Tag Archives: durham museum

Early History of Jazz Around Siouxland, Durham Museum, Omaha, NE

1 Feb
Band leader Dan Desdunes served as band director for Father Flanagan’s Boys Home band seen on display at the Durham Museum Friday, December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

History can be found in many ways as one drives about and visits places in and around Siouxland. A companion exhibit to one about Billie Holiday at the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE recounts through photographs early days of jazz in the Omaha area. Names of early musicians who led the way to a changing style of music.

An exhibit of early African American jazz groups of Omaha currently on display at the Durham Museum Friday, December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Band leader Dan Desdunes with the Boys’ Town band outside of Union Station in Omaha, NE circa 1928 seen on display at the Durham Museum Friday, December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Basie Givens was an important musician in Omaha during the second World War and formed a 16-piece orchestra with fellow works from the then local bomb plant called the “Basie Bombadiers”. Earlier in the late 1920′ he played in a local group called the “Jungle Rhythm Boys”. A number of photos documenting the history of jazz in Omaha is on display at the Durham Museum Friday, December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A number of musicians then as now played in a variety of groups and different venues to make a living creating “sound” or music and pursuing their particular passion. Even now in the Old Market area of Omaha one will find street musicians playing, providing entertainment (depending on one’s taste) and during the warmer months can be found around the area.

The “Jungle Rhythm Boys” was a musical group started in the late 1920’s by Basie Given and Alvin “Junior” Raglin which is part of an exhibit about the early Omaha jazz era currently at the Durham Museum Friday, December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Band leader Dan Desdunes had his own band, the Dan Desdunes Band and a number of known musicians played with him and in other groups during those early jazz days in Omaha, NE seen on display at the Durham Museum Friday, December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Not a frequenter of the clubs in the Omaha area, I can only surmise that this tradition continues probably buoyed by the internet which would allow musicians to draw a wider audience to hear the music produced. But even with an online outlet, there is nothing quite like listening to music played live, in person which becomes part of the ambience and charm of the day or night when you encounter it.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

The photograph is of Ruth Brown performing at the Dreamland Ballroom in 1949 and is part of an exhibit of the history of jazz in Omaha, NE currently on display at the Durham Museum Friday, December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. The ballroom hosted jazz greats that included Duke Ellington, Fats Domino, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

An exhibit of early African American jazz groups of Omaha currently on display at the Durham Museum Friday, December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Viewing Jazz in Siouxland, Billie Holiday at the Durham Museum, Omaha, NE

24 Jan
A Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition of photographs by photographer Jerry Dantzic of singer Billie Holiday during 1957 while in Sugar Hill, New York City, a part of Harlem now on display at the Durham Museum Friday, seen December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. Billie Holiday performed with many of the greats of that jazz era including Ben Webster, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Doc Cheatham, Vic Dickenson, Danny Barker, Milt Hinton and others. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Recently on a trip to Omaha I was able to view a traveling exhibit by the Smithsonian Institution about the singer Billie Holiday and photographer Jerry Dantzic who spent time following her about in the New York area documenting her life on and off the stage. This occurred in the late 1950’s and Dantzic’s documentation of Holiday was done with cameras and B&W film. The exhibit at the Durham Museum is there through early February. And it reminds me of my earlier days of photographing for newspapers when the film of choice, basically the only film, was black and white. Normally Kodak Tri-X, with an ASA (these days ISO) of 400.

A traveling exhibition by the Smithsonian Institution of photographer Jerry Dantzig’s images of singer Billie Holiday’s life in and around Sugar Hill, a section of Harlem in New York City in the spring of 1957, seen on display at the Durham Museum Friday, December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. Dantzic photographed in available light so as not to disrupt the performance of Holiday in the various places she performed. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

An enlarged contact sheet from the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition of photographs by photographer Jerry Dantzic of singer Billie Holiday during 1957 while in Sugar Hill, New York City, a part of Harlem now on display at the Durham Museum Friday, seen December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Dantzic was a photojournalist and this particular project was something he had done at the time and it was published in magazines that used a lot of photographs, namely Life magazine and similar publications. These publications did photo spreads of several pages of subjects both topical and varied.

A Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition of photographs by photographer Jerry Dantzic of singer Billie Holiday during 1957 while in Sugar Hill, New York City, a part of Harlem now on display at the Durham Museum Friday, seen December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

One of photographer Jerry Dantzic’s Leica M3 cameras he used to create images of singer Billie Holiday’s life in and around Sugar Hill, a section of Harlem in New York City in the spring of 1957. A traveling exhibition by the Smithsonian Institution is on display at the Durham Museum Friday, December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©) using mostly black and white film with available light at the Durham Museum Friday, December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Dantzic was a “fly on the wall” as he recorded unguarded moments of his subject, Holiday, by then a renowned singer recognizable by people on the street and performing in upscale clubs. The B&W film made for a more gritty presence but also necessary as Dantzic photographed without flash using whatever available ambient light was present. In film days shooting in difficult low light situations photographers were always happy in capturing the content and telling a story, and sometimes the “graininess” of film came with the territory. Whereas today people might get chastised for not ridding an image of that grainy/pixelated look because of technology that makes it possible to make an image look perfect.

