recipients and receiving hugs, kisses, thank-yous and God-bless-yous in return.

“If I’m going to have my name out there I want to be in the middle of it interacting with the people I make happy,” he says.

“Much appreciated,” a woman in line offered.
“He’s not forgotten us,” another woman said.
“He takes his and gives back to where he started from,” a man added.

Shawntay Crawford says of her brother, “He’s a loving, caring person.”

“You see him being a true champion outside the ring and that’s what its all about,” Coleman-Avant says.

Bud simply says, “We all make the community and I feel like when you’re going good – give back and help out.”

The fighter takes care of his own. McIntyre. among several Omaha-based coaches and trainers with Team Crawford, says, “Bud’s assured me we’re never going to fall apart. He’s given us that security we’re here to stay.”

Crawford’s also revived boxing in Omaha, where the sport was dormant until his emergence. Few thought Omaha could support a world title card.

“A lot of people doubted and now they’re believers,” Crawford says.

He expects to fight again in Omaha for Top Rank and HBO.

“As long as I keep performing to my best abilities, put on a great show and as long as everybody keeps coming out to support me of course they’re going to keep coming back. Why wouldn’t they?”

“LIke I always say, there’s no place like home.”

Follow the fighter at




A Look Into and Back at the Many Diverse Faces of Leo Adam Biga’s Blog ( “I write stories about people, their passions and their magnificent obsessions”

January 3, 2015 Leave a comment

      • A Look Into and Back at the Many Diverse Faces of Leo Adam Biga’s Blog ( “I write stories about people, their passions and their magnificent obsessions”





















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