Iowa Weekend – Art, Nature and Food

 

“Old” Capital Building, Iowa City

Iowa City was originally the capital of the State of Iowa. The government was there for ten years until it was decided to move the state capital to Des Moines, a more central location. The “Old” Capital building became the first permanent building owned by the University of Iowa. It is now a museum.

I met my friend, Liz, over thirty years ago in Minneapolis. When I was living in Russia she was living in Finland so I went to visit her there a couple of times. Now we were reunited at her home near Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The first day we spent the entire morning at the Lasansky Gallery in Iowa City, Iowa, learning about Mauricio Lasansky, his life, his art and his family. My son had written a paper on one of Mauricio Lasansky’s prints for an Art History class and wanted to learn more about him. It was fascinating. Lasansky was not only a great printmaker and graphic artist but he taught at the University of Iowa for many years producing several generations of art educators and printmakers. He is known as one of the fathers of 20th Century American Printmaking. We also had the opportunity to see his grandson, Diego, at work in his studio. So we learned a little about the process as well.

From there we had lunch and then made a mad dash to Cedar Rapids to get to the Czech Museum before it closed. They currently have an exhibit of Dale Chihuly’s, Venetians from the George R. Stroemple Collection. The series was inspired by a trip to Venice where he was exposed to Art Deco vases. He invited Lino Tagliapietra to work with him on this series. The exhibit does include vases but highly decorated, bright, asymmetrical vases that are more art than function. Apparently Chihuly is Jewish and his family originally came to the USA from a region of Austria later known as Czechoslovakia. As an aside, I found out he lost his eye in a car accident.

That night we met up with some African emerging leaders who were on an exchange program visiting the USA. My friend and her husband had hosted them in their home and were now saying good-bye. We all went to Devotay, a tapas restaurant in Iowa City where we drank wine and enjoyed plates of chorizo, pulpo a la Gallega, Spanish olives, market cheeses, chewy bread, potato basil soufflé, chicken salad and salt crusted potatoes. All delicious.

Next morning we headed out after breakfast for a two hour drive north along the river to the Effigy Mounds National Monument. The monument contains 200 plus Native American mounds considered sacred to the 20 tribes associated with them. Many of the mounds were constructed in the shapes of animals. The effigies in this area are mainly bears and eagles. These date back to 1400-750 B.P., which I interpret to be about 600 AD to 1300 AD. There had been some flooding recently so some of the trails were closed. We chose a two mile hike up into the lower region of the park where there was a line of marching bears and several eagles.

The hike was uphill all the way in with an overlook and a mound on the way. Prairie grasses, flowers and raspberries were abundant. And it wasn’t too buggy, which was nice. We came across a friendly toad who stopped to be photographed but otherwise no wildlife. Once we reached the top, we understood why they had chosen this spot to build the mounds. It was a beautiful setting with a view of the river.

Back down at the river, we drove north to Lansing. It was the last day of Ragbrai and it just happened to end at Lansing so we spent a lot of time passing cyclists. Ragbrai is an annual event that started in 1973 with a few friends riding their bicycles across Iowa and was known as The Great Six-Day Bicycle Ride. Because it was the brainchild of two DesMoines Register’s writers, the ride is now called the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (Ragbrai). Approximately 10,000 people do the ride every year, some participating in one or two days of the ride.

From Lansing we crossed over over the Mississippi on the Black Hawk Bridge, named after Chief Black Hawk. It is a large scale cantilever truss bridge. Because of its size and age, it is one of the most unusual bridges of its kind in the country. It is definitely very cool.

The bridge took us into Wisconsin and we drove north up to La Crosse. In La Crosse we stayed at the Charmant hotel downtown. It is a new boutique hotel in a renovated candy factory that was originally built in 1898. They made a premium line of chocolates known by the name Charmant. Upon arrival we were offered a sample of the hotel’s own version of Charmant chocolate. The building features exposed brick, wood beams and wood flooring. Our room was comfortable with nice amenities and a spacious bathroom.

