Dubuque is Iowa’s oldest city. I passed through it many times when I lived in St. Louis and always enjoyed seeing its classic courthouse that looks like an elaborate 19th century Lego project. This time we were on our way from Galena to Madison and didn’t plan to stop in this place where 3 states meet. “We have time for one attraction,” I said to Ruth. “Let’s see what the Dubuque Museum of Art is like.” We were in for several shocks.
There was a school field trip in progress. One of the teachers apologized unnecessarily for their presence and raved about the current show, “Shiny, Sticky, Smooth”. “The boys especially like it,” she told me. I must have looked puzzled. “POW!” she said. We went upstairs to see it and had our 1st 3 shocks. The temporary exhibit was from the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation (JSFF), it was a big city exhibit appearing in a small town, and I understood POW! Schnitzer is a big name in Oregon’s Portland, and many arts endeavors across the river from where we live have the Schnitzer name on them. As Getty is to California, Schnitzer is to Oregon. There was a Roy Lichtenstein cartoon print upstairs among the Warhols and other recognizable names. The exhibit, which closes May 14, contained more than 50 pop pieces from the family’s vast collection. I went down to the reception desk and the lady in charge that day gave me a brochure that listed all the museums that have recently shown JSFF stuff. It informed me that this foundation has organized more than 100 exhibitions in over 75 American museums and that the exhibit we were enjoying along with the kids would travel to Grinnell College and be on display from July 1 to September 10, 2017. If you plan to travel across Iowa this summer, “Shiny, Sticky, Smooth” is worth seeing.
I went back upstairs to find Ruth and had another shock. She was in the room with the Dubuque Museum of Art’s permanent collection. This museum focuses on American art, has a personal collection of more than 2,200 works including an impressive Grant Wood assortment of paintings, lithographs, etc. If you’re wondering who Grant Wood is, I’m not surprised. Most of what he produced in his short but prolific career has not left Iowa. The major one that has left is in Chicago and is among the most admired and copied American paintings. It’s “American Gothic”.
I went downstairs for 2 more shocks. The paintings in an exhibit now closed were exceptional. John Anderson-Bricker has been painting the Mississippi River that flows past Dubuque in every season since 1997. Appropriately called “Fire and Ice”, 10 of his works were up. After admiring them I went down to the basement and found a room with all walls featuring children’s art, and I suddenly understood the field trip’s enthusiasm and one of this museum’s main focuses.
Going in, I hadn’t planned to write about this museum, but it was such a series of delightful shocks that I changed my mind. On the way out, I stopped at the main desk to thank the lady again and received one final shock. She handed me several sheets of paper about the museum that I hadn’t asked for and reminded me to check out its Edward Curtis’ North American Indian collection of early 20th century photographs before I left. Local pride resides in Dubuque.