ia: The best of Iowa arts and culture
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Produced in partnership with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
Mending is good for the mind as well as fabric materials. It's a fun activity to share—even via the internet.


By Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

Even as our social fabric seems to be unraveling, one Iowa artist is stitching things together.

The Ames artist Catherine Reinhart recently salvaged a well-worn quilt from her childhood and has been touring it across Iowa, inviting folks to add their own handiwork. She started the "Collective Mending Sessions" last year with a grant from the Iowa Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, and the project is essentially an old-fashioned quilting bee for a new generation. All are welcome. No experience required.

But then things changed with social distancing. Instead of just waiting out the coronavirus scare, Reinhart is now inviting artists and crafters to join her via Zoom from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Wednesday to keep one another company while they work on their own projectsquilting, knitting, crochet, you name it. (You can find the link on Instagram.)

During her first virtual session, last week, one woman plugged in all the way from Malta, the tiny island in the Mediterranean Sea. "She was making a crochet bag," Reinhart says. "But you know what? It felt good to be doing these things together."

Reinhart may read a few poems or even lead a demonstration during the upcoming sessions. She’s playing it by ear, like everybody else these days, and thinking about the future. As she put it: "I think these mending sessions are going to become necessary after all of this is over and we have to figure out how to be together again."
Plan now to put some "social distance" on your bike this season.


By Mike Kilen

Many Iowans have enjoyed pristine West Lake Okoboji, immense Big Spirit Lake, and the rest of the region’s Iowa Great Lakes. But the Iowa Great Lakes Trail, a bicycle trail winding among the lakes for 40 miles, is a must-do activityand even one that allows you to observe social distancing. With April just days away, it isn't too early to make plans and beat the crowds.

"We are getting a little more recognition for our trails, which are becoming more popular," says Erin Reed, executive director of the Dickinson County Trails Board.

The heart of the trails is a 14-mile stretch through the hustle and bustle of Arnolds Park to Spirit Lake, with connecting loops around the lakes.

This is why I love this trail: You can take a leisurely ride through Arnolds Park along U.S. Highway 71, where people in bathing suits are strolling, boats are pulling up to marinas, and hordes are lined up to enjoy the many bars and restaurants. Or you can follow the trail past expensive lakeside homes, craning your neck to see how the other half lives.

On an early spring day, I chose another pleasure, taking a 16-mile trip from the north end of the town of Spirit Lake to the trail that circles Big Spirit. It’s a completely different, quieter experience. Along the east side of Big Spirit, traveling on a wide and smooth bike lane, I could see smaller cottages along the lake and white pelicans in the wetlands to the east. Around the northern rim of the lake, you ride on a country road that borders Minnesota, passing a state park and a fishing pier, where in early spring many anglers were testing the waters.

For more information on the trail and to view a map, visit the Dickinson County Recreational Trails website here.
Founding fathers can be found on the Civic Center stage when "Hamilton" returns to Des Moines in December.


Iowa's performing arts venues currently may be dark, but we're optimistic curtains will rise by the time the fall arts season launches. Some of Broadway's biggest hits are returning to the Des Moines Civic Center in the new lineup of shows announced this week:

  • "Hamilton," needing no introduction, returns Dec. 1-27.
  • "Les Misérables" is scheduled April 6-11, 2021.
  • "To Kill a Mockingbird" will run July 6-11, 2021.

Des Moines Performing Arts also will present "1776," "Tootsie," "Hadestown," Elton John and Tim Rice’s "Aida," "Cats," and "Rent." Season tickets are on sale now, by phone at 515-246-2300 or online at, where further details are also available.

Learn how Pella and Orange City became havens to Dutch immigrants in this book by Brian Beltman.


History is a renewable resource; there’s more of it every year.

And if you find yourself with some extra time on your hands these days, why not learn about the history that happened right here in Iowa? As we round out Iowa History Month, by proclamation of the governor, consider reading one of three new books that recently received a nod from the State Historical Society of Iowa, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

Every spring, the society bestows its Shambaugh Award on the best book about Iowa history published during the previous year.

Award winner: "Dakota in Exile: The Untold Stories of Captives in the Aftermath of the U.S.-Dakota War," by Linda Clemmons, tells the often-overlooked story of more than 300 Dakota men who were sent from southwestern Minnesota to an Army prison near Davenport while the Civil War raged to the south.   

Honorable mention: "A Life on the Middle West’s Never-Ending Frontier" is Willard "Sandy" Boyd’s account of his long and remarkable life, including his presidential tenures at the University of Iowa (1969-1981) and the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago (1981-1996).

Honorable mention: "Transplanters on the Grasslands and the Fruits of Chain Migration," by Brian Beltman, explains how the Dutch settled in Orange City and Pellaand invited their extended families, friends and neighbors to follow. Turns out, the roots of the tulip festivals run deep.
Restoration transformed this overgrown farmhouse into a functional, modern space while respecting the original design. Photo: Cameron Campbell, Integrated Studios.


Covered in walnut trees and creeping vines, with a ceiling that was near to caving in, the Iowa City farmhouse on Foster Road appeared to be a lost cause. But Bobby Jett took one look at the house, tucked into a walnut grove, and had a vision.

"My dream was to return the house to its original footprint—exactly as it was when it was built," says Jett, a photographer, gardener and baker who manages rental properties in Iowa City.

Constructed the same year Iowa City was incorporated—1853—the so-called Stonewall Acre farm was built with locally made red brick on 120 acres. Taking its name from the stone wall that enclosed the acreage, it came to be the longtime homestead of Norwood Louis and his wife, Betty.

By the time Jett discovered the house, it hadn’t been occupied for years. "The exterior is covered in stucco, which is the only reason it survived for me," Jett says. He shared his vision for the farmhouse with Tim Schroeder, president of Neumann Monson architectural firm, who agreed to come out and take a look.
"It was this strange home, wrapped in overgrowth, with several additions on it," Schroeder says of his first impression. "We decided to look past all of that and agreed to help restore it."  >> Read the full story here.

This Cedar Falls mural was inspired by a 1950 photo of Shirley Cocklin Dean, who grew up in Grandview, Iowa.


From the looks of the old photo, nobody has ever enjoyed a birthday cake more than the one Shirley Dean received on the day she turned 12, back in 1950. There she is in her party dress, beaming at the frosted cake and its candles.

Someone caught the happy moment on film and now, a lifetime later, the image has been made into a mural in Cedar Falls. The birthday girl stands a dozen feet tall on the facade of Copyworks on College Hill, just off the University of Northern Iowa campus.

"I told some of my friends about it, and they’re quite impressed," said Dean, now 81. "They thought it was great." Read the full story on the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs’ website.

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