ia: The best of Iowa arts and culture
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Produced in partnership with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
Located in northeast Iowa on the Mississippi River, McGregor offers stellar fall views, 50 miles of area hiking trails, plus downtown antique shops and restaurants. Photo: Audrey Posten.


Writer: Beth Eslinger

Fall is perhaps the best time to visit bluff country in northeast Iowa. Outdoor experiences amid the color-rich bluffs are a prime reason for a weekend away, as are historic downtowns featuring independent shops showcasing antiques, artwork and more. Local experts tell us fall color is at its prime this weekend. According to the DNR’s fall color report, “walnut, hackberry, basswood and elm are unusually bright and brilliant” this year.

One of our favorite spots is McGregor in Clayton County. Founded in the mid-1800s, the downtown exudes charm, with brick two-stories lining the main strip. Before a day out on the trails, stop at By the Spoonful on Main Street for fresh-made sandwiches and gourmet snacks to enjoy on a picnic.

At Effigy Mounds National Monument, about 10 miles north of McGregor, hike amid Native American burial grounds in the shapes of bears and birds. At the north unit, take in the Mississippi River and vibrant bluff views from several overlooks. Signage on the trails explains the woodland peoples who built the mounds (currently the visitors center is closed due to the pandemic). The Marching Bear Group to the south features 10 bruin-shape mounds that are particularly beautiful when covered with falling leaves.

Heading back south to McGregor along the Great River Road, the town of Marquette is worth a stop for antique shopping and an outdoor wine tasting at Eagles Landing Winery. In McGregor (it’s just three-minute drive), find cafes, pub fare and a brewery.

For overnight options, there are several Airbnbs, bed-and-breakfasts, and Victorian-style hotels. Want a truly unique river experience amid the fall foliage? We suggest booking a houseboat from S&S Rentals in Lansing, which is upriver. The business also offers pontoon boats for cruising this portion of the Mississippi (its season ends Oct. 18).

Additional hiking options are available at Yellow River State Forest and Pike’s Peak State Park just south of McGregor.
Tiberiu Chelcea, who lives in Ames, mixes computer science and art, which helped him earn an Iowa Artist Fellowship from the Iowa Arts Council.


Writer: Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

By day, Tiberiu Chelcea makes precision agriculture even more precise. He develops software for AgLeader Technology, in Ames, to collect and visually interpret data about soil moisture and crop yields and such.

But outside of his 9-to-5, Chelcea (pronounced KELL-chuh) uses his computer skills to cultivate more imaginative terrain, spinning out colorful geometric drawings, weavings and maps inspired by circuit boards and 1960s pop art.

It’s that kind of out-of-the-box experimentation that recently landed him an Iowa Artist Fellowship from the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. The honor comes with $10,000 and some professional development opportunities to take his career to the next level.

Chelcea, 48, has always been interested in art. But computers grabbed most of his attention early on, ever since his family in Bucharest, Romania, bought a computer when he was 16.

That love eventually led him to the United States, where he earned a Ph.D. in computer science from Columbia, in New York, and continued his studies at Carnegie-Mellon, in Pittsburgh, where he met his wife, a political scientist. The couple became academic nomads for a while, moving from one teaching or research assignment to the next until his wife landed a job at Iowa State in 2012. They have two kids, in third and fifth grades.

Chelcea didn’t really start creating art until he finished school and had some free time on his hands. He took some printmaking classes at an art center in Pittsburgh and then a composition class in Nashville.

“For a long time, I was drawing a very strict line between what I did during the day, writing software, and what I did in the evening, making analog art,” he says.

But that line started to blur several years ago, when he was wondering how to harness the practical power of computers for the more creative applications of art.

Lately he’s been tinkering with artificial intelligence. He wants to train an algorithm to copy his drawing style and create similar drawings of its own. He’ll use some of the fellowship funding to rent some time on the cloud, to run his algorithm through a series of tests.

It’s an ambitious project, but he approaches art the same way he approaches computer science. “Try and try and fail and fail a bit better the next time,” he says.
The Weaver House in Bloomfield was home to James R. Weaver, who ran for president as a third-party candidate in 1880 and 1892, when he picked up more than 1 million votes and carried four states. Photo: Travel Iowa.


Writer: Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

If you’re worried about the upcoming election, take heart: We’ve done this before. Americans have organized (endured?) 57 presidential elections since the first one, in 1788, and Iowans have voted in 43 of them.

But over the years, Iowans have done more than cast ballots. A new self-guided tour called “Iowa’s Presidential Past”—available through Nov. 9 on the free Iowa Culture mobile app—highlights 15 sites where you can learn about all sorts of political characters, including President Herbert Hoover and various presidential wannabes.  

The tour includes Hoover’s birthplace in West Branch, of course, as well as a Waterloo sculpture of first lady Lou Henry Hoover, who earned a geology degree from Stanford, where she and Herbert met, and spoke several languages, including Latin and Mandarin.

