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Dick Budig


“Today we received a beautiful gift from you… we cannot find the words to describe it…”

Dick Budig gets cards in the mail with these kinds of sentiments on a fairly consistent basis. He doesn’t really know the woman who sent him this letter, in fact, he’s never even met her… but he recently painted a portrait of her deceased son.

Over the past 16 years, painting portraits of men and women killed in war has become Dick’s hobby. He does his work completely free of charge, seeking to honor the families of these heroes and thank them for their sacrifice.

It’s work that satisfies his soul, and it’s a job he created because he saw a need that was unmet – both in the community and in his own heart.

“I’ll be 80 this month,” Dick said, looking over his glasses. “I’ve been around a while.”

He’s seen a lot, done a lot and all of it, he said, has shaped why he’s painting portraits of fallen heroes.

As a child of the ’40s, Dick said he remembers the big events of World War 2. He remembers hearing about Hitler marching into Poland, saying goodbye to his relatives who went off to fight and the look on his parents’ faces when they opened a telegram telling them their family members weren’t coming home.

He and his friends played ‘war’ endlessly, making up creative skits and scenarios that mimicked what they heard war was like overseas. But the reality of war was also very apparent to Dick, even at the age of 10. He said he missed his relatives who died in the war, and not getting a chance to say goodbye seemed wrong.

When Dick got older, he went into the military as well. Serving as a member of the Air Force, his days were spent on a SAC base where his unit guarded planes between the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.

It wasn’t as bad as other wars, he said. However, there was no guarantee that he or his buddies would be coming back from war – but he did.

Dick came home to his wife and two young children and they settled in his hometown of McCook, Nebraska. Here, he attended a community college where he was a pre-med student, until he realized he couldn’t hack chemistry. He changed his degree to journalism and worked for the McCook newspaper for a few years.

But after a while, Dick said he couldn’t sit at his desk and pound on his typewriter anymore. He moved his family to Lincoln, where he transitioned from journalism to advertising. From there, his work history gets complicated.

“I did a thousand little things,” Dick said with a laugh. 

He was a hairdresser, journalist, owned an advertising agency, gold refinery, jewelry design shop, an ice cream shop and eventually a pawn shop.

At one point, he looked into buying a bank, but couldn’t afford it, and soon realized a pawn shop functioned a lot like a “poor man’s bank.”

Dick spent his days tinkering with broken electronics, fixing them up and selling them for a profit. He did so well, in fact, that he was able to pursue one of his long-term passions that he’d since put on the back burner – painting.

As a kid, Dick was always drawing. He would spend hours sitting and sketching, and one day he added color to his work, opening his eyes to the world of painting.

But with a family, there was little time to paint professionally or even pursue it as a hobby. He needed to make money, and art wasn’t a viable option for feeding his family.

After Dick retired in 2000, he circled back to painting. He’d always loved portraits and began to make time to pursue his art. He realized that he needed people to paint, and who better to paint than fallen heroes, he thought.

When he started out, families were a little skeptical of his work, and understandably so. He said oftentimes families were still mourning their loved ones and couldn’t fathom someone offering to paint a portrait free of charge, but Dick’s offer was truly that simple and sincere.

He’s starting to lose track, but Dick said he’s painted somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 portraits of fallen war heroes. He started out painting just Nebraska soldiers, but said he can’t say ‘no’ to families.

When parents contact him they often share a lot about their child with him – their likes, dislikes, character traits and personality and even how they passed away.

“They tell you these stories and it’s difficult,” he said. “These kids are gone, just gone. But there’s still something magic about an oil painting I think…”

When he paints, he doesn’t think about the soldier’s story or even their family, he thinks about the mechanics of what he’s doing. The colors he’s using, the detail and shading – every detail needs to be just right. Dick said when he paints, it’s like times stops and it’s wonderful.

Some portraits take him a few days, others can take up to a month to complete, and when a painting is done the family either comes to pick it up from his studio or Dick sends them the portrait in the mail.

“People come in here to see the portrait and they just stand here and weep,” he said. “And I get some really nice cards.”

He pulled a few pieces of paper out of a stack, “These are some of my favorites.”

Written in pencil on lined notebook paper were notes from two young girls whose father was killed in the Middle East. They dotted their ‘I’s’ with hearts and told Mr. Dick how he was their favorite artist because of the portrait he’d painted of their father.

‘This is better than money,” he said, holding up the letters. “You can’t buy this.”

Dick’s story has become about giving stories back to families. He knows that a big reason he paints portraits is because it’s his own way of mourning the loss of his family members. But it’s also allowed him to step into the lives of families from across the country. To sit with them in their pain, hear their story and give them something to remember.

He may just be painting portraits, but to the families who receive his work, Dick is their hero.

Nancy Teague


When Nancy Teague paints she comes to life. Her hand moves quickly, then slowly, intentionally and then spontaneously.

She smiles, steps back to get a better view and then moves back toward her painting.

Nancy is an abstract artist. She describes her work as emotional and free but also ordered and on-purpose.

But Nancy’s expressive abstracts are somewhat new to her – she’s only been painting in this style for three years – and yet her career as an artist started long before she ever painted an abstract.

Nancy’s style shifted to accommodate her physical and emotional changes over the past few years, and it’s a shift that’s impacted more than just her art.

Nancy said she never dreamed of being a ‘professional’ artist. Sure, she was an artistic kid who loved sketching, building and tinkering, but how could that ever be a career, she thought.

In college, Nancy graduated with a degree in education and found a job in Lincoln as an art teacher. She loved watching her students learn and create, it was the perfect fit for her.

