By June the Light Begins to Breathe




Keith Jacobshagen, American, 1941-


  • United States

Object Info

Object: painting
Not currently on view
Object ID: 2000.146


Oil paint on canvas


Funds from Contemporary Realism Group
Artwork(s) © copyright the original artist. All rights reserved.


About the Artist

Artist Keith Jacobshagen [JAY-cobs-hay-gen] says, “I’m a Midwesterner who has stayed put to make sense of where I live. My interest in the land is crystallized in my paintings about it.” Born in Wichita, Kansas, in 1941, Jacobshagen attended the Kansas City Art Institute, focusing on graphic design and illustration, and worked as an illustrator for Hallmark cards. He then completed the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Kansas, during which time he began taking an interest in the landscape paintings he is known for today. In 1968, Jacobshagen moved to Nebraska, where he currently teaches art at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. His paintings focus almost exclusively on the 60-mile radius around Lincoln.

What Inspired It

Jacobshagen says, “When people ask me ‘where is this?’ I point to my head… Some people are disappointed in hearing that. But all painting is fiction anyway.” Jacobshagen is inspired by the land around him. This particular painting draws upon the land, weather, and light around the Platte River Valley near Lincoln, Nebraska. But Jacobshagen doesn’t just paint what he sees; his process is more like putting a puzzle together. Even though the material for his landscapes comes from a very definable, 60-mile radius around Lincoln, his paintings can’t be traced back to a single view. In his studio, Jacobshagen combines fragments from field sketches and sometimes photographs of the land to develop his final work. For him, the overall arrangement of a piece is more important than recreating a specific scene.

Although he has limited himself geographically for 37 years, Jacobshagen has yet to tire of creating these landscapes. Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, regardless of weather, he drives into the countryside seeking places that appeal to him in color, form, or design—often returning to the same areas again and again. When his paintings begin to take form in his studio, one of Jacobshagen’s most useful tools is his memory. He blends specifics from his field sketches, like location and subtle changes in light and weather, with his state of mind and emotional response to the land. What happens in the studio, he says, “is something removed from the direct source of observation.”


Jacobshagen is very attentive to atmospheric conditions when he is on site. On his field studies he notes things like date, temperature, wind directions, and types of scents in the air. Even without Jacobshagen’s notes, we can speculate details like the season, temperature, or where the sun is in the sky. His sensitivity to shifts and changes in the light and air might also help us think about the poetic title he gave this piece.

Vantage Point
Vantage Point

The slightly elevated vantage point from which we seem to be viewing the scene might be one that is familiar to the artist. As a child, Jacobshagen flew in small planes with his father who was a test-pilot. Jacobshagen has also taken his turn as a pilot.

Sense of Distance
Sense of Distance

A dark path leads straight through the field to an off-center vanishing point toward the horizon. Jacobshagen remembers Sunday drives, “…sitting in the back seat of my father’s Ford looking between my parents’ heads at the road that seemed to move out, cutting through the wheat of grass fields. I think the space and thrust of those roads and how they defined the slight slope and flatness of the plains…the distance of things attracted me in an intuitive way.”


Jacobshagen uses details to create a sense of depth in this landscape. Trees and small buildings mark the horizon and give scale to the vast panorama. As objects move farther away, they only appear as dots and dashes.

Teaching Resources

Quick Classroom Ideas

  • Have students use the title of this painting as inspiration for a poem or short story. Encourage them to create an outline before beginning their written composition. Ask them to think carefully about the phrase, “By June the Light Begins to Breathe,” and all of the various things it could mean. They can break it down into small chunks if they’d like, beginning by writing down everything that comes to mind when they think of the month of June, and so on.
  • Jacobshagen finds his inspiration in the land that falls within a 60-mile radius of Lincoln Nebraska. On his field studies he notes things like date, temperature, wind directions, and types of scents in the air. Have students gather information about the atmosphere in their neighborhood on a specific afternoon. Then, back in class, ask the students to compose a painting of their neighborhood and think about ways in which they can visually convey what the atmosphere felt like on the day they made their observations. Tell them to consider the way the light was falling, what the air felt like on their skin, what smells were in the air.
  • Jacobshagen remembers Sunday drives, “…sitting in the back seat of my father’s Ford looking between my parents’ heads at the road that seemed to move out, cutting through the wheat of grass fields.” Ask students to think about road trips that they’ve gone on in the past. Are there specific moments that have stuck out to them as they looked out the window? Have students draw or paint an image of the scenery they saw from within the car, then write a journal entry about their trip. If they haven’t been on a long road trip before, they can also draw or paint a picture of something they see on their way to school each day.

Funding for object education resources provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.

The images on this page are intended for classroom use only and may not be reproduced for other reasons without the permission of the Denver Art Museum. This object may not currently be on display at the museum.