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ia: The best of Iowa arts and culture
JANUARY 14, 2021  |  VIEW AS WEBPAGE
 
Produced in partnership with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
 
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Left: American Gothic, Bob’s Burgers; Right: American Gothic, Star Wars. Photo: Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.

FAMILIAR FACES IN CEDAR RAPIDS

Writer: Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

If imitation is the finest form of flattery, the “American Gothic” couple should be blushing. They’ve been copied more than any other painting in the world, with the possible exception of the Mona Lisa.

Iowans dressed up as the dour couple for Halloween even back in the 1930s, not long after Iowa artist Grant Wood created the painting for a competition at the Art Institute of Chicago. Since then, the parodies have just kept coming: in cartoons, advertisements, magazine covers and more.

“It’s become a shorthand symbol of rural or Middle America,” says Kate Kunau, associate curator at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. “It’s a way for people to explore American society and politics, especially since Iowa is such a political hotbed.”

The painting's hold on the public imagination was on full display in 2018, when a Grant Wood exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York became one of its biggest blockbusters in years. Several Iowa museums, led by the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, loaned artwork for the show.

Soon the Cedar Rapids museum plans to present its own exhibition, “Grant Wood Revealed: Rarely Seen Works by an American Master,” Feb. 13 through May 16.

In the meantime, they’re opening a show this Saturday called “Seriously Funny: American Gothic Parodies” with almost two dozen mass-produced images in frames, plus a digital gallery with plenty more. The mix includes Donald and Daisy Duck, the Simpsons, SpongeBob SquarePants, Rick and Morty, and the rock band Kiss.

The show was scheduled to open last year, during the museum’s 125th anniversary. But the pandemic postponed it to this year, just in time for Iowa’s 175th Anniversary.

You can see it through May 2 and then, for bonus points, head to Eldon (southwest of Ottumwa) to make a portrait of your own, right in front of the little white house that inspired the phenomenon.
 
 
Snowga, or yoga in the snow, is a fun activity to do by the ice in Okoboji. Photo: Tom Gustafson, courtesy of the Okoboji Tourism Committee.

10 WAYS TO ENJOY OKOBOJI'S WINTER GAMES

News flash: The annual University of Okoboji Winter Games outdoor event is happening Jan. 28-31. While in previous years heading to northwest Iowa in the middle of winter seemed a little crazy, this year the event might be the perfect antidote to our 10-month COVID-19 cabin fevers. Events are held outside with social distancing and masks highly recommended. Here are a few activities that piqued our curiosity:

1. During the kite festival, colorful flying vessels in all shapes and sizes brighten the sky over the lake. Paper kites are available for kids to color and then let loose in the breeze.

2. $5 ice skate rentals and open skating near Okoboji Boat Works allow you to keep warm doing spins and turns.

3. Snowga: Just say namaste to yoga in the snow. Bring or borrow a mat for one chilled-out practice.

4. The Polar Plunge features a parade of bare-skinned souls diving into the lake. Though it’s not for the weak of heart, the cool dip is supposed to boost circulation.

5. A fireworks display over the lake and a giant bonfire culminate Saturday night. Bring your best winter threads and enjoy the show.

6. Grab an IPA or a cider at a tap truck or the Lakeside Ice Bar. On Saturday there’s free craft beer tasting at Arnolds Park.

7. Warm up after a day outside at the Inn Hotel at Arnolds Park. The new boutique hotel also has a cozy Cuban-inspired restaurant with requisite Caribbean-inspired cocktails. As of publish time for this piece, rooms are still available.
 
 
The Des Moines Symphony puts together weekly virtual events leading up to each livestreamed performance.
Photo: Des Moines Symphony.


GET YOUR CULTURE FIX WITH THESE VIRTUAL EVENTS

We all miss the performing arts and live music. But there are a few organizations around Iowa putting on virtual shows you can enjoy from anywhere. Here are a few of our picks:

Mirrorbox Theatre: This Cedar Rapids theater company has moved to virtual play readings over Zoom. The free events, called "Out of the Box," feature contemporary stories. The next one is at 8 p.m. tomorrow, showcasing "Best Life." Register here.

Des Moines Symphony: Iowa's biggest symphony has mixed learning and entertainment in its "Live from the Temple" series. You can enjoy background from experts on musical scores and composers, meals from local eateries, and play trivia in the weeks leading up to each performance. Find the event calendar here.

