ia: The best of Iowa arts and culture
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Produced in partnership with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
Bison were hunted to near extinction in the late 1800s; today’s population on the continent is about 500,000.


Writer: Beth Eslinger

Once a mainstay on the Great Plains, bison are making a comeback in the state in parks, nature preserves and farming operations. Here are a few of our favorite spots to see the animals from the safety of your vehicle, via a short hike, or through a quick tour.

Bare Bison: Located south of Van Meter, the 250-head operation provides up-close views of the animals on ATV tours as well as from the farm’s fence line (you can also see roadside). Count the calves—there are 50 this year—and learn the differences between males and females. The ladies have C-shape horns; males’ horns are straighter. Stop by their shop to learn the nutritional benefits of the meat and shop for a variety of cuts. You can also purchase hoodies, T-shirts, hats and more with the company’s hip logo. Read more about Bare Bison is this story in the current issue of dsm.

Fontana Park: North of Independence, this Buchanan County park displays animals native to Iowa in outdoor enclosures. You can see bison, deer, eagles and more. The nature center (call for hours; masks mandatory) provides interpretive experiences for families.

Hawkeye Buffalo Ranch: A 40-head herd roams the pastures and woods of the Fredericksburg farm in northeast Iowa. You can tour the 150-year-old farm via wagon to feed the bison and learn about species (available through Dec. 1). The farm will be stocked with bison meat for sale by Thanksgiving.

Jester Park: Operated by Polk County Conservation, this park features both bison and elk in a wildlife animal enclosure. Bundle up and view the animals from the observation deck; spotting scopes provide up-close views.

Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge: Take the 5-mile audio driving tour at the Prairie City preserve to see bison and elk roaming the prairie. Look for wallows—depressions devoid of vegetation—where the bison take dust baths. Birders get a chance to see short-ear owls now through April. Currently the visitors center is closed due to the pandemic.

Whiterock Conservancy: Get back to nature at the Garst family home south of Coon Rapids on Iowa Highway 141. Visit the Garst Farmhouse Historic District and be on the lookout for bison. Herds often graze in the pastures south and west of the Garst home and are often spotted from the Town Loop trail. You can take a self-guided tour of the historic district and even stay at one the farmhouse’s five bedrooms (the entire home is available for rent).
Olivia Valentine makes bobbin lace, one of her specialties as a textile artist. Photo: Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs


Writer: Lindsay Keast
Iowa Arts Council

The Des Moines artist Olivia Valentine can find common threads in very different materials. Choose any two forms of art—like weaving and music, or textiles and architecture—and she’ll show you how they’re related. Her work reveals surprising connections and often sparks conversations you never thought you’d have.

During a virtual performance on Nov. 5, for example, you’ll have a chance to see how Valentine’s loom in Des Moines interacts with electronic music streaming from composer Paula Matthusen’s studio in Middletown, Connecticut. In March, Valentine will install two projects at the Des Moines Art Center, including lengths of rope that will cascade 40 feet down the formal geometry of the Meier wing atrium.

Valentine, who recently received an Iowa Artist Fellowship from the Iowa Arts Council, says her talent for finding common threads comes from two strands of her own DNA—one from each of her grandmothers.
“My two grandmas had different ways and methods of working in the world, [but] they’re both really creative people,” she says. “I’ve always thought of myself as a mix between the two.”

One grandmother made sewing projects that were practical and precise. The other was more of a free spirit, a painter who helped young Olivia make home movies and sew containers for her dolls. “She even let me cut her hair as a 5-year-old,” Valentine recalls. “We really did have a lot of fun, but sometimes it was a little dangerous.”

Her early creative interests as a child in Connecticut eventually led her to study photography at the Rhode Island School of Design, architecture at the Cooper Union, and art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she earned a Master of Fine Arts degree. Throughout her studies, she stretched her textile skills to include crochet, bobbin lacemaking and weaving.

She later teamed up with Matthusen, the composer, whose electronic music translates into a code that influences the pattern of Valentine’s weaving. The weaving process, in turn, affects the music’s pitches and rhythms. The ongoing project, “between systems and grounds,” has its own website, with diagrams that show how the old and new technologies work together.

Valentine moved to Iowa in 2016 after stints in Italy, Turkey and Spain, among other places, and she teaches at Iowa State University. The exhibition next spring at the Des Moines Art Center will be her first solo exhibition in Iowa.

Her work offers an inspiring way to look at similarities in the world, especially when it can feel so torn apart. Sometimes it helps to find common threads.

To learn more about Valentine, read this story from the dsm magazine archive.
Andrew Sherburne and Tommy Haines are creating a film around the Iowa Writers' Workshop, the University of Iowa's legendary writing program.


Writer: Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

The Iowa Writers’ Workshop is famous for producing stories. But once upon a time in 2020, a new story began about the workshop itself.

A team of Iowa City filmmakers is producing a documentary about the University of Iowa’s legendary writing program, focusing their lens on a dozen students who arrived this fall. The cameras will follow their daily lives until they graduate in 2022.

“I hope [audiences] see there’s something very special happening here, and they see the challenges of living a creative life,” says workshop director Lan Samantha Chang. “It’s hard for me to imagine what kind of story will be built out of this, but I hope there’s something.”

Filmmaker Andrew Sherburne hopes so, too. With help from a recent Produce Iowa Greenlight Grant, he launched the project because he was drawn to the workshop’s insular mystery. Even as a local, he knew little about what actually happens there.

