In this business, a story will sometimes sneak up on you.
When my friend Kip Lammers called with a story idea about how two teens were painting graffiti in his machine shed so his wife could use it as a backdrop for her photo business, I thought it would make an interesting feature story. After all, how many rural residents do you know who would pay someone to paint artwork on their machine shed? I grew up on a farm, and that subject never came up.
So on the face of it, the story sounded promising. What I wasn’t counting on is how charismatic, fun and talented Brandy and Brittany Hinkel would be.
They were exactly what you hope for from a story subject: open, honest and completely at ease with you, a complete stranger who happens to be a reporter.
As someone who has written about feeling like a bit of a cultural outsider in this sector of the world, it was apparent that I had found people who struggle with the same issue and have found good ways to cope with it.
I left the Lammers farm last week feeling a little more lust for pursuing life on my terms and definitely a bit wiser — all thanks to the Hinkel twins.
Gracias, ladies! And good luck with your future endeavors!
Here are a few more photos showcasing their work. I don’t know that Kip and Kris Lammers are planning an open house so people can see the wall for themselves, but maybe if you ask nicely, they will let you see it firsthand. 🙂
Finally, here is the story I wrote for the Press & Dakotan after the visit:
HARTINGTON, Neb. — Walk into an aging farm machine shed about 20 miles south of Yankton, and you enter a vibrant world full of color, bold slogans and symbolism.
This is the world of Brandy and Brittany Hinkel, 18-year-old mirror image twins who graduated from the Hartington Public School system this past spring.
Originally, the concrete walls of the building held silage. Later, a roof was put on the structure to hold farm equipment. Now, it’s home to the graffiti of the Hinkel twins.
Kip and Kris Lammers hired the two women to paint the inside of the rural Hartington, Neb., structure so it can be used as a backdrop for Kris’s photography business, KL Photography. After seeing the work of the Hinkel twins throughout their high school career, Kris knew she wanted them to create a work of art on the farmstead.
The idea was sparked last year when Kip saw news reports questioning the value of graffiti as an art form. By this summer, he had space cleared away in the shed so the women could begin painting.
“The urban look has been, and continues to be, popular for photography with seniors and children,” Kris said. “That’s what I wanted to create with this — an urban space. The ideas are theirs. I wanted it to be something different, and I’m very happy with it. They have so much talent.”
One wall of the building is covered in graffiti, although the twins have chosen a handful of colors and themes that change in increments. A lot of the inspiration for the art came from the music of bands like Eve 6, Insane Clown Posse, Kottonmouth Kings and Everlast, they said.
“If I want people to get anything out of this project, it’s the freedom of it,” Brittany said. “I like the chaos of the whole picture. I want it to scream ‘freedom’ to people.”
The art can do that literally, such as a robot telling its audience, “Don’t be a slave to society,” and a slogan of “Think 4 yourself” — or it can take a more symbolic approach, such as a doorway that Brittany said symbolizes a gateway to a better tomorrow.
“My favorite thing is diversity,” Brittany said. “I want people to be themselves and not have to try to live like everyone else does just because they think it’s the right thing to do.”
Brandy added, “I want people to be able to find themselves through this and figure out who they are. We tried to make this as busy as we could. Kris wants to use this for senior pictures. We wanted to make it loud because that’s the kind of statement (seniors) want to make.”
The subject of freedom is close to the hearts of the twins, who describe themselves as “goth” kids in a small rural town. Members of the goth subculture generally dress in dark attire, wear heavy makeup and have elaborate hair styles, though there are many variations.
The girls say they’ve been called Satan worshippers and asked if they make voodoo dolls, but those kinds of comments now roll off their backs. It took time, but they have realized that they need to be themselves to be happy.
“I had a really tough time in junior high,” Brittany said. “It was really bad. I was very, very unhappy with myself. I wanted to make everybody else as miserable as I was, so I was a horrible person. I didn’t like who I was, so I didn’t want to like who anybody else was. I was jealous of everyone. After fighting myself and everybody else, I just gave up and decided to like what I like. If somebody doesn’t like it, who cares? After I decided to not care anymore, that’s when everyone else thought it was cool that I was doing my own thing.”
Hartington Public School and the community of Hartington, in general, has been very supportive, they added.
And if someone looks uncomfortable because of their style, the twins have developed methods of engaging that person.
“If somebody gives me a bad look and gawks at me, I try to force them into a conversation and to interact with me,” Brandy said. “Maybe I can change their minds. I try to teach people that you don’t judge a book by its cover. People see that we are outgoing and don’t mean anybody any harm.”
Brittany said residents at the nursing home where she is employed have embraced the pink in her hair. And Brandy’s haircut, which includes closely-shaven portions with purple stars painted in, still provokes reactions.
“Everybody asks me, ‘Why did you do that to your hair?’” Brandy said. “Well, I can’t do it when I’m 40, can I?”
An interest in drawing runs in the Hinkel family, and it’s a hobby the girls developed before they can even remember. They would cover their bedroom walls in drawings — and the occasional closet, as their mother reminds them.
“A lot of people ask if it’s a talent or a desire to draw that runs in the family,” Brandy said. “I honestly think it’s a desire, because if you want to draw, you sit there and practice and you keep practicing. That’s how you get good.”
Brandy had been commissioned to paint a room before, but this is the first large-scale project that both women have worked on together. It’s also the first time they’ve done actual graffiti.
They said they often work on the wall at separate times but still manage to complement each other’s work. Approximately 50 hours have been put into the painting between the two of them, and they are nearing completion.
When the twins are laboring together, “We yell a lot, but that’s just us getting along,” Brittany joked.
This fall, both will be attending Northeast Community College in Norfolk, Neb. Brandy will be pursuing a degree in business entrepreneurship before going on for a graphic design degree elsewhere. Brittany will get her general education requirements out of the way before pursuing a forensic pathology degree at another institution.
It will mean they both get to live with each other for at least a few more years.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen when we aren’t living together any more,” Brittany said. “As stupid and cliché as it sounds, we are pretty much each other’s best friend. We understand each other. We’re always there for each other.”
In the future, Brandy, especially, is eager to take on new art projects.
“Art is my passion,” she said. “I like doing freelance work and want to get my name out there.”