It is fun looking at the images Dantzic created and understanding the conditions in which he worked and being able to capture his subject in ways to tell the story he was pursuing.

A Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition of photographs by photographer Jerry Dantzic of singer Billie Holiday during 1957 while in Sugar Hill, New York City, a part of Harlem now on display at the Durham Museum Friday, seen December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. Dantzic photographed in available light so as not to disrupt the performance of Holiday in the various places she performed. Billie Holiday performed with many of the greats of that jazz era including Ben Webster, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Doc Cheatham, Vic Dickenson, Danny Barker, Milt Hinton and others. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition of photographs by photographer Jerry Dantzic of singer Billie Holiday during 1957 while in Sugar Hill, New York City, a part of Harlem now on display at the Durham Museum Friday, seen December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. Billie Holiday performed with many of the greats of that jazz era including Ben Webster, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Doc Cheatham, Vic Dickenson, Danny Barker, Milt Hinton and others. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition of photographs by photographer Jerry Dantzic of singer Billie Holiday during 1957 while in Sugar Hill, New York City, a part of Harlem now on display at the Durham Museum Friday, seen December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

History comes in many forms, mostly in books and the written word, sometimes in film through cinema and again in photographs. The photos encapsulate a particular time period and allows one as much time as needed to stand and view and contemplate what is seen. The exhibit also invokes a recording method that is now mostly extinct as far as the process used. Technology has made it easier to photograph in seemingly difficult conditions. And technology should make life “easier” through progress no matter the subject or medium.

But this exhibit harkens to another time period. The B&W invokes an era that has passed but was preserved so others who did not see the work published could still enjoy it for what it is a generation or two later.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

A Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition of photographs by photographer Jerry Dantzic of singer Billie Holiday during 1957 while in Sugar Hill, New York City, a part of Harlem now on display at the Durham Museum Friday, seen December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition of photographs by photographer Jerry Dantzic of singer Billie Holiday during 1957 while in Sugar Hill, New York City, a part of Harlem now on display at the Durham Museum Friday, seen December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. Billie Holiday performed with many of the greats of that jazz era including Ben Webster, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Doc Cheatham, Vic Dickenson, Danny Barker, Milt Hinton and others. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition of photographs by photographer Jerry Dantzic of singer Billie Holiday during 1957 while in Sugar Hill, New York City, a part of Harlem now on display at the Durham Museum Friday, seen December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE.

Celebrating Christmas with a Tree, Durham Museum, Omaha, NE

29 Dec
Christmas tree at the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE Friday, December 17, 2021. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Every Christmas most every home goes out to find a Christmas tree here in Siouxland. It’s not 100% but probably close. I personally sometimes get a tree, and other times not. Over the years even my cats have enjoyed having something “new” in the house they can play with as it suits them. Occasionally at night I will here something rolling about the floor and then scampering. Sometimes I will call out, and other times I just roll over and hope that I will find only one ornament displaced and not broken.

So visiting places like the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE is pleasant, and I can experience a giant of a Christmas tree that sits inside a former Union Station, a hub of activity during the early railroad days and up through the second world war when massive troop deployment cycled through the station. Now it houses a local museum and Christmas every year displays a grand tree. One of these days I would like to make it down for the evening tree lighting when pandemic life returns to some kind of safe environment and normalcy, whatever that may be.

Christmas tree at the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE Friday, December 17, 2021. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Christmas tree at the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE Friday, December 17, 2021. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

And the museum gets lots of visitors who do the same as I. I couldn’t imagine the amount of pine needles that is cleaned up afterwards. My trees are generally small, but somehow leave behind an inordinate amount of needles to clean up. But a small price to pay to enjoy a special time of year the meanings and joy this symbol gives.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Christmas tree at the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE Friday, December 17, 2021. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Christmas tree at the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE Friday, December 17, 2021. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Visiting the Netherworlds in Siouxland, Durham Museum, Omaha, NE

20 Jun
A visitor watches film clips of director James Cameron seen in the “Challenging the Deep” exhibit at the Durham Museum Tuesday, June 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Even though I live in Siouxland, a region that is part of what is affectionately or not affectionately known as flyover country, there are a number of museums, large and small, which one can visit and enjoy traveling exhibits, both visually and educationally stimulating.

