Arts and Culture in Iowa
There are plenty of cultural surprises in Iowa. The Hawkeye state has contributed a wide variety of talents to the world. It may be surprising that Iowa has even produced its share of famous "cowboys," from famous frontier scout and Wild West showman William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody to the legendary, iconic Western film actor John Wayne. While "corn-fed" is an oft-used adjective to describe the state, Iowa's sophisticated arts and culture scene belies that classification.
Cedar Rapids Symphony is a professional orchestra that holds more than 120 public classical and chamber music performances in Eastern Iowa each year.. Founded in 1921, it bills itself as "one of the oldest symphony orchestras in continuous operation west of the Mississippi River." Its award-winning Symphony School teaches 30,000 students (youth and adult) annually.
OPERA Iowa brings music to over 600,000 people annually via its outreach programs. It operates a successful 13-week regional arts education troupe/tour that boasts innovative study guides, workshops, and performances tailored for young audiences. In 2009, the troupe performed a new opera for children by Michael Patterson, A Dream Fulfilled: The Saga of George Washington Carver, depicting the famed inventor's life and career.
Des Moines Metro Opera is one of the most respected performing arts organizations in the state. Since 1973, its focus has been on providing a stage for American-trained principal artists, maintaining an apprentice artist program that provides exceptional performance opportunities, and increasing regional audiences via its educational outreach programs.
Iowa has had a long history with the famed Joffrey Ballet. One of the Joffrey Ballet’s leading ballerinas and teachers, Francoise Martinet, taught in the University of Iowa's Department of Dance from 1978 through 1997. Martinet's student Mark Wuest danced with the Joffrey Ballet for five years. Wuest, now a choreographer in Europe, was honored with a UI Distinguished Alumni Award in 2001. Martinet also taught Iowa City dancer Deanne Brown, who joined the Joffrey Ballet in 1996. Brown also played "Dana" in the 2003 Robert Altman film, The Company.
On February 3, 1959, rock n' roll stars Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens performed at theSurf Ballroom in Clear Lake as part of the Winter Dance Party. All three were killed in a plane crash on the way to their next performance, and the date became the "Day the Music Died." Every February since then, fans gather at "the Surf" to remember and celebrate the three musicians. The Surf was named a Rock n’ Roll Landmark by the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, the 50th anniversary of the original Winter Dance Party.
Iowa boasts a wealth of yearly music festivals. The National Old Time Country & Bluegrass Festival & Contest, held annually in LeMars, is one of the world's greatest traditional acoustic music events. Hundreds of acoustic musicians from around the world participate in the festival. The Iowa Women's Music Festival is held annually in Iowa City. The Central Iowa Traditional Dance and Music Festival is held in Ames. The Greater des Moines Music Coalition organized the first 80/35 Music Festival in July 2008. Over 30,000 music fans attended the two-day festival.
A wide variety of other music resources are available in the state. The National Traditional Country Music Association in Walnut produces local radio and television programs in Iowa. It also operates theWalnut Country Opera House, which houses a theater and several halls of fame and museums. TheCivic Center of Greater Des Moines is Central Iowa’s not-for-profit performing arts center. It serves as a cornerstone of downtown Des Moines’ redevelopment initiative and is considered an outstanding community performing arts center.
Well-known musicians from Iowa include the Nordic Choir at Luther College in Decorah, which performs around the world. They sang at the Lincoln Center in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Scandinavian-American old-time dance musicians Foot-Notes of Decorah play fiddle tunes popular in northeast Iowa around the turn of the 19th century. The band also performs dance tunes from other traditions—including Swedish, Finnish, Faroese, Russian, Irish, and American folk.
Big Band leader and popular musician of the Swing Era, Glenn Miller was born on a farm in Clarinda, Iowa, in 1904. He was one of the best-selling recording artists from 1939 to 1943 and was famous for his band’s renditions of "In the Mood," "American Patrol," and "Chattanooga Choo Choo," among other songs.
Other famous Iowa musicians include contemporary opera singer Simon Estes, who was born in Centerville, Iowa, in 1938. He learned to sing in the local Baptist church and later attended the University of Iowa, where he studied music. Meredith Willson, the composer of the hit Broadway musical The Music Man was born in Mason City, Iowa. One of the great jazz musicians of the Jazz Age,Bix Beiderbecke was born in Davenport, Iowa, in 1903. His most famous recorded piece was his solo piano masterpiece "In a Mist."
"Buffalo Bill" Cody was born near Le Claire in the Iowa Territory (now Iowa) in 1846. He was an American soldier and scout, a bison hunter, and a showman. Cody was most famous for his turn-of-the-19th century show called "Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World."
Legion Arts/CSPS is housed in a century-old, renovated former Czech social hall in Cedar Rapids. The company offers community development in the form of state-of-the-art creativity in music, theater, film, and other mediums. The Old Creamery Theatre Company in Amana presents live professional theater. It celebrated its 37th year as a theater and its 20th year in Amana in 2009.
