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Making the big time: Hastings car show pictured in National Geographic

Jessica Kuehl is pictured with a 1958 Chevy truck at one of the 2013 Hastings Cruise Ins. This photo is published in the February 2014 issue of National Geographic Magazine and is also on the magazine’s website. (©Erika Larsen /National Geographic)1 / 2
The cover of the February 2014 issue of National Geographic magazine. Inside is pictured a scene from one of Hastings' downtown Cruise In car shows. (Image courtesy of National Geographic)2 / 2

It started as an innovative promotional campaign. Nicole Swanson of Nicole’s Nu Wave salon in Hastings decided to promote her business by taking advantage of one of Hastings’ biggest events of the year: the downtown Hastings Cruise Ins. The day before one of the shows, she called a few of her clients and asked if they’d be willing to have their hair and makeup done 1950’s style and model their classic looks next to the classic cars on display downtown. She got a local photographer, Peter Slapnicher of, and one car show a month, they dolled up their models (none of whom had done actual modeling work) and went downtown for a photo shoot.

One of the models was Jessica Kuehl, a 2009 graduate of Park High School in Cottage Grove.

“I just thought it’d be really fun,” she said. “I did the fashion show the January before that (Swanson) and La-Tee-Da (Boutique) did.”

That fashion show was her first experience as a model, but her performance there impressed Swanson and earned Kuehl an invitation to the car show shoots.

At one of the shows, on a “weird, rainy car show day,” Swanson said, the group was approached by another photographer. Erika Larsen, whose work has been published internationally, was taking photos for a feature story on Garrison Keillor for National Geographic magazine, and asked if she could take Kuehl’s picture.

“Of course I said yes,” Kuehl said.

Kuehl was already familiar with the magazine. She’s always liked reading the magazine, especially when she was younger and read it in school, she said. She also likes nature and history. She never would have thought she would ever be in it, she said.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I thought it was surreal.”

Larsen had her stand by a 1958 Chevy pickup, took a few shots, and that was that.

A couple weeks ago, Kuehl received an advance copy of the magazine and finally saw her photo in print. It is part of a feature titled “Garrison Keillor’s Memory Map” in the February issue of National Geographic magazine. The magazine hit newsstands across the country last week and is now available for purchase. The article and Larsen’s photos are also online at

Swanson didn’t get any recognition in the magazine, but she’s still earning recognition for her work because of it. She’s shared the image with some of her mentors in Las Vegas, where she attends training sessions, and many of them have taken notice. It’s amazing to see her mentors paying attention to her work, Swanson said.

“Without their training, we wouldn’t be able to do what we’ve done.”

The publicity is especially nice for Andrew Bauer, who did most of Kuehl’s styling that day. He’s only been working as a stylist at Nicole's Nu Wave Salon for less than a year, Swanson said.

Ongoing work

Swanson intends to keep her modeling project going. There were 20 to 25 girls involved in last year’s project, and people are already asking to model this year. She said they’ll definitely be back at the car shows this summer, and she’d like to start doing shoots with the girls and motorcycles.

The group is doing a runway show at the River Valley Bridal Fair, scheduled for Feb. 16 at River Falls High School in River Falls, Wis. Kuehl will be one of the models at that show as well, Swanson said.

Kuehl said she would like to keep doing modeling, but only on the side. She’s currently attending the University of Wisconsin – River Falls. She’s studying equine science and is in the pre-veterinary program there. She hopes to get into veterinary school and ultimately become a veterinarian for horses, she said.