Iowa artists, Surly Brewing Company collaborate on new project

Jonnie 5 Apparel, Sarah Hedlund and Johnnie Cluney all collaborated on the artwork for Surly Brewing's new poster. -- image courtesy of Surly Brewing
Jonnie 5 Apparel, Sarah Hedlund and Johnnie Cluney all collaborated on the artwork for Surly Brewing’s new poster. — image courtesy of Surly Brewing Company

Heavy metal, barn-side advertisements and the movie Children of the Corn are among the inspirations cited by the Iowa artists who were commissioned by Surly Brewing Company to create an Iowa-themed poster.

Featuring art by Johnnie Cluney, Sarah Hedlund and the team at Jonnie 5 Apparel, the poster is being distributed statewide to bars, restaurants and liquor stores as part of Surly’s new presence in the Iowa market.

“None of [the artists] knew what the others were doing, and so the piece we have created is a unique take on the state of Iowa, artwork and beer,” said Surly’s creative director, Michael Berglund, about the poster and its artists in a statement.

Berglund says that the brewery reached out to the three Iowa-based artists and asked them to “express with their work things that are distinctive to Iowa.” Placed within an Iowa-shaped border, the poster’s three panels do just that, with three distinct works representing symbols of Iowa.

“At first I was freaked out. I did not know what angle to approach this piece from,” said Cluney, a Quad Cities-based illustrator and musician whose art is featured on

However, Cluney became interested when Surly shared some of its past art, with him and he learned some the folks at the brewery are heavy metal fans. (Surly’s head brewer, Todd Haug, is a guitarist for two heavy metal bands, Vulgaari and Powermad.)

“These guys have a dark beer called Pentagram that is fermented in used red wine barrels and tastes like sour cherry and tobacco,” Cluney wrote in an email. “To me that is pretty metal.”

Featuring a garter snake crawling through the eye socket of a skull, blooms of Iowa’s state flower the Rosa arkansana, and an American goldfinch, Iowa’s state bird, Cluney said his work represents “the life and death of someone in Iowa. The past, present and future.”

A long-time fan of Surly’s beer, after spending seven years studying and working in the brewery’s hometown of Minneapolis, Hedlund says working on the poster combined her pride for both Iowa and Minnesota. Her design, which features a rooster perched at the peak of a barn roof and the Surly logo painted on the side of the barn, “is a nod to the long-standing tradition of using barn sides as advertising spaces.”

“I wanted to communicate the beautiful rural countryside of Iowa and the creative artistic side of our state by combining farmhouse and mural art,” said Hedlund, and the rooster is similar to one painted on the side of her Lone Tree barn.

The team at Iowa City-based Jonnie 5 Apparel also took their inspiration from rural Iowa. “Our inspiration for any project typically comes from movies and video games,” said Jon Fowles, Jonnie 5 owner and founder. For Surly’s Iowa-themed poster, that inspiration was the 1984 horror movie Children of the Corn, which was filmed in Iowa. Combined with the brewery’s heavy metal connections, Jonnie 5’s design features a tattooed zombie farmer, dressed in overalls with a Surly logo, holding a staff with a ram’s skull in a moon-lit field of corn.

“A zombie farmer from Iowa probably doesn’t represent Iowa too well, but, it was more, ‘hey, if you think all we do is farm, well, we’ll give it to you with a J5 (Jonnie 5) twist,’” wrote Fowles, who added that the team needed to significantly tone down the original draft.


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Berglund says the history of Surly is a marriage of art and craft, and that the art and craft of beer-making has always been complemented by interesting art and design. “Artwork is woven into [the] fabric of what we do,” he said.

A poster release party was held at the Englert Theater on May 1 and the poster is now being distributed by Johnson Brothers, Surly’s distribution partner.

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