The Grand Opera House is the oldest theater in Dubuque. Originally completed in 1890 it is still an active theater today. Many famous actors have performed at the Grand, including George M. Cohen, Lillian Russell, Ethel Barrymore, and Sarah Bernhardt. One of its most ambitious productions was Ben Hur, in which chariots, horses, and even an elephant shared the stage.
Western and war movie star John Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison in Winterset in 1907. The American Film Institute named Wayne one of the "Greatest Male Stars of All Time" in 1999.
Contemporary film and television actors hailing from Iowa include Ashton Kutcher (That ’70s Show) and Elijah Wood (the Lord of the Rings trilogy). Donna Reed, the beloved Academy Award-winning actress and star of It’s a Wonderful Life, was also born in the state. Movies filmed in Iowa include Field of Dreams, The Straight Story, The Bridges of Madison County, The Hideout, and Twister.
The University of Iowa in Iowa City is known internationally for its creative writing program, which attracts fiction writers, poets, nonfiction writers, and playwrights from around the globe. The workshop began in 1936 and it was the first program in the U.S. to offer a Master of Fine Arts in English. Workshop alumni have won many literary prizes, including 16 Pulitzer Prizes. In addition, four U.S. Poets Laureate have either taught or studied at the workshop.
Jane Smiley (A Thousand Acres) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who taught undergraduate and graduate creative writing workshops at Iowa State University between 1981 and 1996. She was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2001. She chaired the judges' panel for the Man Booker International Prize in 2009.
Travel author Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines in 1951. He is known for his humorous travel books and other books on language and science.
Identical twin sisters born in Sioux City in 1918, Esther Pauline "Eppie" Lederer and Pauline "Popo" Esther Friedman Phillips both became famous, syndicated advice columnists—Eppie became known as"Ann Landers," while Popo used the pen name "Dear Abby."
One of the country's most famous visual artists, Grant Wood was born in Anamosa, Iowa, in 1891. His most famous work, American Gothic, is arguably the most iconic image in American painting. TheCedar Rapids Museum of Art in Cedar Rapids features a permanent collection of more than 5,600 pieces including the world's largest collection of Wood's works.
Cedar Rapids has a deep tradition of public art projects. The downtown area has a number of interesting installations, such as Overalls All Over, Fly Wright, and Sculpture on Second. Grounds for Art: Street-Level Sculpture originally placed 26 sculptures throughout the downtown area in May 2008, making it one of the largest outdoor sculpture shows in the region.
The newly launched 2010 Grounds for Art will feature 30 different sculptures from artists all over the U.S. The sculptures will be placed permanently in Cedar Rapids after the show is done. In September 2009, the John & Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park opened in Des Moines opened in September 2009; the park features the single greatest public donation of art in Iowa history.
The Des Moines Art Center in Des Monies offers many exhibitions, educational programs, and studio art classes. The museum complex has superb buildings designed by three different distinguished architects: Eliel Saarinen, I. M. Pei, and Richard Meier.
The Architectural Interpretive Center in Mason City will be completed in June 2010. The new facility boasts designs by Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Burley Griffin, William Drummond, and Francis Barry Byrne. The center is located near the Frank Lloyd Wright Stockman House and the Rock Crest/Rock Glen National Historic District, which boasts the largest collection of Prairie School homes.
The oldest theater in Dubuque, the Grand Opera House cost $65,000 to build in 1889–1890. The building’s original facade features a St. Louis brick facing with Bayfield red sandstone trim. Its architectural style is Richardsonian, a style utilized in the 1880s before the Beaux Arts style became popular. The Richardsonian style influenced the Chicago School (featuring, among others, Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright) and the Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen.
HANDICRAFT AND FOLK ART
Folk art is found all over Iowa, sometimes in surprising places. There are a handful of painstakingly built religious grottos in the state including the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend. The nine organic, aboveground structures illustrate biblical stories and were created by Father Paul Mathias Dobberstein between 1912 and 1954. In the early 1990s, Father Louis Greving continued his work.
In Cedar Rapids, William Lightner built a grotto to express his religious faith in 1929. The grotto is spread over two acres at Mount Mercy College and contains arched entryways, a lagoon, shrines, and a 10-column structure. Lightner's work has been compared to the art of Simon Rodia's Watts Towers in Los Angeles as well as Dobberstein's Grotto of Redemption.
Dan Slaughter's Sculpture Park in Macgregor is filled with countless life-sized totem pole carvings of the likes of Elvis Presley, the "Jolly Green Giant," and Pocahontas, as well as more generic characters.
The Porter House Museum in Decorah is filled with the personal furnishings, collections, and art of Adelbert and Grace Porter. Bert Porter was a naturalist and photographer and he designed a unique rock wall in the 1930s using his extensive collection of rocks and minerals.
HISTORIC ART MOVEMENTS
Grant Wood was a leader of the Regionalist art movement in the 1930s. Wood was well known for his paintings of the rural Midwest, especially the aforementioned American Gothic, which depicted a husband holding a pitchfork alongside his wife in front of an Iowa farmhouse. Regionalist artists rejected city life and technology and created art showing the "Heartland" or rural America. Along with Iowa's Wood from Thomas Hart Benton from Missouri, and John Steuart Curry from Kansas were known as the "Regionalist Triumvirate."
-World Trade Press