Stanley Museum of Art in Iowa City

We visited the Stanley Museum of Art, which opened in August. One piece impressed us even before we entered the museum. One of our favorites is “Two Lines Oblique” by George Rickey. It’s a huge mobile outside the entrance.

The mural “Surroundings” by Odila Donald Odita is striking. Odita says it’s his answer to “Mural” by Jackson Pollock. I don’t even know the question posed by Pollock’s huge work. I guess some see a dancer in motion.

Sena’s favorites were the mobile and the painting “Spring Embraces Yellow” by Alma Thomas. I initially missed the point of “Heeler III” which Sena got immediately. It’s one of those platform high heel shoes, dang! I guess the platform is back in style, according to a few recent fashion web articles. I guess I’ll wait on putting in my order.

Some pieces of art might be a little hard to say we “like” per se, because they convey a sense of violence or tragedy. I think “Red April” by Sam Gilliam is one of those, because it originated from the grief and horror after Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in April of 1963.

The photos of downtown Iowa City are a kind of walk down memory lane for us. It’s been years since we’ve visited the place. In some ways, it hasn’t changed much. On the other hand, the “Writers in a Café” monument with the quote by Marvin Bell in the ped mall was new to us.

The Iowa Avenue Literary Walk has been around for ages, but Kurt Vonnegut’s quote about “What we pretend to be” was unfamiliar. It seemed like a fresh insight into human nature, but one which we probably already knew.

We don’t pretend to be art critics, but I think we can say we’re art enthusiasts. We’re not pretending that.

Art in the Iowa City Parks

We went for a walk today in a couple of different parks recently. We were looking for the new art works that have been placed recently. We saw HOOPla in Mercer Park by Tim Adams and Succulent Bloom by Mike Sneller at Terry Trueblood Recreation Area. You can read more about art in the park in the Little Village magazine.

HOOPla happened to have a Chinese mantis on it. Sena thought it was part of the sculpture at first when seeing it from a distance. Then it moved.

We didn’t get to see all of the new art pieces, but plan on it soon.

Links to Ozymandias

Sena and I took a walk down Scott Boulevard today. The weather was practically balmy, compared to how cold it has been. Forty degrees above zero compared to 9 degrees below feels miraculous.

We walked past the Harvest Preserve entry. Across the street is what we’ve just learned is an old building that is known as the “Haunted Barn” (photo taken in August 2021).

We passed the 20-foot-tall, 110-ton Sitting Man sculpture, now on the west side of Scott Boulevard after it was moved from the east side of the road in July, 2020.

Today was the first time we trekked past the Sitting Man to Rochester Avenue and beyond. If we hadn’t, we would not have noticed a fascinating, blindingly white abstract sculpture mounted on a concrete block which we initially believed was on the Harvest Preserve property at the northwest corner of the intersection. Sena said it looked like a person, noting the head, arms, and body. I didn’t notice that.

After we got back home, I couldn’t find out anything about it on the web, no matter how much I connected the search terms to Harvest Preserve, the Sitting Man and so on. I found only one item with a photo and it was an announcement about a tour on Harvest Preserve in 2018. The impression is that the sculpture is on the property.

I sent an email inquiry to Executive Director of the Harvest Preserve Foundation, Inc., Julie Decker, whose email address is available on the website.

Ms. Decker informed me that the sculpture is technically not on Harvest Preserve property. She knew the sculpture is entitled “Family,” and the artist’s name was Eugene Anderson, who died in 2008. That’s all she knew.

It turns out that what little she knew led to an astonishing story that was even deeper and more engaging than we imagined. You can read the obituary of the Iowa City artist Eugene Anderson on legacy dot com. The highlights are that he started his career in architecture, was the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics (UIHC) architect for 25 years, and then began creating original art work to display in the hospital to comfort patients. He later became a full-time sculptor, and was on the board of directors for “Arts Iowa City.”

I was a medical student, resident, faculty member and a consulting psychiatrist at UIHC, a career starting in 1988 and ending with my retirement in June of 2020. It’s possible I saw some of Anderson’s work while I was galloping around the hospital.