Currently at the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE is the exhibit James Cameron — Challenging the Deep. Film director Cameron put together various crews to explore the worlds under the sea including the Titanic and the battleship Bismark allowing Cameron to share his passion and interest with the deep ocean by creating an immersive exhibit using large video screen displays to show visitors what he and others saw beneath the ocean depth, in some place 10,000 meters deep, or almost 10.5 Empire State buildings stacking on top of one another.

A visitor watches a film of deep sea exploration from film director James Cameron at the “Challenging the Deep” exhibit at the Durham Museum Tuesday, June 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
An informative and elaborate set sets the stage for the James Cameron “Challenging the Deep” exhibit at the Durham Museum Tuesday, June 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Costumes from the movie “Titanic” seen juxtaposed with film of the actual Titanic that director James Cameron filmed during a deep sea exploration and seen at the “Challenging the Deep” exhibit at the Durham Museum Tuesday, June 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

There is a model of the Titanic as it appears underwater on display that is seen in some of the videos showing the exploration of the ship that Cameron and others recorded. The director’s fascination with the deep ocean evidently started when he was a young child and he nurtured that desire to explore as he followed his career path as a film director. Some of the problem solving in filming movies, such as the Abyss, helped Cameron realize what might be possible as he collaborated with experts in the field of under water exploration.

A mock version of the “Titanic” on display at the James Cameron “Challenging the Deep” exhibit at the Durham Museum Tuesday, June 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Informational panels explain that director James Cameron held a long fascination since childhood about the sea and is told in the “Challenging the Deep” exhibit at the Durham Museum Tuesday, June 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Items on display used in filming some of the deep sea exploration seen at the James Cameron “Challenging the Deep” exhibit at the Durham Museum Tuesday, June 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Through the use of underwater recording technology and deep ocean submersible vessels Cameron and others explore the deep, and film themselves exploring the deep which gives the exhibit viewer an idea of how this was all made possible at such incredible depths, with Cameron narrating what is being seen and how it was made possible.

And the exhibit in some ways becomes more interesting by the fact that its entire area is bathed in deep blue light or blackness, resembling what the various individuals must have encountered themselves as they dove deep to explore areas of the ocean not seen by many but now accessible to all through this exhibition.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

An informative and elaborate set sets the stage for the James Cameron “Challenging the Deep” exhibit at the Durham Museum Tuesday, June 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Visitors watch film of deep sea exploration from film director James Cameron at the “Challenging the Deep” exhibit at the Durham Museum Tuesday, June 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Light and Shade in Siouxland, Le Mars and Omaha, NE

8 Dec
Light and shade at the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

I will sometimes have students in class through the Lifelong Learning program at Western Iowa Tech tell me that they couldn’t find subjects to photograph or that the weather was not cooperating. Photography is a perfect example of the adage of making lemonade out of lemons.

Even in Siouxland one sometimes has to shift gears and think differently about subject matter to photograph. I find reverting back to shooting black and images helpful because seeing becomes more fundamental, reduced to lights and darks, lines, shapes and angles. Color or lack or too much of it doesn’t matter. Weather though can have an impact if one is looking to create certain images. Strong light is a must, but a person must take the time to see a bit differently and maybe more abstractly than when shooting in color.

Light and shade in Le Mars, Iowa Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Light and shade at the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

When photographing in black and white it’s all about shades of grey. For me it’s less grey and more strident blacks and whites. But one does what one can with what’s available. And even in today’s digital age there are the tools available to create decent black and white images. I believe it’s more in the seeing, of possibilities, than what is before you. I began my career photographing for newspapers shooting Kodak’s famous Tri-X film. In the vernacular of the day it was “f/8 and be there” which I heard from more than one newspaper photographer. At an ISO of 400, Tri-X was a moderately fast film and shooting outdoors in daylight one generally was at f/8 at 1/2000 on a sunny day. Shadows were a major concern because in the day fill flash didn’t have hypersync capabilities and the old Nikon F camera’s only flash synced at 1/60th of a second or slower.

Light and shade in Le Mars, Iowa Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Light and shade at the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

So one became very conscious of how light and shade affected subjects be they people, buildings, landscapes or whatever. I still really enjoy black and white, but am happy to shoot color. Each has its place. Photographing fall foliage and Christmas lights is so much nicer, as are fireworks. But black and white can still be very effective and rewarding. One just needs to look for it and see it in this world of color.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Light and shade at the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Growing up with the Muppets in Siouxland, Durham Museum, Omaha, NE

2 Dec
A current show in progress traces the history of the Muppets at the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

It’s most likely a generational thing that different people, even in Siouxland, remember becoming aware of different Muppet characters. I was surprised to learn that Jim Henson began his great Muppet caper in 1958. And entertained people of all ages for decades with the antics of these lovable characters.

