Faculty & Mentor Bios
Faculty for the MFA in Creativity
Donna Hewlett has a combination of experience as a writer and educator. In her life as a writer, she adapted her writing for creating web text, proposals, brochures, newsletters, and manuals as a freelance writer. She has newspaper feature writing experience working for The Minot Daily News in Minot, North Dakota. Most recently, she has completed her second fiction novel and is working on her third. In her life as an educator, she taught English Literature, English Composition, Creative Writing, and Journalism. She studied aspects of creativity as they applied to the creative process and pooled her interests in writing, creativity, and teaching as she collaborated in development of the MFA in Creativity.
Donna's educational qualifications include a master's degree in English Language and Literature, and a Master of Fine Arts in Writing, with an emphasis on fiction writing.
"I believe creativity is the foundation for every pursuit. As the program director for the MFA in Creativity, I have the opportunity to share this view and implement it through curriculum development. When people think about artists and writers, they typically say that they could never "do that." That's nonsense. Everyone is capable of being creative. Just think of creativity as "creative thinking" and it becomes clear that problem-solving and decision making are really aspects of creativity. Whether I am constructing modules for a course or writing a chapter in a novel, these elements of creativity are vital. I am excited about working with students to foster their creativity and open the world of possibilities."
Linda has been a speaker at local, regional and national meetings and her works have been published in national trade journals. During most of her career she has specialized in activities that encourage local capacity, resource allocation, and collaborative efforts. Her work facilitating numerous community efforts led her to write the book "The ABCs of Development: It's About Building Capacity." The book is a quick read, common sense book meant for community volunteers, board members, and new development staff. Her latest book, "A Guide to Small Business Growth" is part of the Rule of Thumb series.
Linda's educational qualifications include a master's degree in Organizational Management, which emphasizes economic development and entrepreneurship, and a master's degree in the Art of Leadership Development. She earned a bachelor's degree from the Economic Development Institute with her undergraduate work emphasizing community development. Linda also participates in Purdue University's Center for Regional Development core design team for Strategic Doing — a strategic implementation process.
"For many years there have been two parallel worlds, the world of art and the world of business. Or at least many people viewed it that way. Successful businesses require management that is able to have a vision, navigate through the unknowns, understand finances and regulations. They must do this while producing products (new creations) to meet consumer demand, whether the product is the infamous widget, the next artistic masterpiece, or the great American novel. Art is business and business is an art."
Mentors for the MFA in Creativity
Hector Anchondo - Musician, Song Writer
Hector first entered into the art and business of music in his teens. Since then he's written hundreds of songs, recorded multiple albums, toured the country, been privileged to open for music legends, performed sold out shows, given radio air play, and performed on live television and radio. In addition, he's been fortunate to be self-employed through music and teaching, while expanding his art and business. Current information about Hector can be found at the following address: http://www.HectorAnchondo.com
"Music is the "body and soul" counterpart. It goes back to the beginning, being used for healing, enlightenment, happiness, inspiration, fear, as well as many other uses. Creative music can provoke the deepest, most powerful emotions in listeners and can enable you to take them on a musical journey that they may never have known. There are no limits or rules to artistic expression. Creativity, compounded by knowledge, creates infinite possibilities. Create, express, learn, share, and live a more potent life through creative art of music."
Tyrone Beasley - Theatre Actor and Director
Tyrone is no stranger to the stage; he has worked with directors Peter Sellars, Claude Purdy, Charles Marowitz, David Wheeler, and Antonio Banderas, among others. Tyrone moved back to Omaha from Los Angeles to ensure the future of the John Beasley Theater & Workshop (JBT) and has directed several of its productions including: http://www.johnbeasleytheater.org/
Ron Cooley - Musician, Music Publication, and Production Management
Ron Cooley's career as a guitarist, educator and composer spans six decades. Ron has studied with guitarists Mick Goodrick, Eliot Fisk, Oscar Ghiglia and Ricardo Iznaola and has performed on countless stages in the United States, Canada and Europe.
Touring highlights include performing on NBC's Today Show and Tonight with Jay Leno, ABC's Good Morning America, the Regis and Kathy Lee Show and for President Clinton at the National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony in Washington DC with the Mannheim Steamroller.
He has appeared at the Wolftrap Theater in DC in the "Yellowstone Music of Nature" concerts and also as a solo artist at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. To date Ron has eight solo recordings spanning an eclectic blend of instrumental jazz, pop, classical and contemporary acoustic guitar compositions.
Ron still is a member of Mannheim Steamroller, getting ready to celebrate his 34th year of working with the group. he also is a member of the praise band at St. Andrew's Episcopal church in Omaha and also is a part-time member of the Darkwood Brew internet church service jazz band at Countryside church in Omaha.