In 1994 he created the “Family Group” series of sculpture which have been displayed at Chait Galleries in Iowa City, Des Moines Art Center, and the Brunnier Art Museum in Ames, Iowa. The piece we saw might have been one of those. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything on the web about the series.

And what is more intriguing, Anderson also traveled extensively, even to Egypt where he cruised on the Nile and took a sunrise balloon ride over the pyramids.

How is it possible that so little of Eugene Anderson’s life and work are not better known? Come to think of it, I guess time can erase the memory of our accomplishments.

This little story reminded me of the poem “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley. I’ve forgotten all of my college freshman English Literature but a web search indicates that Ozymandias was based on Ramesses II, a king of ancient Egypt. Ozymandias was a great ruler of a vast empire. His sculptor built a huge monument in the desert and gave it the oft-quoted inscription, “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”


Percy Bysshe Shelley-1792-1822

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Today we searched for links on the web to find out more about a mysterious sculpture. We found links of a different kind, links to a stranger and to the near and the ancient past. Anderson’s sculpture, “Family,” is still standing, tall, clean, and bright for all to see.

The Iowa River Landing Sculpture Walk

I had so much fun with the giant chicken post on January 25, 2020 that I thought it would be nice to revisit the subject, only this time take a butt-freezing tour of the entire Iowa River Landing (IRL) Sculpture Walk.

We took the walk Tuesday, January 28, 2020. The weather was typical for Iowa in January. The temperature was in the teens and there were brief flurries. My wife, Sena, and I dressed warm and took a meandering journey through the Sculpture Walk, guided by a small map.

It was a little more challenging because snow and ice covered up many of the plaques identifying the works (and parts of the sculptures as well) although this lent even more visual interest to them. They’re three dimensional objects anyway and you really have to walk around them to fully appreciate their complexity. You have to watch out for yellow snow.

What made this adventure even more special was the Iowa Writers’ Library in the lobby of the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center. It’s maintained by the Coralville Public Library. One of the issues I had was being unfamiliar with the text of the poems and other literary works (all were connected with the Iowa Writers’ Workshop) referenced by the artists. The library was cozy, had a fireplace warming the softly lit room lined by bookshelves and a couple of ladders on wheels to help you reach the books higher up.

I have always felt comforted in libraries, ever since I was a little boy. Every day I got the chance, I would walk to my hometown library (which was about a mile trip), browse the stacks for hours, then tote home piles of books in both arms.

The hotel library had most of the books pertinent to the literary references cited by the artists for their sculptures. I even found David B. Axelrod’s book, The Man Who Fell in Love with a Chicken. It turns out that the title of Axelrod’s poem is “The Man Who Fell in Love with His Chicken.” There, I’ve said enough already about that chicken.

Of course, I couldn’t take the time to find and read every book; we would not have had time to freeze our butts off touring the sculptures.

I didn’t wear my heavy winter boots and had to crunch through the crusty snow nearly up to my ankles to reach certain sculptures. Sena was dressed better for the weather but we both slipped around on the ice and I began to think more and more about things like broken hips.

But we soldiered on because it was necessary to walk completely around the Made of Money sculpture by Aaron Wilson in order to see the message printed, “HOW CAN WE HELP YOU?” It’s funny because that’s what I typically ask patients in the general hospital when I sit down on my little camp stool after I introduce myself to them as a consultation-liaison psychiatrist.

The sculpture To Dorothy, by artist James Anthony Bearden, was in a difficult spot and initially we thought we’d have to either rappel down from the roof of the building it was in front of or climb up the big retaining walls to get a good look at it. We found a way out to it and ignored passersby who gawked at us. They needed to admire us for how unique we are (not how eccentric and possibly a danger to ourselves and others), which is what I think Iowa Poet Laureate Marvin Bell was getting at in his poem of the same title as Bearden’s sculpture.

The sculpture, A Thousand Acres, by artist V. Skip Willits was another piece you really have to walk around to fully appreciate, although you generally have to do that with any sculpture. The book of the same title by Jane Smiley is based on Shakespeare’s King Lear—which I have also never read—but which I got an earful about in my undergraduate days from a fellow student who thought he knew everything there was to know about King Lear. He was garrulous in the extreme and bested me in debating class mainly because he never let me open my mouth.