But the tour features lesser-known landmarks, too. Consider the Bloomfield home of James B. Weaver, who ran for president as a third-party candidate in 1880 and again in 1892, when he racked up more than 1 million votes and carried four states (but not Iowa).

You can also visit the Harlan-Lincoln House in Mount Pleasant, which belonged to Sen. James Harlan, whose daughter married President Abraham Lincoln’s son. The artifacts on display include a blood-stained remnant of the coat Lincoln wore on the night of his assassination.

But wait, there’s more. The tour showcases historic sites in Boone, Des Moines, Greenfield, McGregor, Orient, Sergeant Bluff, Winterset and even the Ottumwa Naval Air Station, where a young Richard Nixon once reported for duty.

Download the app (from Google Play or the App Store) and hit the road. While you’re out there, you can discover more than 3,500 other cultural landmarks the app pinpoints in all 99 counties.

“At the very least,” says Jessica Rundlett, who coordinates special projects for the State Historical Museum of Iowa and curated the new tour, “you’ll get a break from all the political ads on TV.”
Jenn O’Neal and her husband, Adam, grow annuals and perennials at their Winterset flower farm, PepperHarrow. Here, Jenn shows off a bouquet of fresh-cut lisianthus amid a field of red zinnias, which are planted in succession for several months of blooms. Photo: Dani Miller, Sugar Hill Photography.


Madison County’s Covered Bridge Festival is a seasonal highlight for many. For one couple, it was life-changing. Adam and Jenn O’Neal started their flower farm, PepperHarrow, in the covered-bridge countryside following a fateful visit to the festival.

“Iowa’s fall captured Adam,” says Jenn, who grew up in Winterset. The couple had met in Colorado and later moved to Tennessee, where Adam worked as a gardener with a prominent landscaping firm. A native of southern Louisiana, he had only experienced Iowa during bone-chilling winters, until the year they visited Jenn’s family in October.

“We were originally going to buy a farm in Tennessee,” Adam says, “but in the fall of 2010 we came back for the Covered Bridge Festival and the weather was absolutely perfect. It was 60 degrees, the trees’ leaves were turning and raining down on the street with the sunlight shining through them. It was like a movie set.”

Sold on the autumn weather, Adam dug his hand into the rich soil and was hooked. He knew they could grow anything here: Water was plentiful and land was available. They could also live the sustainable life they wanted, while tapping Jenn’s flower background.

“I grew up gardening with my grandmother and my mom,” Jenn explains. “My grandparents had a farm just a little north of Winterset. My parents would send us out to the farm all of the time, and I would help my grandmother. She would send me with clippers out to the garden to collect a bouquet and would always talk about the flowers’ names.

“And she always entered her floral designs in the county fair,” Jenn adds. “She got me interested in that. One year I won a junior-achievement prize and she won the grand prize.”

Read the rest of the story from our ia magazine here.
Sammy Mila, who creates recipes for Meredith Corp. in Des Moines and was featured in our July issue of dsm magazine, is one of the 40 Women to Watch in Hospitality from the Iowa Restaurant Association. Photo: Dera Burreson.


The Iowa Restaurant Association released this year's 40 Women to Watch in Hospitality. The honorees work in all segments and functions in the industry, including purveyors, entrepreneurs, chefs and business development professionals. More than 100 nominations were submitted from across the state. The women on the list are "blazing new trails, leading by example, and impressing their peers, customers and managers daily," according to the Iowa Restaurant Association.

Honorees will be recognized in person on Nov. 16 at the Iowa Events Center (Community Choice Convention Center) in Des Moines during the Iowa Restaurant Association’s annual Celebrating Excellence Awards ceremony. They will also be featured in Food and Beverage Iowa Business Quarterly. In addition, a synopsis of each woman’s industry story will be launched on the Iowa Restaurant Association website.

For more info and for a full list of the honorees, click here.

Built in the 19th century, the historic Englert Theatre in Iowa City will be renovated, thanks to $5 million raised through a capital campaign. Photo: Englert Theatre.


FlimScene Iowa and the historic Englert Theatre—located in downtown Iowa City—have reached a major milestone in their joint capital campaign, "Strengthen. Grow. Evolve." The organizations announced they have raised $5 million, even during a pandemic and in the aftermath of a derecho that hit eastern Iowa particularly hard. The funds will be used to modernize and preserve the theater, including a marquee renovation, and other FilmScene Iowa initiatives.

“It is truly because the community has taken hold of the vision of building the greatest small city for the arts that we have been able to reach this tremendous milestone,” said Nina Lohman, associate development director for the campaign, in a news release.

The goal of the campaign is to raise $6 million, down from the initial $6.5 million goal set when the fundraising started in April 2019 (due to the pandemic). The final phase will take place near the end of 2020. Learn more about FilmScene Iowa and the Englert Theatre capital campaign here.
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