"I believe success in life comes from creating and following a path which is both exciting and fulfilling...living one's dream is possible if the proper skills are acquired and applied when following this path."
Eric Downs - Creative Director
Eric is co-owner and creative director of Grain & Mortar, a brand strategy and design studio. He began designing in high school and never stopped. After college, Eric started his own design studio, which has now grown to work with clients such as Google, Hayneedle, Virgin Pulse, and numerous Silicon Valley startups. Eric’s days are filled with sketching, designing, web development, meeting with prospective clients, and collaborating with his team. In his spare time, Eric loves to give back by speaking to students of all ages about design and entrepreneurship.
I share an equal love for established design fundamentals and the modern technological approach. I love using techniques and design principles from the past and integrating them into well-crafted designs that work in the modern day, across many different platforms. Concepting and executing design ideas, beginning from a birds-eye view down to each minute detail, is where my passion lies. I believe great design can solve problems, evoke emotion, and bring beauty to its surroundings. I love creating work that will bring joy and inspiration to those who see it.
Emily Engles - Music Promotion
Emily has been involved in the music industry for over ten years. She brings experience from all sides and levels of the industry as a former concert promoter for national acts at Stir Cove and Whiskey Roadhouse, a current local band manager, and an overall fan of music. Emily has a marketing degree from Temple University and is currently an office manager for a concert sound production company in Omaha. She has been involved in the local music scene for nearly three years and is a member of the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards board of directors.
"The creative process in the music industry is more than the creation of music; creativity is necessary to make your music a successful business. The various aspects of music as a business require creativity when establishing an image or brand, booking a show, promoting an event or financing a tour. I'm excited to be a part of the mentoring process and feel I have much to share from my real-world experiences from the many sides of the industry."
Robert Franco - Architect and Interior Designer
The design industry has allowed Robert to purse a variety of different opportunities including working for the Chicago Architecture foundation and teaching Roman architecture in Rome, Italy, Iowa State University, and Metropolitan Community College.
Robert has worked on design conception, conceptual design, design development, construction management, facility management, contract administration and general contracting. Currently his focus is on providing high quality housing for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, implementing sustainable design techniques, advanced technology systems and advanced ADA applications. His design experience also enabled him to work on projects in hospitality, healthcare, retail, residential, light industrial and commercial design areas.
"I believe everyone should have access to 'Good Design.' It is very easy to recognize what "Bad Design" is. When people are asked what "Good Design" is, there is a struggle to answer. My goal is to help people achieve or recognize what "Good Design" is. I belief every individual can be creative; it is just recognizing your own creativity and showing it off. I look to challenge and inspire people to succeed in themselves, for each individual can be a product of 'Good Design.'"
Melissa (Missy) Hardersen - Regional Entertainment Director
Missy Hardersen is the Regional Entertainment Director for Caesars Entertainment, booking 15 venues throughout the Midwest and South for the Harrah's and Horseshoe Casino brands. Missy has been in the gaming industry for over 13 years holding positions not only in Entertainment, but also Advertising, Promotions, Sales, Sponsorships, and Special Events. Over the past 10 years, Missy has been an incremental part in creating and programming Harrah's Stir Concert Cove in Council Bluffs into one of the top outdoor amphitheaters in the world and the most profitable venue within the Caesars family. Her love for entertainment is what has kept her in the music industry all these years, plus she always enjoys rubbing elbows with rock stars!
Dave Homan - Game Developer
Jeffrey Hug - Digital Photographer
Jeff is an associate professor and teaches digital photography and graphic design. Jeff's work appears in numerous local exhibits and in multiple international publications. He is an avid follower of citizen journalism and has presented on using social media in the classroom.
He continues to look at the creative aspects of film and is an official pioneer in the Impossible Project Polaroid film revival.
Bobby Kent - Victorian Glass Artist
Bobby Kent has been creating Victorian inspired stained glass creations since he saw another artist working in that medium. His first piece was a patchwork design and since then he has created many more. He has pieces scattered throughout San Francisco and now in Omaha. For thirty years his company, Omaha Victoriana, has been creating custom-designed, hand-crafted stained glass windows in the Victorian, Edwardian, Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts styles for restoration of period homes. Bobby prides himself on using antique glass and jewels whenever he can. He has an extensive palette of wonderful old textures and colors. He matches and chooses colors and textures that go with the period windows he creates.
"Strained glass is my passion and my work is my pride. I have a style that I developed myself on the process of channel lead. Every window is like a jigsaw puzzle and you must make every piece of the puzzles fits perfectly. It's not easy, but I love the idea of teaching and sharing my talent with students."
