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.

Take a Break: Art in the Parks

Since the weather took a break yesterday from the triple digit temperatures, we took a little getaway to a few of the city parks to see the new public art. This is connected with the Iowa City Public Art Program. Five sculptures were installed about a week ago at Terry Trueblood Recreation Area, Riverfront Crossings Park, and Mercer Park.

Three sculptures are at Riverfront Crossings. Two are by V. Skip Willits: Palimpsest and Cloud Form. The third is by Hilde DeBruyn: Sea of Change. Sena knows that Sea of Change looks like a sailboat when you look at it from the right angle. We could see clouds through Cloud Form.

I noticed that V. Skip Willits’s name could be spelled wrong (Willets vs Willits?) on the artist’s nameplate below the sculpture, Palimpsest (also on Cloud Form). I also discovered a 2013 news story of a similar sculpture at the Ames Annual Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition although it was given a different title: Prayer Torso. His sculpture Swans on the Marsh featured in a 2015 image on Sculpture Walk Peoria in Illinois and another fashioned out of corrugated iron in Effingham, Illinois resemble Palimpsest as well. A news story in the March 26, 2021 Effingham Daily News quotes Willits as identifying the sculpture’s title as Cipher. He and probably a few passersby had written on the piece. There are also variant spellings of his name, including V.skip Willits, lower case “s” for “skip.” He’s not the same person as Skip Willits, who is a photographer selling wall art. In any case, Palimpsest is a pretty good example of a palimpsest.

According to the dictionary, a palimpsest is a “piece of writing on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.” More generally, it’s something that’s been reused or altered but still has traces of its earlier form. You might want to snap a picture of the sculpture and rotate it in order to see all that’s written there; for example:

“Let me sing to you now, about how people turn into other things.”

I think it could be evocative of what many have noticed and remarked on, only using different words in different languages in different circumstances over millennia. We’re all turning into other things in the turbulent sea of change, sort of like clouds which are the ultimate shape-shifters.

This was the first time we had ever visited Riverfront Crossings Park and we found something familiar there—a stone inscribed with the words Calder’s Path: An Inspiration to Us All. Pebbles were strewn all over the path. After all, no path is without stones. We frequently drive by a small and neatly kept neighborhood park called Calder Park many blocks away. It’s a memorial to a boy named Calder Wills, who passed away of leukemia several years ago. We never knew him or his family. Based on what I’ve gleaned on the web, Calder had big dreams. He was strong. He was a person who turned into a light.

We also enjoyed Mercer Park where we saw the sculpture The Other Extreme, by Tim Adams. Mercer Park and Aquatic Center is named in honor of Leroy S. Mercer who distinguished himself as Iowa City Mayor, state representative and state senator as well as a successful businessman and banker. The sculpture is the sun with a rock at the center. According to Adams, it’s utterly simple; a clear vision of how everything started. There was only the earth and the sun. That was it. And then change took over. Things changing into other things. People turning into other things. Tim Adams art has been influenced by his career as a Registered Landscape Architect. His subjects are influenced by the rugged Iowa weather, which his creations are designed to withstand with little need for maintenance.

Sena and I both got a kick of the automobile jungle gym.

We had already visited the 5th sculpture last week. It is called Bloom by Hilde DeBruyn. Again, the theme of change because it’s a flower and flowers start from seeds in the earth, and burst up to the sun. Because this is where it all begins. DeBruyn is another gifted Iowa artist who has said in an interview with Iowa Artisans Gallery that her work often involves the “natural cycle of growth and decay.”

We begin with one extreme, the raw and wild. Eventually, we reach the other extreme, the ultra-refined and wildly complex. In the middle, we erase and then reconstruct many things from the relics of ancient wisdom or folly, forgetful of bygone grandeur or catastrophe, rarely startled by déjà vu.

Walk the James Alan McPherson Park

Yesterday, Sena and I visited the James Alan McPherson Park. The Iowa City Council renamed it in his honor last month; it was formerly called Creekside Park. There were compelling reasons for the name change. He was the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his collection of short stories, Elbow Room in 1978, graduated from Harvard Law School in 1968, was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1995, and was a permanent faculty member for thirty years at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, among other notable career achievements. He was 72 when he died in 2016 of complications of pneumonia.

McPherson was a longtime resident of Iowa City and was revered by his students. Colleagues described him as the “moral center of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop” and even the “moral center of the world.” Despite his stunning achievements, he was shy and often barely spoke above a whisper in the classroom. He lived in the general neighborhood where the park is located. We never got a chance to meet him.

We are reading his books, though.

The park is located at 1878 Seventh Ave Ct and sits on a little over 2 acres. It was empty except for the occasional walker on the trail. People were friendly. It seems hardly distinguishable from the neighborhood surrounding it and blends into the homes, hugs the meandering creek and adjoining trail, and seems held in a protective embrace by the homes bordering it. A new park sign and a memorial plaque will be installed later this summer.

We saw a rich variety of birds, in fact more than we’ve seen in a while.

We get a sense that everyone is welcome there. There are 6 parking spaces. You can imagine that limited parking makes the place a treasured possession of the immediate neighborhood. But people we encounter there make us feel that it belongs to all of us. Even a sign leaning against a house alongside the trail made that clear. We’ll be back.

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