Interesting light fixtures at the Charmant in La Crosse

There is a rooftop bar that was nice but small and completely packed on a Saturday night. The dining room bills itself as “rustic French-inspired”. We had delicious steak frites for dinner. On Sunday mornings they sponsor Yoga in the Park and have a full brunch on offer. We enjoyed french toast and eggs for breakfast. 

Across the street from the hotel is a lovely park along the Mississippi River where you can watch the barges and boats, and people, of course.

 

Trip Around Lake Pepin – On the Mighty Mississippi

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Lake Pepin is a naturally occurring lake and is the largest lake on the Mississippi River. On the west is Minnesota and 1.7 miles across it is Wisconsin. It covers 29,295 acres and is 21 miles long. Its main claim to fame is that in 1922, Ralph Samuelson successfully skied on water. He was from Lake City and after five days of trying, he succeeded in being the first documented water skier. In 1925, again on Lake Pepin, he made the first water ski jump.

I took a drive around Lake Pepin to see what else it had to offer. We drove from the Twin Cities down through Red Wing, famous for its shoes among other things, and crossed the Mississippi to the Wisconsin side.

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A few years ago I was in Frontenac State Park on the Minnesota side looking over to Maiden Rock. This time I was driving through Maiden Rock village. A plaque at Frontenac Park states: “On the east shore of Lake Pepin, opposite this point, juts out a high rock. From this pinnacle, according to accounts of early travelers, a Sioux maiden of Wabasha’s band prevented from marrying the warrior of her choice, leaped to her death that she might avoid union with another and older man.”

Stockholm was our next stop. Population 66. At one time it was a thriving community of about 300. It was founded in 1856 by Swedish immigrant farmers and was connected to the railroad in 1886. Although most residents moved to more urban areas after World War II, the village did not disappear completely. In the 1970’s people were drawn to the area for its natural beauty and it has become a thriving artist community with small artsy shops like the Purple Turtle Artisan Collective and North Oak Amish Furniture and Gifts. There is a pie shop on the corner and a complete gourmet kitchen store. It is home to music and art festivals throughout the summer.

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Down the road, just outside of Pepin, is the Villa Bellezza winery. Wisconsin wine has a ways to go but we tasted a few decent wines and had a look around. The setting is stunning with vineyards all around an Italian Villa. There is a piazza with a fountain and it is a popular place for weddings and receptions. There is a self-guided tour but the main tours are on Saturday and Sunday at 11:30 am. The tasting room is open everyday.

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Pepin is larger than Stockholm with about 800 people. We stopped at the Harbor View Café across from the marina for lunch. The café has been coming to life every summer since 1980. It is well known throughout the area for its tasty eclectic food. The Menu goes up on the chalkboard over the bar twice daily. We were offered Alaskan Halibut, Hawaiian Swordfish, Massachusetts Striped Bass, Copper River Salmon, along with chicken, pork, risotto and pasta. We shared a chocolate buttercream pie for dessert.

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From there it was a beautiful drive to Nelson and a stop at the Nelson Creamery. The ice cream looked tempting but we were way too full. We did stock up on local cheese and beer. They have a small seating area with a fireplace that must be lovely in winter. As we arrived it started to rain so we spent some time watching a summer downpour.

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We headed out as it eased up and crossed the river to Wabasha, Minnesota and up to Reeds Landing. Reeds Landing was founded in the mid-1800’s as a trading post and became a major logging town. The Reeds Landing Brewery is housed in a building originally built in 1869 as a dry goods store. Today it is a pub and restaurant overlooking Lake Pepin. One of their beers, Cap’n Crunch Amber, is made with Captain Crunch cereal and is pretty good.

We took a quick tour of Lake City on our way back to Red Wing to close the loop. On the way home we passed through New Trier to see St Mary’s Church. The church was built in 1909, in the Beaux Art Classic Style by architect Paul Ries of St Paul. The statue of the Virgin Mary and child was cast in 1862 and sits over the main door. It was entered into the national Register of Historic Places in 1980. It is at the top of a hill and is impressive.

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