The Jordan House Museum, West Des Moines
Tours available Fridays 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and Sundays 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., $5
As we celebrate the arts in this issue, it’s only appropriate to recognize a growing trend in this region. The power of unity can be used in the arts as it is in other facets of positive community growth. As creative community contributors, cultural organizations have a growing responsibility to work smarter to integrate their core missions into their regions. Developing partnerships for specific projects is one way to build new synergies. As the saying goes, if our cut of the pie is to remain the same, let’s build a bigger pie.
Coffee shops were early trendsetters in Central Iowa, beginning with Julie McGuire, owner of Zanzibar’s Great Coffee Adventure, the Des Moines area’s longest running coffee shop. McGuire has offered wall space for artists to exhibit their works since she opened up in 1993, featuring a new artist each month and hosting opening receptions.
The Des Moines Metro Opera’s 50th anniversary season this year is a golden example of strategic collaborations producing impactful works. The opera organized a performance at the Des Moines Art Center with Pyramid Theatre Company; they also tied their Shakespearean productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and A Thousand Acres (based on King Lear) with Iowa Stage Theatre Company’s Salisbury House and Gardens production of King Lear.
Another new collaboration is on display this September thanks to the willingness of two cultural leaders exploring creative new possibilities. Susan Watts, owner of one of Iowa’s most respected galleries, Olson-Larsen Galleries, and Gale Brubaker, executive director of the West Des Moines Historical Society (WDMHS), decided they could give a fresh spin on a visit to the WDMHS’s signature museum.
Jordan House, a stately Victorian home of Italianate Gothic design, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a member of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program. Olson-Larsen Galleries has been serving private and public patrons since 1979, anchored by its stable of some of the finest Midwestern artists.
The two developed their exhibition, Timeless, to capture the bonds that span generations by curating a selection of art that reflects the styles and content of artists from Jordan House’s earliest days, including landscapes, engravings, etchings and photos printed in the Van Dyke brown style. The final pieces will be on display throughout the house, carefully integrated into spaces.
Watts’ galleries are going through a major renovation and had to relocate to a temporary site in their Historic Valley Junction neighborhood. Brubaker, a devoted fan of the mission and artists of Olson-Larsen, sensed an opportunity.
“So many of the [Olson-Larsen Galleries] artists use the classical techniques that were used at the same time that James Jordan and his family were living in their house,” Brubaker said. “It seemed like a perfect partnership.”
Watts echoed Brubaker’s enthusiasm. “As Alyss Vernon, our gallery director, and I talked about this setting, the more excited we got. We started brainstorming, went through our roster and decided to focus on artists who create with techniques that were in existence or popular when the Jordan House was very vibrant … It will be fun to integrate these pieces into this new environment.”
The wheels continued turning from that initial brainstorm, with other ideas being added to their wish list.
“We hope that people will come and enjoy the juxtapositioning of old art with new art,” Brubaker said. “We’re also talking about doing something at the Bennett School Museum, our one-room schoolhouse museum, in the near future.”
This initial doorway of imagination apparently is leading into a vast arena of possibilities. The ultimate benefactors are those who take a little time to add to their cultural adventurism, and experience the outcome of such a collaboration.
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Brubaker’s smile, reflected by Watts, says it all. “We all have to support each other.”
This article was originally published in Little Village Central Iowa issue 006.