John Lajba - Sculptor
John has sculpted a remarkable career spanning 32 years. His studio in the Old Market district is now known internationally as a result of his exceptional and diverse contributions to the art world. He is acclaimed for the deeply human quality he brings to his sculptures, driven by a desire not only to "create" a physical likeness, but to "capture" the intangible spirit of what is human. Some of John's sculptures include monuments to Dale Earnhardt, the College World Series "Road to Omaha", Catherine Lee Bates, General Jimmy Doolittle, as well as many others that reveal our intelligence and vulnerability.
"My passion is not just to create a physical connection with my sculptures. I want students to embrace what is truly real about their lives and perspectives, empowering them to look at our world honestly and without fear."
Jim Lamb - Digital Photographer
Jim Lamb was born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas and joined the Air Force at 18 years old. After living all over the world, he chose to make Omaha his new home. Jim's ability to communicate with others shows through his photographic images as the viewer forms a bond with the subject of his portrait work.
In the fall of 2004, he took his first senior portrait and his work has continued to mature and improve. During the years since then, he has continued to learn more about photography while capturing images at local concerts for artists such as R.E.O. Speedwagon, Styx, Colin Hay, Jenny Lewis and more. But it's the people in the Omaha area that are most often pictured in his images of weddings, engagements, and senior portraits. He also loves showing off his new home by capturing images of Omaha and the surrounding area. He's a frequent fixture at local sporting and entertainment venues as well as the parks, woods, and streams in the area.
In 2010, Jim became heavily involved in shooting images supporting local designers and Omaha Fashion Week. Since then, his company name, Blacksheep Photography has become synonymous with professional fashion photography across the Midwest and in various markets in California, Japan, and Europe. His most recent Omaha clients include Kate Walz of "Just Because" fashions, Tiffany Headley of "Donna Faye Couture", Kendra Morgan of "AML Designs" and most recently with Hannah Olson of Hannah Caroline Couture.
"I hope to achieve a subtle level of connection with every subject I photograph. Whether I'm shooting images of a runway-experienced fashion model or a high school student wanting images for senior portraits, I give complete attention to not only getting the best image possible, but also provide an enjoyable experience. Senior Portraits, weddings, engagements, showcasing designer fashions and providing professional quality images for modeling portfolios are my favorite projects. However, I'm always looking for new areas to grow and explore with my art."
Eric Luchian - Professional Artist
Eric Luchian is an Assistant Professor of Art in the College of Arts and Sciences at Bellevue University. Currently he is a PhD candidate at Lancaster University — United Kingdom. He obtained his MFA — Computer Arts in Animation from Florida Atlantic University, Florida — USA and his Diploma of Licentiate in Painting from National University of Arts, Bucharest — Romania.
Before joining the team at Bellevue University, Eric was awarded a Marie Curie Research Fellowship investigating visual analogies to support insight and creative problem solving. During his fellowship at Lancaster University, he published a book chapter, 3 articles and presented several posters on visual analogies in international journals and conference proceedings. Also, he worked at Lynn University - Florida as an Assistant Professor of Art and Design, teaching fine arts and graphic design courses; at Digital Media Arts College and Broward College — Florida, and Art Institute of Pittsburgh Online Division as Adjunct Professor for several years teaching and advising majors in fine arts.
As a professional artist, Eric has 5 one-person exhibitions on his record, participated in many local, national and international art shows, worked with prestigious interior design companies from Florida, Nevada, Arkansas and California and was commissioned with several large scale mural painting and design projects by design firms and private clients.
Commissioned work: www.luchian.us
Max Riffner - Graphic Design Cartooning
Max is a cartoonist, designer and illustrator working in Omaha, Nebraska. He has been practicing graphic design for 17 years, working for design firms, advertising agencies, and Internet start-ups. He's also a cartoonist and the winner of the 2007 Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics. Max recently graduated with his MFA in Cartooning from the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont. He continues to work as a freelance designer while working on comic books and graphic novels. He currently writes for Spongebob Comics, has a graphic novel being released by British comic publisher Markosia this year, and various other projects.
You can find his portfolio on Behance, and he posts his works-in-progress on Dribbble and on Tumblr. He often complains about the Internet on Twitter, and sometimes updates his life on Facebook. You can get a professional rundown on LinkedIn. Currently, Max is the regular artist on the webcomic Signs & Meanings. Other webcomics include Drunk Elephant Comics and Lydia.
"I love my independence. Thankfully, I also love learning. That's probably been my most successful trait in anything that I do. I knew I wanted to be a cartoonist as a young boy, but I didn't quite know how to get there. In high school, I started learning graphic design so I would know how to layout my comics better. I had no idea that it was going to help me with my storytelling ability as well; how to communicate clearly and visually. I studied art and writing in college to refine those skills. The next step was to learn about publishing, and then business and entrepreneurship, so I could find ways to get my stories out in the world and make a living off of them. All of what I learned informs the other aspects of my knowledge and has helped me live a curious and satisfying life."