The sculpture by artist Victoria Ann Reed, called Convergence, was very intriguing and looked more like a human figure who had been through a wormhole than a memory.

The Tipping Point, by artist Sarah Deppe, was a convincing image of persons with holes in their heads (several holes in fact). Bureaucrats come to mind.

We nearly dismissed the sculpture called After Trillium by artist Anthony Castronovo as a broken lamppost with dysfunctional solar panels, only partly because snow and ice covered the panel describing it. On the other hand, the top part does resemble a flower called a Trillium, not to be confused with Trillian, a character in the book by Douglas Adams, The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’m glad I could clear that up for you.

The Prairie Breeze Bench by artist Bounnak Thammavong is a sculpture you could actually sit on and watch the Bald Eagles. However, it’s made of steel and the seat was covered by snow. After you wipe away the Bald Eagle droppings, you can read the poem by James Hearst, “Landscape Iowa.” You can also hear it set to music and performed by Scott Cawelti, a former University of Northern Iowa educator who taught film, writing, and literature courses. He also edited The Complete Poetry of James Hearst (University of Iowa Press, 2001).

The Alidade sculpture by Dan Perry was the one Sena and I both really liked. I know Perry says the alidade was used by astronomers but I remember it as being a part of an instrument used by land surveyors, also for measuring distance and angles in topographical surveys. I used to work for consulting engineers as a surveyor’s assistance and draftsman many years ago. Perry links it to the poem entitled “1,2,3” from James Galvin’s book of poems, X: Poems. I confess I don’t see the connection yet. The poem for the most part reminds me of spelunking although Galvin describes a hole that he and a friend rappel into as being a planet. Much of the rest seems to be about something very painful. I’m sorry I can’t do better, but that’s why he’s a poet and I’m not.

Next, we encountered Bounnak Thammavong’s second sculpture, a very recognizable fish, a “lowly river carp,” entitled From the River. It’s linked to the poem “Where Water Comes Together with Other Water” by Raymond Carver. When I was a boy, I used to fish for bullhead in my hometown river. I sometimes caught carp and thought that was the poorer catch. It didn’t matter. I always threw both back into the river. My mom would not clean fish and neither would I.

Finally, by a pretty circuitous route, we saw the last sculpture, Gilead, by artist Kristin Garnant. The snow plow had piled up a lot of snow around it. I probably won’t read Gilead, the epistolary novel by Marilynne Robinson.

In fact, I probably won’t read a lot of the literature connected with the sculptures we saw. I did read Margaret Walker’s poem “For My people.” Sorry, Jubilee is way too much for me. She was the first African-American woman to be accepted into the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, of course depending on which story you believe about when the program formally began (Invisible Hawkeyes: African Americans at the University of Iowa during the Long Civil Rights Era, in Chapter Four: Obscured Traditions: Blacks at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, 1940-1965, by Michael D. Hill, University of Iowa Press, 2016).

In some ways, I identify way with her, one of the reasons being obvious and skin-deep. The other is that she taught school at Jackson State, a historically black college in Jackson, Mississippi.

I wonder if the IRL Sculpture Walk could include another one for her, just to make it an even dozen?

I spent my Freshman and Sophomore college years at a historically black college. It was then called Huston-Tillotson College (now Huston-Tillotson University) in Austin, Texas. That was back in the mid-1970s. I had grown up in largely white neighborhoods and gone to predominantly white schools prior to going to H-TC. It was a culture shock and that’s probably about all I’ll say about it for now, since this post is way too long.

I can say one other thing about H-TC. I submitted a poem for the college’s annual poetry contest. Winners would have their work published in the school’s small anthology called Habari Gani (Swahili for What’s Going On?). Mine didn’t make it but years later I scoured the web looking for a way to get a copy of Habari Gani, finally succeeding only a few years ago after tracking a copy of the Spring 1975 volume down at the H-TU library. I like the short introductory poem:

“Let your hum be the dream

Of an understanding universe…

Let your hum be a perfect

Utopia of Love”

–Patricia Lloyd

A Giant Chicken

Last week, we were out at the Iowa River Landing (IRL) and saw a giant chicken. It’s actually a metal sculpture entitled Iowa Blue: The Urbane Chicken, 2013, one of 11 such works (all installed in 2013) of art making up the Iowa River Landing Sculpture Walk, located in the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center.