“That’s part of its charm, its allure,” he said. “The people who have passed through the doors of this building and through this program in its many locations have been incredibly influential in the world of literature.”

He and his co-director, Tommy Haines, previously worked together on “Saving Brinton,” the 2017 documentary about a Washington, Iowa, man who discovered a stash of rare film reels from the early 20th century. That film made the rounds of international festivals and was short-listed for an Oscar.

The filmmakers may stage some scenes from the workshop participants’ own fiction and poetry, but most of the film will rely on observational footage of the writers’ routines in Iowa City. The best bits will be distilled into a few connecting storylines.

Sherburne, the producer, received a $50,000 Greenlight Grant this summer from Produce Iowa, the state office of film and media production, which is part of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. The funds helped him hire a crew to produce a proof-of-concept package to attract larger investors. His ultimate goal is a feature film.

Chang, the workshop director, hopes the film shows what makes the place unique. “People in Iowa are very supportive of writers,” she says. “People in Iowa understand the need for people to live sort of quiet lives, and, really, writers are people who live quiet lives. It’s possible to do that here.”
Kelsie Kunkle opened Driftless Style more than a year ago, selling home decor from countries around the world.


Walk into Kelsie Kunkle’s store on historic Main Street Cedar Falls (or her new online shop, and prepare to do some redecorating.

Featuring handmade decor from Morocco, Peru, Argentina, Mexico and right in Cedar Falls, Kunkle’s Driftless Style shop features products that are sourced ethically and crafted beautifully.

While helping boost artist communities in sustainable ways, she’s also bringing Iowans bohemian looks made popular on Instagram and Pinterest. You can find elaborate mirrors, inlay trays, woven basket lights, leather poufs, handmade pottery, glassware and more. Each item features the country of origin, and the shop donates 5% of all purchases to charities.

On a two-week trip to Morocco earlier this year, Kunkle worked with local artisans to help fill a shipping container for the store. She designs the products, then works with the artists who create their interpretations.

“There’s so much heart behind it all,” she says. “This is truly a way we help preserve culture by developing modern designs for traditional handicrafts.” Lead times be take several months, and Kunkle has learned the ins and outs of importing since starting her business.

Opened about a year ago, Driftless Style is just one of the new attractions in downtown Cedar Falls. Across the street, the renovated Black Hawk Hotel, new speakeasy Bar Winslow, and eatery and gourmet shop Farm Shed are attracting foot traffic to the area’s independent shops, breweries and restaurants. Local residents and visitors have helped the business take off. “It’s fun to see how it’s grown organically,” Kunkle says.
The newest Iowa Stops Hunger virtual event will focus on the drivers of food insecurity, particularly the role of government.


The second installment of the Iowa Stops Hunger series, a companywide effort with ia magazine, dsm magazine and the Business Record, will get to the heart of food insecurity in our state, with a special focus on policy and lawmaking. Called "Confronting Drivers of Hunger," the virtual discussion will start at 11:30 a.m. on Nov. 4.

We’ll hear from those fighting to end hunger about the role the government can play in ensuring that no Iowan has to be food insecure. Policies related to poverty, health and agriculture will be among the key topics of the discussion. Panelists include Dr. Nicole Gilg Gachiani, chief physician quality officer and section chief, primary care clinic, Broadlawns Medical Center; Luke Elzinga, board president, Iowa Hunger Coalition, and communications and advocacy manager of DMARC; Rep. Brian K. Lohse, Iowa House, District 30; and Matt Russell, Iowa Interfaith Power & Light.

Register for free here.

Iowa Stops Hunger is a yearlong Business Publications Corp. initiative to bring awareness and action to food insecurity in Iowa.
Randy Richmond enjoys photographing (and trout-fishing) the spring-fed streams in northeast Iowa. This image is a stream flowing into Big Mill near Bellevue, which is protected by the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. “The Iowa Driftless is a fragile region worthy of protection,” he says.


Writer: Kelly Roberson

In his Driftless series, Randy Richmond trains his camera lens on a corner of the Midwest left mostly untouched by glaciers. His images capture layers of nature’s quietude, everyday spots—a bend in a creek, an undisturbed stand of a few conifers—that we’re disinclined to notice.

The prints are both historic in their execution—a selenium print process—and thoroughly modern, executed with digital photography. They’re also representative of Richmond’s career: a random collection of fortuitous moments that add up to a serious statement about what it is to create art right now.

“I didn’t have a plan,” says Richmond, 58, who lives in Davenport. “I didn’t have a list of things to accomplish to get from point A to point C. I didn’t care what people liked or didn’t like. I came into contact with people that also believed in what I was doing and liked what I was doing, and they were the right kind of people to push me forward.”

Most artists struggle for attention at some point in their careers; Richmond’s fight to be noticed began much earlier in life. His was a crowded household—he was the fifth out of six children growing up in Muscatine—and he escaped first on a bicycle as a teenager, regularly riding 100 miles on weekends. He went next to the University of Iowa, where he picked up the camera.

“While I was a college student, I became obsessed about learning about art—I would spend long afternoons in the art library pulling out photography books,” Richmond says. “That was a huge part of my education.”

He began experimenting with photography between long shifts at a hot dog cart. “One summer, I worked until 2 a.m., then I’d go home and sleep until 7, then get up and start on a photography assignment I gave myself,” Richmond says. “I did a lot of self-exploration, a lot figuring out how to communicate with the camera.”

Read the rest of the story, from our newest issue.
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