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Out and About: Des Moines, Iowa Art Scene

posted on November 1, 2007 at 9:04 AM


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If you’re an artist and want to display or sell your work, if you’re a consumer and want to look at terrific art, or maybe you’re looking to buy a piece to “make” a room in your home or your office, you can’t do any better than Des Moines.

Out and About correspondent Dan Kaercher takes us to a few traditional and not so traditional places where you can find art in the metro.

Kaercher: Located in Valley Junction in West Des Moines, Olson-Larsen Galleries is one of the older, more established galleries in town. Marlene Olson has been selling art here since 1979.

Marlene Olson, Olson-Larsen Galleries: "Iowa artists come from all over the world. We have a lot of small colleges, and then we have the three universities. Each of those places have artists on staff that come from Iowa as well as from around the country and the world."

Kaercher: In fact, Olson says there are more artists than there is a market for them. The Galleries’ roster includes 70 artists – most of them regional – who have a connection to the state or live here now.

Olson-Larsen sells all kinds of art, from abstracts to ceramics to photography and kinetic pieces.

Olson: "I'd have to say that we have more clients interested in landscapes than probably any other type of artwork."

It must be that Iowa connection to the land.

On Ingersoll Avenue, where a new streetscape is under construction, Moberg Gallery is a newer addition to the city’s art scene. Opened in 2003, Moberg represents over 30 artists from the region, working in different media and in different styles.

You don’t have to wait for gallery hours to see some works by Moberg’s artists. Just go a block or so east to the Star Bar any day of the week. All of these pieces came from Moberg Gallery, too.

Mike Hutchison, Star Bar, Co-owner: "When we established, we wanted be more upscale as far as the food we served. To go along with that, we talked to local gallery and came up with idea of bringing their paintings in here to give them more gallery space. We can decorate our walls without blowing the budget. It's worked out best for both of us. Since then, we've gotten to know artists, too. There's a great relationship between all three parties."

Kaercher: The menu points out to people that the art comes from Moberg Gallery – and a few pieces have even been sold from the Star Bar itself.

You can find art in lots of different places these days, from restaurants and bars to coffee shops to government buildings. Our last stop is at the Polk County Administration Building in downtown Des Moines. Built in the early 1900s, this was Des Moines’s main post office for decades. Polk County took it over in 1975.

The Heritage Gallery has occupied the north side of the building for about 25 years. It’s run and managed by volunteers and maintained by artist entry fees and foundation donations. We stopped by to check on a show by Orange City artist Elinor Noteboom. Her work will be up till November 15.

On the National Register of Historic Places, the building itself is a work of art. And a museum, too. Just take a look at this old post office writing desk.

This public gallery is a treasure hidden in plain sight.

Yeager: Dan Kaercher just told us about the art that's in town, but there's another big art festival going on this weekend in town.

Kaercher: Well, a huge event, the Metro Arts Two Rivers Expo, a juried event at Hy-Vee Hall, Friday evening, Saturday, and Sunday. You can buy art from over 130 regional and national artists, and a third of them are from Iowa. All kinds of events for adults and children, and on Saturday morning, a topic I'm interested in, a nationally-known landscape designer, John Carloftis, is going to tell you how to put art in your garden.

Yeager: You can put it in your garden. You can also put it in your holiday basket if you need to pick up any gifts for anybody.

Kaercher: There you go.

Yeager: After the holidays is going to be the Iowa caucus. That’s not something you do so much with travel, but there's a big exhibit here in town.

Kaercher: 10,000 square feet at the Iowa historical building. It'll be up through January 31, and everything you want to know about the Iowa caucuses plus a few things you probably didn't know that you wanted to know. Plus, you can register to vote too.

Yeager: It's a good primer for the caucus itself. Get a little background history. Now, there's another thing going on, speaking of history, up in Dyersville, another thing with the small miniature tractors.

Kaercher: Well, I know northeast Iowa is your corner of the state, and Dyersville has the national farm toy show Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Four hundred tables of farm toys at three venues. This is the thirtieth year. They get up to 15,000 people at this event.

Tags: business Des Moines history Iowa tourism travel

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