In two short years, Art on the Prairie has become synonymous with artistic energy fueled by a kaleidoscope of creativity.
The rich array of artists and appreciation from more than a thousand visitors last year alone have helped spread the word and heighten expectations for this year’s event Nov. 10 and 11 in Perry.
The event has taken on a life of its own encompassing not only visual artists such as painters, but musicians, poets, sculptors, authors, storytellers and photographers as well.
Among the most pleased and surprised at the success are Mary Rose Nichols and Jenny Eklund, two Perry business owners who, along with other people, came up with the idea and molded into Art on the Prairie.
“I think the reason this event has been so successful is because of the hospitality we offer,” Eklund says. “Mary has made us all step up and make the artists feel welcome. It makes a difference.”
She and Nichols expect as many as 2,000 visitors this year.
“It’s amazing. The downtown area just comes alive,” Nichols says. “There is this energy among the artists and the visitors.”
Details about all the artists, events and schedules are listed on the Art on the Prairie website at www.artontheprairie.org. This year the venues for art exhibits and performances are Hotel Pattee, Town Craft, Carnegie Library Museum, Des Moines Area Community College at Perry VanKirk Career Academy, Perry Public Library and the Security Bank Building.
The event showcases Iowa artists, both people who are already known for their work and artists just getting started. All together, the show will include about 100 artists.
The Perry Rotary Club and Art on the Prairie host a Gala Evening festival preview and auction on Friday, Nov. 9 from 5:30-10 p.m. as the Rotary’s annual auction fundraiser, with proceeds going to college scholarships.
People who buy a $25 ticket will be able to tour each of the six venues the evening before the festival begins and purchase any piece of art. Tickets are available at Mary Rose Collections in Perry. When the buildings close at 7:30 p.m., ticket holders will end their tour at the Hotel Pattee where they will be served hors d’oeuvres and wine, take part in the live auction, and top the evening off with a concert featuring Carol Montag.
Montag is a winner of the 2011 Folk Alliance Region Midwest, Official Showcase Winner; and the 2011 Walnut Valley Festival New Song Songwriting Competition. She is known as an eclectic singer with a folk music background who writes her own lyrics and music. She has recorded several CDs.
The festival also will include readings by 12 poets and/or authors including Leslie Olson, who now lives in Perry. Olson has received an Iowa Arts Council Major Artist’s grant to assist her in a project called “Packing Light: Small Town Stories of Refuge, Rebuilding and Rejoicing.” The project is a series of personal essays inspired by the themes of the rooms at the Hotel Pattee. Olson will be reading excerpts from “Packing Light” as well as poems and prose.
Children’s and some adult authors will be situated at the Perry Public Library, as well as some of the artists displaying work. Activities are also being planned for children at the library.
Many of the artists coming to Art on the Prairie are already known in art circles, while others are using the festival to highlight their art and show themselves as artists.
Art on the Prairie gave macro-photographer Cindy Skeies of Windsor Heights a chance to show off her work for the first time and helped her work get noticed, she says.
“I had given a few of the pieces away to friends, but the first Art on the Prairie three years ago was the first time I presented myself as an artist and was the first artists’ festival where I put my work on display,” Skeies says.
She says she still doesn’t think of herself as an artist, she just enjoys what she does.
Her work gives viewers an intense macro-close view of what makes up nature. She uses a camera lens to pick up the invisible world the naked eye can’t see. Two examples are tiny, curled petals that together create a soft, yellow dandelion, and the iridescent hues given off by spider webs shinning in the sun.
“I accidently discovered the spider webs,” Skeies says. “I have to take a lot of photographs because I can’t tell if something on such a small scale is in focus. I don’t know what will be in each one or what something will look like until I have the photos up on my computer screen.”
She was doing just that as she shot photos of a spider on a web. When she pulled the photographs up on her computer, the spider was out of focus in every one. But then she noticed something really interesting — the rainbow-colors being reflected off the web strands. The resulting photos are a fascinating natural arrangement of iridescent lines, both in focus and out.
The first year of the festival, Skeies received the “People’s Choice” award, determined by visitors, Nichols says.
Brad Kiefer of rural Bouton feels much the same as Skeies when it comes to being an artist. This builder and carpenter found his artistic outlet making lamps of wood and copper, as well as playing with light. Art on the Prairie is the only art festival he attends each year to display his “moon lights,” which he also calls “mood lights.”
“The first year of the festival, I don’t think people understood what I was doing with the lights,” he says. “They would pick them up and turn them upside down, and the copper shade would fall off the lamps.”
The lamps aren’t for reading, Kiefer says. They are to create a mood, a soft light.
“I call them moon lights because I am trying to recreate the feel of the moon shining,” he says.
He plays with the copper shades he hand-pounds into the shape he wants, including finishing the copper in a buff or sheen. The finish on the copper buff affects the way light is reflected.
This year, he has designed a lamp that recreates the look of a sunset. Kiefer has done this by situating places in the copper for the light to shine through.
Each lamp is unique in the wood grain, the copper finish and decorative additions. Some lamps are made entirely of copper with a copper grapevine twisting around the sconce-shaped body of the lamp. Others are made of wood with different grains and finishes, but always a pounded copper shade.
Kiefer is working on seven or eight lamps to bring to the show. In the past two festivals, he has not only sold pieces during the show, but has taken orders after the show.
His talents don’t end there. He will also be playing banjo with fellow local musicians Chris Nichols and Doug Nichols.
Builder and carpenter Joe Warnock of rural Perry uses his artistic flair to fashion sculptures out of wood, along with artistically-inspired furniture made from reclaimed or unused wood he buys or is given. His latest two works are chests of drawers made of a combination of wood he salvaged from a barn blown down in a tornado and other wood given to him by an area farmer. Also used on the front of the drawers and the top of the chest is spalted maple, which shows patterns of dark lines that spread throughout the wood, contrasting against the light-colored maple. The spalting is the result of moisture and a specific type of bacteria that works its way into the wood.
He also makes coat racks, but his coat racks sometimes turn into sculptures.
“I never know when I start making a piece what it will turn into,” he says.
From wood sculptures to poets, there’s something for everyone at Art on the Prairie. Poet Mary Teresa Fallon of rural Perry, who has worked to bring in poets and authors, will also be reciting her own poetry during the festival.
Fallon started writing poetry when she was in high school and as a young nun in the order, Sisters of Charity, Blessed Virgin Mary. After becoming discouraged about her poems, she put them away until years later when she was accepted in the Writer’s Workshop program at the University of Iowa. After earning her Master’s in Fine Arts, she decided to leave the order and pursue writing. She taught composition at Iowa State University, and then was a reporter and columnist for The Perry Chief before she retired.
Fallon published her first book of poems in 2003, called “Crossing Over,” and her second in 2010, called “Ritual of Waffles.”
“What really catches my fancy are the everyday interchanges among people, and now even more since my husband and I moved to the country, what happens in nature.”