182 Lincoln, NE: Rachel and Pat

I did interview one happy couple, but I had met one of them briefly before. I had showed up in Lincoln on a tight schedule and asked the lanky young woman slumped in the front desk's chair reading a book where I might find the Hopper.

She turned up to me and I saw a nametag that said Rachel and a long pale face with big blue eyes rimmed in bright blue mascara.

"Oh, it's not on display," she cooed.

I buried my head in my hands on the bench beside the desk. I had called in advance to avoid this very possibility. If I couldn't see the Hopper here on this tour of the Great Plains, I would have to make this 24-hour round-trip drive again later.

Rachel's voice was suddenly beside my cradled head. "At least, I think it is. Let me go check."

I stared out the cathedral windows of the Philip Johnson-designed building until she returned and crouched down beside me.

"I'm so sorry," she said. "It's up there. The gallery it's in is closed. I thought it had been put away, but it's just been moved." Out of relief at hearing this, I poured forth about my project.

"My husband was born and raised here," she offered. "Why don't I ask him to come a little early to pick me up, and you can interview him in front of the painting?"

Her baby-faced husband Pat had curly brown hair atop his head that was shaved close on the sides, making him look like a six-foot-two pencil topped by an eraser.

"Hopper," Pat began, "was one of the first people we studied in art class. For my painting in art class, I actually imitated a painting by him where there's a house in a field of wheat and there's a guy calling to a dog. I kind of copied. Except my guy is putting a stick of wood into a fire, and there's no dog. I looked at his trees to get the idea how to paint trees. He's a master of shadow. He didn't have a brush stroke like Van Gogh, but he was able to get a face out of what was really flat and two-dimensional. He painted people who were thinking. His people are always deep into what they're doing."

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