All of them are linked to literary works by authors associated with the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. The artist is Amber O’Harrow’s and her statement about the chicken is:

“I have created a sculpture of the noble chicken, as described in the poem by David B. Axelrod. The Iowa Blue Chicken is the only breed of chicken that was created in the state of Iowa and bred to survive Iowa’s harsh winters and its hot summers.”

The literary reference is to David B. Axelrod’s poem, The Man Who Fell in Love with a Chicken.

The chicken is made from cast aluminum and is taller than I am.

This set me off on an internet journey to find out more about the Iowa Blue chicken breed and Axelrod’s poem. It took a while, because there’s a lot to know.

If you’re a poultry enthusiast and an Iowan, then you know the story about the Iowa Blue Chicken Club (IBCC), not to be confused with the sandwich of the same name which doesn’t yet exist but should. The IBCC is an organization dedicated to making sure that the public at large realizes that the sculpture’s name is Betsy and that there is a big effort to get the breed recognized officially by the American Poultry Association (APA). So far, the APA has deferred, but the IBCC is not giving up.

The story of the origin of the Iowa Blue is somewhat apocryphal in that the breed was said to arise from the union of a White Leghorn (or Red depending on what you’ve been drinking) and a pheasant, which serves to explain the chestnut to striped colors of the feathers and certain behaviors of the chicks, which includes antics like crouching, fast fleeing, and something called “popping” which apparently means a kind of hopping which resembles popcorn popping. I gather this is typical for pheasant chicks.

Iowa Blue roosters will fight hawks, even slapping them with their wings and crowing challenges like “Have some of that!” or “You got something on your face, dude!” They’ll fight just about any critter: opossums, raccoons, snakes, rats, cats, congressmen.

Iowa Blue chickens are bred to thrive in Iowa’s harsh winters and oppressive summers. When the barnyard gets snowed in, they just grab little ergonomic shovels and scoop their way out—they just flip the bird at snow blowers.

Visit the IBCC web site to see photos of these beautiful birds.

Turning to Axelrod’s poem, The Man Who Fell in Love with a Chicken, the web search got a little complicated. For the longest time, I couldn’t find it. All I wanted to do was read it. Heck, you can look up Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken in half a second at the Poetry Foundation web site.

I finally stumbled on it at a web site (the poetrydoctor) the owner of which I eventually found out was Axelrod himself! I found the chicken poem but the title was The Man Who Fell in Love with His Chicken. Now, I realize that even he says there are typos in the extremely long list of his works which you cannot search by the way, even though the author says there is a search box. The book of his poetry of the same name is 16 pages long and the title is The Man Who Fell in Love with a Chicken, which you can order through Amazon.

Interestingly, one publisher, Cross-Cultural Communications, says the book is “humorous poetry playing on poultry puns.”

This makes me wonder about O’Harrow’s description above including the phrase “…the noble chicken as described in the poem by David B. Axelrod.”

I can’t copy the poem here because that would be copyright violation (despite Axelrod’s making it available on his website—I guess he can do anything he wants with his own work). On the other hand, I think I can say that the poem does, in fact, contain several chicken puns and the man eventually does something to the chicken which is something less than noble and could involve lettuce, tomato, and possibly secret sauce.

The poem is dedicated to someone named Russell Edson, who I learned was called the “grandfather of the prose poem in America.” Edson wrote a few whimsical poems which could have been very much like Axelrod’s poem about the love affair with a chicken. One of them, Let Us Consider, was about a “farmer who makes his straw hat his sweetheart” and “an old woman who makes a floor lamp her son.” See the entry about him at the web site Poetry Foundation—where Axelrod entries can’t be found.

Well, that was my journey through the web about the Iowa Blue chicken sculpture. I’m next to clueless about chickens, unless their roasted, barbecued, fried, or what have you and I’m a terrible poet, as you can see from my video, Pseudobulbar Affect Top Ten—which somehow gets more views than almost anything else on my YouTube Channel.

My own poetry
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