Valerie Spellman Batt - Stained Glass Artist
As one of the more experienced stained glass artists working in the Midwest today, Valerie Spellman Batt has been working in stained glass and window design for over 20 years. She has an extensive portfolio with a variety of projects, including large residential projects and commercial commissions.
Although she is an Omaha native, Valerie was living in Tucson, AZ when she was awestruck with the beauty and challenge of designing stained glass windows; so she decided to make it her career. Today she continues to learn, grow and expand her offerings through her daily work and by attending national stained glass workshops.
Valerie currently lives in Omaha, where her spacious studio in the Hot Shops Art Center is her second home. Valerie specializes in custom stained glass windows for the home and business. She prides herself on listening to her clients' needs, and cooperatively developing designs based on the look her customers are trying to achieve. In addition to custom stained glass, Valerie also offers a wide range of gifts such as fused glass images, millefiori jewelry, beveled glass boxes and decorative glass picture frames. Much of her work incorporates the use of unique bevels, jewels, rondels and mouth blown antique glass.
"Even though I've been making stained glass windows for 20 years, I feel like I am still a glass student in that I am learning new techniques all the time. I constantly push myself to come up with new designs and to incorporate new techniques into my work. I don't hold secrets to creating my windows and running my business. I am happy to share what I know and have learned throughout the years."
Glenn Trembley - Warm Glass Artist
Glenn has been working with glass in several mediums since 1969. Today he focuses his talents on kiln fired glass art that represents a broad range of themes and techniques. Working out of his glass studio in Springfield, Nebraska, Glenn explores the art of the Indians of the southwest and Pacific Northwest along with the designs and animals of Africa as well as multitude of every day designs and creations. Much of his art is considered "multi-media" because of the inclusion of copper and silver foil in the final product.
"Learning the technique of kiln formed glass is an on-going experience and desire for me," Glenn says. He studied with renowned artist including Brad Walker, Richard LaLonde, Patty Grey, Michael DuPille, and Katy Pasquinini. Glenn says, "Each of my instructors has provided me with multiple insights into both the technical and creative aspects of my craft."
"I don't consider myself to be a complicated person and basically wear my feelings on my sleeve. These traits are transferred to my glass art. With the exception of some of my designs, like my American Indian Series, my work is pretty much spontaneous. I do like to experiment with new ideas. Sometimes that experimentation turns out as 'what not to do.' Even so, the oddity of my "wild" creations brings a sense of fun to my craft.
I love glass! It is a substance that is unique in our universe. In fusing I can change the shape and color of glass. It is also somewhat of a mystery. What I envision a piece will look like after firing can, on occasion, cause me to say, "WOW", that's unique. The good news is that I generally like the "happy mistake" I created. When you see my glass you will know if it "speaks" to you. If it does, I hope you will answer."
Following retirement from corporate America as a CEO, Glenn devotes a majority of this time in the creation of new techniques and method of glass art. Samples of his work can be found at www.springfieldartworks.com
Dar VandeVoort - Painter and Mixed Media Artist
Dar Vande Voort works in her home studio in Council Bluffs, Iowa and at the Hot Shops Art Center studio in Omaha, Nebraska. She is an artist of many colors. She has the trained touch of a portrait artist, the vision of an impressionist painter, and the curiosity of a child. She works in a range of media, including pastel, acrylic, oil, collage, and mixed media. Dar specializes in portraiture, public art commissions and teaching. Over the years, Dar has transformed as an artist navigating new mediums and subject matter. Always in search of a new artistic voice, Dar boldly moves forward in new and exciting creative directions. Her signature style includes incorporating puzzle pieces into her paintings. Dar has shown throughout the United States and is a sought after commission portrait artist. Enjoying all aspects of the creative process, Dar often works on a series. She is currently represented by the Artists' Cooperative Gallery in Omaha's old market district. She also works with disabled and rehabilitation clientele through the arts. Her work is collected both privately and on a corporate level. Dar's work continues to evolve and it's obvious she enjoys the journey. You can check out her work at http://darzart.com/
"I enjoy challenging my viewers' eye to question reality or illusion, or perhaps to allow them a quiet escape." There are no mistakes; it's all just another layer." And "May I load that brush for you?" Those are phrases often heard in working with me. We dive right into the colors and know we will create something beautiful. Sometimes one layer, sometimes ten, we paint for the joy and learn about color mixing in the process. When you know it's ok to try something new, without mistakes, the world is yours, color it!"
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