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Little Mountain Print Shoppe

Updated: Jun 18

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Joe Horacek

It’s a small world.

Last week I got to visit with a supposed stranger in a podcast-type setting. Joe Horacek of Little Mountain Prints in Lincoln, NE. He’s a design artist and has built a business around intelligible little stories of a sentimental nature, told by the wearers of the t-shirts they live upon. Joe has a knack for capturing an imagination’s worth of detail in one simple sketch. I don’t mean to use the term simple in a diminishing manner. The uncomplicated nature of his art should not be confused with a lack of skill. His prints tell a story, of sorts, and they do so in a wonderful and wearable way....perhaps one of the reasons his t-shirts often sell out so quickly. They’re relatable. The beauty lies in their simplicity.

“I’ve got more ideas than I have time to get them developed” Joe said. During our relatively short chat, I began to understand the way his mind works through things; methodically. He picks apart a subject without a necessary regard to time...we’d visit around and through a concept until the conversation seemed complete. I can easily imagine that must be the same manner in which his art comes together, from concept to complete story.

We talked about how creativity doesn’t live on a switch. That is, it becomes difficult to turn on or off at a moment’s notice. I had very recently listened to a performance artist in an interview speak about finding inspiration for the creative process. I mentioned that and Joe knew well what I spoke of.

“That inspiration comes from experiences. I take creative retreats to get away; it’s where I come up with a lot of my designs”. Joe said. There certainly is something to be said about the sense of place that one experiences on trips around the interesting little sub cultures within our greater United States. Introspective and personal growth, I think, comes from human interactions and being with other people. People are good, everywhere. It is inspiring to see that for yourself, and Joe is very certainly the type of guy who doesn’t know a stranger.

On one of his most recent retreats, Joe brought home the necessary ingredients for a collection of shirts representing the arid cowboy culture of the badlands. Like so much of Joe’s work I've seen, the shirts harness the feel of that part of the a word, they’re perfect. Joe’s love for Nebraska is apparent, too. “Nebraska is so connected. It is fun and exciting.” There’s a quote from Willa Cather, Joe mentioned, about it being easy to love the mountains but it takes a soul to love the prairie. I believe that’s part of the reason why we Nebraskans have garnered the reputation, nation-wide, as such nice people...It’s not about the mountains or the sea; it simply can’t be. What’s left then, is the people and the neighbors. It’s all about the people.

Slightly before our scheduled conversation date, I became aware that Joe’s girlfriend Summer knew me personally. I laughed as the bearer of the news recounted a story that I’d made her a pillow once-upon-a-time.

As kids my brother, cousins, and I would spend Saturday afternoons at Grandma’s house making pillows; a craft she’d taught us the ropes of in the well-equipped sewing room of her home. It was a win-win, looking back. We were totally occupied, we used up the scraps that she’d amassed from various projects, we gained potential real-life skills, AND we hauled home car loads of pillows...all shapes and sizes, colors and textures, and distributed them as gifts to our networks of friends. Summer happened to be the (lucky?) recipient of one such pillow. Admittedly, I do not remember the details of the pillow or the transaction - but Summer would have likely been toddler-aged and was the youngest daughter of my childhood babysitter, so the story is more than plausible.

I can’t help but smile at the cliche’d phrase “it’s a small-world”, and the thought that when you’re in Nebraska the old “six degrees of separation” seems decidedly smaller. Just another reminder that there aren’t nearly as many strangers in this big world as we think.

-Micheal Stepp

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