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New metal sculptures sprout up in Iowa City parks



Wings of Change by Hilde DeBruyne, on the Iowa River Trail. – Adria Carpenter/Little Village

Butterfly wings, metal flowers and abstract figures. Eight new sculptures are now out standing in Iowa City parks and trails for the second Sculpture Showcase.

The first showcase, which lasted from August 2021 to July 2022, had three sculptures in Riverfront Crossings Park, one at Terry Trueblood Recreation Area and one at Mercer Park.

“This year, we added three new sculptor pads, for a total of eight,” said Wendy Ford, the economic development and public art coordinator for Iowa City.

Two new sculptures adorn the Iowa River Trail, which connects Riverfront Crossings and Terry Trueblood. Another has been installed in Scott Park, beside the Rita’s Ranch Dog Park.

The program, hosted by the Iowa City Public Art Advisory Committee (PAAC), helps elevate local artists. During the summer application period, the committee evaluated 15 submissions.

“We had some great, great applications,” Ford said. “We had a really good selection this year.”

The previous sculptures were removed in July by the artists, and the public didn’t want them to go, Ford said.

“When I was out with artists who were uninstalling sculptures from last year, folks would come by and say, ‘Oh, you’re moving this? Oh no, I love this. I love this sculpture, don’t take it away,’” she said. “And then they’d be also pleasantly surprised that there’ll be a new one going in and something else to look at.”

Three artists featured in last year’s showcase are returning with new sculptures, and two new artists will display their work.

Webster City Artist Tim Adams’ sculpture HOOPla is now in Mercer Park near the playground. The aluminum, steel and lexan piece depicts a green figure holding the world overhead.

“It can feel at times like we are carrying the world on our shoulders, and other days we are ready to tackle the world!” Adams wrote in his application. “Remember to strike a balance and roll with it!”

HOOPla by Tim Adams, in Mercer Park. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

Adams, a professional landscape architect, was the artist behind the previous Mercer Park sculpture, The Other Extreme, a metal red and orange sun. Adams has dozens of sculptures throughout the Midwest. His work often features natural landforms and native plants, and he incorporates recycled metals and materials in his art.

Hilde DeBruyne, a Belgian-American artist based in Des Moines, displayed two sculptures last year: Bloom at Terry Trueblood and Sea of Change at Riverfront Crossings. She uses metal, clay and bronze materials, as well as painted murals, to reflect on nature and the cycle of life.

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DeBruyne installed two more sculptures this year, both displayed on the Iowa River Trail. Emerging is a steel structure painted vibrant orange. It’s part of her Metamorphosis Series, which depicts the stages of a butterfly’s development. This sculpture shows the butterfly’s struggle to emerge from the cocoon. Wings of Change is a Corten steel piece that focuses on the butterfly’s wings.

Emerging by Hilde DeBruyne, on the Iowa River Trail. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

V. Skip Willits is another returning artist. He has added two sculptures in Riverfront Crossings and another in Scott Park.

Figure is 12-gauge, weatherized piece made from the recycled steel of a Climax locomotive engine. It represents a jagged human figure. By contrast, River is a smooth flowing sculpture. Willits used 11-gauge, weatherized sheet steel, which he hand torqued and welded.

Figure by V. Skip Willits, in Riverfront Crossings Park. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village
River by V. Skip Willits, in Riverfront Crossings Park. “The River is flowing before me, the River is flowing over me, the River is flowing through me,” Willits writes of the sculpture. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

Figure and River are displayed in Riverfront Crossings. Chimera, in Scott Park, is a multicolored statute made from corrugated steel wrapped and welded around a steel rod.

Willits, of Camanche, learned metalwork from his father, who was a shop welder for 40 years. He completed his first public sculpture in 1983. Since then, Willets has produced commissioned work throughout the United States, Canada and Europe.

Chimera by V. Skip Willits, in Scott Park. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

Kristin Garnant, also from Camanche, is a new artist in the showcase. Her 16-foot sculpture Scions, made of heavy gauge steel rods and spiraled steel, gently sways in the wind at Riverfront Crossings.

Garnant has a history in book design and construction, black and white photography, and letterpress and offset printing. She uses this background in her metal artwork, layering and combining textures like handmade papers.

Scions by Kristin Garnant, in Riverfront Crossings Park. – Adria Carpenter/Little Village

The final sculpture is Succulent Bloom at Terry Trueblood Recreation Area. The tall metal sculpture was designed by Mike Sneller, a Cedar Rapids native and resident. Sneller learned metalworking and sculpture while attending the University of Iowa

The outside of Succulent Bloom made from red, oxidized Corten steel, evokes an agave plant. The inside, made from bright stainless steel, resembles a blooming yucca flower.

Succulent Bloom by Mike Sneller, at Terry Trueblood Recreation Area. – Adria Carpenter/Little Village

PAAC judged the applications based on a criterion of “artistic merit, creativity, public safety and durability outdoors.” The decision process wasn’t easy, Ford said. Of the chosen sculptures, Ford can’t name a frontrunner.

“I don’t know if I could call a favorite on those,” she said. “I couldn’t ever begin to say. They all have their really good qualities.”

Ford hopes the showcase will encourage residents to explore parks and trails to see the new artwork. This year the City will release a video production showing the installation process, and interviews the artists in a few weeks, in lieu of an open house. The sculptures will be displayed until July 2023.