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.

 

Travels through History

Jamestown:  The first permanent Colony of the English People.  The Birthplace of Virginia and the United States of America,  1607

I spent the weekend visiting my cousins in Williamsburg.  One afternoon was devoted to Colonial National Historical Park: Jamestown.  A large African American park ranger named Jerome showed us around.  He told us the three most important facts about Jamestown were:  it was the first permanent settlement of the English in the New World (1607); the first representative assembly talks took place in 1619 where 22 elected burgesses met in the church; and the first Africans arrived in 1619.   Therefore concluding that this very spot was the birthplace of the great country – The United States of America.

I had a small chuckle over this one since, of course, part of this great history was that the Native population was virtually killed off pretty quickly and by 1690 there were 9,300 enslaved Africans among a white population of 53,000.  But why dwell on the negative?

These crazy Englishmen set up camp on an island with a swamp on one side and a salty river on the other.  No fresh water.  The swamp provided lovely benefits such as malaria and typhoid.  By 1609 there were about 300 men living on this island, fighting off skirmishes from the Powhatan tribes.  That winter was particularly rough and at the end of it only 60 survived.  But they didn’t give up.  Ninety unmarried women arrive in 1619 to boost morale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also learned that the 12 year old Pocahontas did not have an affair with the 27 year old John Smith (despite what Disney says).  But they did probably know each other.  The settlers eventually figured it all out and started growing tobacco.  They were soon rich farmers with a huge market and very few expenses.  John Rolfe cultivated a strain of tobacco that was pleasing to the English.  He used seed he had obtained from Trinidad since the local variety was deemed too harsh.  John Rolfe was the man who married Pocahontas.

 

 

 

Pocahontas as Rebecca, married English woman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up until 1994, it was believed that the site had been reclaimed by the river and was lost under water.  An archeologist by the name of William Kelso did not believe it.  According to historical documents, the church was built inside the fort.  The church tower remained on the island in clear site.  In 1994, Mr. Kelso took a shovel to the site and soon found artifacts, bones, and evidence of the exact area where the walls of the fort were built.  Today you can see them reconstructed in the very holes the men dug 400 years ago.  William Kelso became an Honorary Commander of the Order of the British Empire at a ceremony at the British Embassy in Washington, DC, in July 2012.