Sioux City Symphony: This organization will have both in-person and virtual events this year. For those not in the immediate area, you can subscribe to a livestreaming platform, SCSO.Live. The cost is $6.99 after a free month's trial. Included in the package are live access to each performance and on-demand replays.
 
 
Iowa’s pioneering humanitarian and agriculture leaders are depicted in this work at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates in Des Moines. Agriculture has played a huge role in Iowa's 175 years as a state. Photo: World Food Prize.

CELEBRATING THE 175TH ANNIVERSARY OF IOWA

In 1846, Iowa was admitted as the 19th state of the United States, and the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs—along with its divisions, the State Historical Society of Iowa, the Iowa Arts Council and Produce Iowa—is celebrating the 175th anniversary all year with virtual events and educational opportunities.

“Iowa has a rich history filled with remarkable people and places that have defined who we are as a state now in the 21st century,” Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Director Chris Kramer said. “We can’t wait to share the stories of Iowa throughout the year ahead."

Events include a series of free, virtual educational programs, including Iowa History 101 and Iowa Stories. There will also be an exhibition called "Iowa's People and Places" opening March 5 at the State Historical Museum of Iowa in Des Moines. Bookworms can join an all-state Iowa History Book Club in March; the first book will be "Iowa: The Middle Land" by the late Dorothy Schweider.  

Find more information and event plans here.

 
 
Actress Donna Reed grew up in Iowa and is well known for her role as Mary Hatch Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life." Photo: State Historical Society of Iowa.

IN DENISON, A STAR WAS BORN

Writer: Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

When the world celebrates the 100th anniversary of Donna Reed’s birthday, on Jan. 27, different generations will remember her differently. To the Greatest Generation, she was a sweetheart. To baby boomers, a mother. To many millennials, she was a benefactor, thanks to her namesake foundation that has helped launch hundreds of careers in the performing arts.

And to Iowans, she was always one of us.

This year, her home state plans to honor her life (1921-1986) and legacy with a virtual tribute on her birthday, commemorative displays at the Donna Reed Heritage Museum in her native Denison and the State Historical Museum of Iowa in Des Moines, and more events at the end of the year, when “It’s a Wonderful Life” marks its 75th anniversary.

Donnabelle Mullenger was just 17 when she left Iowa for California. She won a Los Angeles beauty pageant, which landed her a spot in the Rose Bowl Parade, a photo on the front page of the Los Angeles Times and, soon after, a contract with MGM Studios.

The studio changed her name to Donna Reed for her first movie, “The Get-Away,” when she was just 20, and the name stuck. She won an Academy Award for her work in the 1954 movie “From Here to Eternity” and co-founded her own TV production company, which produced “The Donna Reed Show” from 1958 through 1966, when few women held executive roles in Hollywood.

“She was a very savvy, smart mother,” says her daughter Mary Owen, who plans to share rarely seen family photos during an “Iowa History 101” online presentation on March 25.

Owen lives in Iowa City, after moving there last year from New York. She's kept in touch with Iowans over the years and served on the board of the Donna Reed Performing Arts Center and Heritage Museum, which displays many of Reed’s photos and mementos.

“Even after her Academy Award, she would come back to visit,” museum curator Jerry Peterman says. “She never forgot Denison.”

Reed honored her hometown by donating her Oscar to the city, where fans can make a pilgrimage to see it.

And Denison has returned the favor in lots of ways. Even its water tower says “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

 
 
Book a class to make cocktails with a caffeine kick at Kaffee and Cocktails with Impact Coffee, held virtually March 4 through Decorah’s Folk Art School.

LEARN ABOUT DECORAH'S NORWEIGAN TRADITIONS

Do a deep dive into Norwegian culture at Decorah’s Folk Art School through the Vesterheim National Norwegian-American Museum. Classes are all online.

Based on Scandinavian culture, the classes include arts and crafts, cooking, woodworking and more. We're interested in courses on knitting, the yarn-dying process, and chef Nevada Berg’s new book, “North Wild Kitchen.” You can also take a cocktail class, which comes with a decorated glass, jigger, spices and a Swedish towel. Some of the classes include kits with materials and tools; others require you to buy materials from a supply list. Some involve just logging in.

The museum touts itself as offering the only online folk art school. Check out this website for a complete list of classes and pricing information.

And if you’d prefer just to shop instead of taking the DIY route, the website sells clothing, folk art supplies, food items, books and gifts.
 
 
 
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