But it was only after she quit teaching, due to budget cuts, that Nancy started to pursue her own art. She used her colors and technique to bring photographed images to life with light and texture. As a realism artist her paintings were exact, every stroke had a place and there was little room for error.  

Nancy would often drive to small towns and then walk around with her camera in-hand, looking for objects to photograph and then paint in her studio. She loved the way she could bring a painting to life with shading, layers and shadows, this was her art and she was proud of it.

Over time Nancy competed in nationally ranked art fairs. She won a few notable awards and her career seemed to be off and running.

But in the late ‘90s Nancy developed a tremor in her left hand – the hand she paints with. She could no longer write her name and even something as simple as drinking water became an annoyance. Her work as a realist painter was intricate, and working with a tremor was impossible.

So, she closed up shop. She sold her materials, packed up her canvases and gave up painting.

The next ten years of Nancy’s life were quiet but impactful. They were full of thinking and evaluating, figuring out what she believed, and why her beliefs mattered. It was also frustrating. Nancy taught herself how to write with her right hand and she felt like a first-grader as she practiced rows and rows of single letters. It was hard, but Nancy was managing.

In 2008 an artist friend encouraged Nancy to explore painting again. They discussed making prints of Nancy’s former work and that got Nancy thinking… ‘I wonder if I can paint at all…’

Late one night she picked up a paintbrush and started in – she was doing it. Her tremor was there but she was painting like she used to, and to her surprise she was noticing finer details than before. 

For the next five years, Nancy delighted in her realism painting and began to slowly experiment with painting styles beyond realism.

She said she felt like a child again, playing with paint, enjoying the fluid movement and testing out new methods. She found that she could paint with her left hand and right hand together, it didn’t matter, because there was so much less structure.

But something else was happening too. As Nancy shifted her art from realism to abstract, a similar shift happened inside of her, she said. 

She found joy, a deep, deep inner joy that suddenly spilled out onto her canvas.

It’s a joy that came from her long-time faith in God, and a new realization of different truths about God and her own identity and purpose. Nancy said it was this inner freedom that propelled her shift to abstract painting.

“It’s hard to not do something that brings you joy,” she said.

So that’s what she’s done.

Not many artists can switch from one style to another, but to Nancy, her shift was unexpected but intentional. It was an outpouring of what she longed to experience, while still factoring in her limitations.

Nancy’s story is about learning from her doing, and growing from her learning. It’s about finding joy in a place that seemed unwanted and but turned out to be more rewarding than she could have imagined.

Her story is about realizing that there’s more to her story than she ever expected, and that was the real surprise.

David Claus


David Claus has woken up a lot of people while painting. Not because he’s a loud painter, but because he’s a singing painter.

His voice is deep and booming as he belts out, ‘Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day…’

Whether it’s interior or exterior spaces, it doesn’t matter, David sings when he’s on the job, and he’s been doing it this way for nearly 30 years.

He doesn’t advertise his services or carry around a business card, because being a singing painter definitely gets him noticed. He’s a character with connections and he does all of his work by word-of-mouth, but David became the singing painter in a pretty roundabout way.

In college, all David really wanted to do was sing. He went to school at Nebraska Wesleyan and started out in the music department, but ended up with a business degree after his music professors wanted him to learn to play the piano.

“I didn’t like that,” he said, describing his confusion with cords and scrunching his face in a look of played-up disgust.

After college, David tried his hand at real estate and the railroad before joining the Peace Corps in Malaysia.

As a Peace Corps intern David’s official job was to be a business advisor at the local farmers cooperative, but he said he spent most of his time entertaining the locals. He sang, danced and animated his way into the hearts of the people he worked with for two and a half years.

But when he got back to the states he was a Malay-speaking kid with 39 cents in his pocket and no idea what to do next.

So, David went back to school for a little while. He worked as a bartender, partied a little more than he should have, and then got involved in the theatre scene in Lincoln.

David rattled off the names of various actor friends who he was in plays with as well as a few famous people he met along the way, like Gordon McRae, best known for his role in Oklahoma! and Carousel.

At the mention of Gordon, David started in again… ‘There’s a bright golden haze on that meadow…’

He explained how during one of his performances he met Gordon and his wife and they offered him a job as Gordon’s traveling companion. David traveled with Gordon to Chicago, Pittsburg, California and Miami and met all sorts of famous actors.

Shortly after Gordon died, David ended up in California where his brother was flipping houses. He started painting with his brother and trying to get acting gigs, and eventually realized he was doing more painting than acting so he moved back to Lincoln.

He continued painting and returned to the acting community, and for a while things settled down for David. He met his wife – who he met when she needed her apartment painted – got married and they had a baby girl who they named Melody – yes, the name was intentional.

At this point David was the singing painter without the official title. He sang while he worked as a way to rehearse for whatever production he had coming up, and people loved his unique spin on the job.

Before long, David said people started referring to him as the singing painter and he started to book official gigs at weddings, funerals and nearly every Husker sporting event.

David never imagined actually making a living as a singing painter, but after nearly 30 years that’s what he’s done.

But it’s more than the singing and the painting that seem to draw in customers, it’s his goofy smile and comical laugh. David is kind of like a cartoon character who you can’t help but like, and that’s the point.

“I’m a one-man show,” he said with a smirk. “If I can’t make you my friend by the time I’m done working with you, well that’s your loss. Some people just want the paint job…silly them.”

That’s the thing about David, he’s himself 100 percent of the time – his goofy, loud, silly, entertainer self who just wants to be a part of everyone’s story. He doesn’t care if his boisterous singing catches people off guard, it’s who he is and it’s what he does.

David’s story is about finding a way to mesh his hobby with his work, being true to himself and injecting joy into everything he does, because that’s what the Singing Painter does best.

Photo courtesy of The TADA Theatre. 

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