Many people are aware the Muppets through a decades long appearance on public television, with many people growing up with these characters. And it was fascinating to read and see how Henson and his crew brought these lovable characters to life and pays tribute to his forward thinking and innovation in creating movie spectaculars that seem so real. And currently an exhibit about Jim Henson and Muppets is at the Durham Museumand organized by the Museum of the Moving Image.

Kermit the Frog takes center place in a part of the exhibit currently in progress traces the history of the Muppets at the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Bert and Ernie still chatting away. A current show in progress traces the history of the Muppets at the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
One can only show a candy wrapper or cookie at their own risk walking by the Cookie Monster’s display. A current show in progress traces the history of the Muppets at the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Not to mention the ever ongoing love affair between Kermit and Miss Piggy, even if it was only Miss Piggy who knew this and the hapless suitor, Kermit, who could never quite figure out what was going on. The Muppets have been in 10’s if not hundreds of shows. A stop by Durham Museum is well worth the time, and an early timed arrival during the week beats a crowd.

TV was not the only medium where the Muppets came to fame. A current show in progress traces the history of the Muppets at the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
A visual feast of Jim Henson’s Muppet activity over the years seen during a current show in progress which traces the history of the Muppets at the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Henson and his collaborators and crew spent the time to perfect the Muppets movements to make them as lifelike as possible. Behind the scenes footage show this taking place and leaves one marveling at what was involved and the energy and spirit folk put into creating this productions.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

A couple watch part of a film created by Jim Henson and his collaborators showing the virtuosity of the films that were made during an exhibit about Jim Henson and the Muppets currently at the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Rowl, left, performed by Henson and Frank Oz, was a sidekick to Jimmy Dean on his show. An early Jim Henson creation. A current show in progress traces the history of the Muppets at the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
A current show in progress traces the history of the Muppets at the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
A current show in progress traces the history of the Muppets at the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Choosing an Image in Siouxland, Omaha, NE

14 Nov

When out photographing in and around Siouxland I am conscious most times of making images I think will work best for the subject. And more often I photograph in color.

The students I teach photograph in color and it’s how they see. But I do make them think about taking photos in B&W and choosing what works well for the subject and image they want. And sometimes choosing becomes a no-brainer. Some images just stand out in one medium, and then get lost in the translation when choosing another.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

A train bell on display at the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A train bell on display at the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Waiting for Halloween in Siouxland, Durham Museum, Omaha, NE

29 Oct
The Durham Museum decked out for Halloween in Omaha, NE Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Halloween in Siouxland like many holidays has taken on a life of its own and gives people a chance to enjoy a day guilt free. Visiting the Durham Museum recently which is located in Omaha, NE, the museum was decked out in anticipation of the yearly event.

The Durham Museum decked out with various scary scenarios for Halloween in Omaha, NE Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
The Durham Museum decked out for Halloween in Omaha, NE Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Ghouls, ghosts and skeletons were found in various places throughout. And on occasion some guests added to the atmosphere for a spook festival that occurs Oct. 31. It’s always fun to see how places celebrate holidays and the Durham didn’t disappoint.

The Durham Museum decked out for Halloween in Omaha, NE Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
A visitor makes a nice apparition while checking out an exhibit at the Durham Museum which is decked out for Halloween in Omaha, NE Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

And while the adults didn’t get to indulge, there were goody bags for the kids, always in my humble opinion one of the best aspects of Halloween as a child. Candy may not settle the stomach after a good scare, but it doesn’t hurt either.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Shadows of strangers seen during a visit to the Durham Museum which is decked out for Halloween in Omaha, NE Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Simple Images in Siouxland, Omaha, NE

20 Mar

A street car on display at the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE Tuesday, March 11, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Sometimes as the saying goes (KISS), it’s a good dictum to follow. I find myself trying to always tell a story with the photos I share but realize that some photos are of themselves something simple, no storyline, just a moment’s glance and pondering of what I have seen. Good, bad or indifferent, it’s all in the eye of the beholder. And then there is that bonus when colors magically coordinate.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

A saffron finch perched inside an indoor area at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, NE Friday, Feb. 22, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Photographing in Siouxland, Durham Museum, Omaha, NE

1 Apr

Descending stairs at the Durham Museum, formerly a Union Station, in Omaha, NE Monday, Dec. 10, 2018. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Sometimes as one pursues his/hers photographic interests or various endeavors, clicking the shutter can be a leap of faith. Going somewhere while making images but not really certain where that somewhere will lead them.

I enjoy creating images with light and shade. The two work hand in hand to help create an image. To me at times the images can be intriguing and ambiguous, and at other times pretty straight forward.

But unless one clicks the shutter and captures a moment to share with others, one may never know. One foot in front of the other and one click of the shutter at a time. Following the light into the darkness and vice versa. And I guess it is as some folk say, it’s not the destination, but the journey.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

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