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weekly art forecasts from Central Iowa

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Posts tagged holly wist
Hot Mural Controversy in the O.G.

by Holly Wist on June 23, 2014


Des Moines Register, April 25, 1951 

From 1900-1940-ish, predecessors of the Des Moines Public Library, Civic Center, the Cumming School of Art and Des Moines Arts Center shared a glittery salmon pink limestone building at 100 Locust. (O.G. Social Club)

During the Great Depression the Public Works of Art Project (P.W.A.P.) paid artists $38-$46.50 a week to create art for public buildings. Grant Wood (American Gothic painter) was the director for the Iowa District of the P.W.A.P. when a project was created for frescos to be painted in the boys and girls room of city library.


Grant Wood explaining reasons to change to fresco painting for the proposed mural.

The P.W.A.P. provided wages for Harry Donald Jones and a team of assisting artists (Paul Backensten, Opal Adams, Paul Poffinbarger) and construction workers. The city funded the necessary supplies for the fresco.


Harry Donald Jones laying down chalk outlines for the frescos. (Source: Des Moines Register Oct 25, 1938)

There was some distress about the duration of the project as 1. Frescos are time intensive 2. Harry D. Jones was given a large workload in addition to the library project.

It was asserted that P.W.A.P. artists chose to make frescos because that medium would ensure wages for a longer period of time.



Details from “A Social History of Des Moines” (Source: Holly Wist)

In 1941 “A Social History of Des Moines” was completed.

In 1948 the Des Moines Association of Fine Arts (Des Moines Art Center) moved out of 100 Locust into their first building in Greenwood Park.

Frescos last a loooooong time, but only ten years after the mural was completed and three years after the Art Association moved out of 100 Locust, the Library Board voted to erase the mural, sparking a hot dispute in the library.

“Removing these paintings will certainly provide a gleam of light for the confused minds of our people who are struggling to see into the dark abyss of modernistic or contemporary art as it is foisted upon us today by ‘trained’ art directors.”

-Alice McKee Cumming

“Considered as art, you can get any opinion you look for, and there is no subject about which there are more passionate disagreements. Our public art, from war memorials down, would fare ill if it were subject to destruction every time a majority of a governing board decided it was bad art. (As most of it probably is).”

-Charles F. Ransom

Correspondence regarding the dispute:



With the effort of art advocates the mural was saved! Hurray!

And was changed into a storage closet, I mean circulation desk until 2006.


World Food Prize (Source: Holly Wist)

100 Locust is now the World Food Prize, and can be visited:

Tue 9am-3pm

Sat 9am-1pm

Sun noon-3pm



Assorted clippings from the Des Moines Register

Estes, Elaine “Architecture and Art History of the Main Library: 100 Locust”

Jones, Harry Donald “Public Library of Des Moines mural information”

“Architecture Overview”

“A Social History of Des Moines”

Holly Wist is an artist working in Des Moines. WEBSITE

Tripping the Queen: Des Moines and NYC

by Holly Wist on May 19, 2014


Statue of Liberty (HISTORY)

There needs to be a conversational balance when talking about cities and making comparisons.

Recently I’ve observed two different situations when discussing cities.

1. Silence Peon!  “You’re not from here so don’t talk about our problems. But don’t talk about your town either—in fact— don’t talk at all.”

2. Tripping the Queen, “NYC is a suck-face pit of despair and horror. YAY it sucks there!”

I don’t think people should be silenced when making geographical comparisons, but I don’t think income disparity in another city is something worthy of celebration either. 

Picking a place to live isn’t a sporting event. If there is a problem with poverty in another city, Des Moines doesn’t win anything. Not a damn thing.

But an area code doesn’t make creative validity, either. 

It’s like an ad campaign “Now with 100% real cheese!”

Well, what was in you before you moved to NYC? If you use your address to validate yourself, you’re making yourself subject to that value. Are you worth a damn if you move out of there?

All that contrariness aside, you know what would be really great? We should make friends with New Yorkers or something like that. I bet most of the arts crowd across the states can identify with financial problems, loneliness, and frustration.

Why do I live in Des Moines? I like the Midwest. It’s a grungy wild frontier. That which you desire for the arts, you’ve got to build it with your own hands.

Where is the scene? My costal friends, everything in the Midwest is underground. Be nice to the locals or you will never see the red neck yacht club, the wine trails, the secret doughnuts, rurally good festivals, the under-clad house parties, etc. Show some respect and get those doors open. 


‘Iowa’ from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil War Monument (HISTORY)

I need to mention that I lifted my title from Susan Shapiro Barash’s “Tripping the Prom Queen: The Truth About Women and Rivalry

May the fine ladies of Des Moines and NYC enjoy their apples without jealousy! She’s like a queen!

Holly Wist is an artist working in Des Moines. WEBSITE

David Byrne, festival culture, and the Des Moines Social Club

by Holly Wist on May 14, 2014

Over 4,000 people celebrated the grand opening of the Des Moines Social Club.

It was a festive time with all floors and roofs of the renovated firehouse packed with artists, musicians, thespians, and such.


Courtyard view. (Source: Holly Wist) 

Having spent the previous afternoon googling David Byrne (I think I watched a clip of Play the Building four times), I slogged with anticipation through the large puddle in the middle of the courtyard to hear the key address.

Byrne began his speech by recounting his experiences during 80/35 2013. Look up his journal if you want a more direct account. Really, go look it up, he’s a research fiend. It’s nice.

I was not surprised that he got charmed by Des Moines during 4th of July weekend. Iowa hosts awesome festivals, and they are fiercely advocated. Happy people everywhere!

80/35, Des Moines Arts Festival, World Food Festival, Baconfest, the Iowa State Fair

The level of community and excitement can even be daunting to uninterested parties, particularly with the state fair. A conversation about the state fair might go like this:

“OMG I’m going to the state fair every day!” (that’s 10 days of fair)

“Stop being creepy! The state fair is like a cult.” (unreciprocated enthusiasm Iowa = cult)

Anyway I hope Des Moines’ temporary enthusiasms can solidify into a more consistent situation for artists/others.

David Byrne included a few directives for fostering the ~erm~ cultural success of the city. He mentioned the importance of creative corridors for the strength of the art scene. Like all endangered species, artists need corridors to sustain themselves.

The relationship between artistic communities in Grinnell, Ames, and Des Moines is growing. Grin City Collective, Ames, and the Des Moines Art Beacon are getting along fairly well. We need to expand. Like wild creatures stealthily taking what we can.

In the end I think Byrne was telling us, The Social Club is awesome, but ____!

Now go make that happen. 

Holly Wist is an artist working in Des Moines. WEBSITE