Art Center opens two exhibits highlighting local history

From September 3rd, visitors to the Muscatine Art Center can explore two very different stories from Muscatine’s past. On the ground floor of the Stanley Gallery, the exhibition ‘Captivated by Japan: Laura Musser McColm & Her Era’ examines some of the factors that may have triggered Laura Musser McColm’s installation of a Japanese-style garden in 1930 On the middle floor of the Stanley Gallery, graphic illustrations by Sean Fitzgibbon tell the story of Norman Baker, his time in Muscatine and his cancer hospital in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

“The two exhibitions are on view until October 23rd“, explains Melanie Alexander, director of the Muscatine Art Center. “Objects from the permanent collection are displayed on both floors. The top floor is a mix of furnishings, clothing, and garden features made in Japan or containing Japanese-inspired design elements. On the ground floor, a selection of artifacts from the Norman Baker collection are on display.

The “Captivated by Japan” exhibition is based on the research of author and consultant Beth Cody, who was hired to investigate and write about the 1930 Japanese garden. The original research project was funded by a grant from Humanities Iowa while Cody’s participation in the exhibit was funded by a Humanities Project Grant from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

Cody’s research has focused on trade with Japan in the late 1800s, followed by Japan’s presence at busy exhibits such as the World’s Fairs. Laura Musser McColm attended both the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. Other sources of inspiration included operas such as “The Mikado” and Madam Butterfly”, tea houses such as the Japanese Room at the Hotel Muscatine, and the availability of Japanese products for sale in traveling bazaars, catalogs and department stores such as the McColm & Co. Store Laura’s husband, Edwin, was president of McColm & Co. while Laura herself served as treasurer and secretary before becoming president on her husband’s death in 1933.

Cody also documented landscapers who created Japanese-style gardens in the late 1800s and early 1900s. His research focused on landscapers who worked in the Midwest in the decades and years just before the Japanese era. installation of Laura’s garden in 1930.

“The fabrics, porcelain and decorative objects in the exhibition capture the imagination,” says Alexander. “As we prepare to rehabilitate the Japanese Garden, it was so important for staff, the Board and the wider community to re-examine why there is a Japanese Garden at Muscatine.”

To complement the “Captivated by Japan” exhibit, staff arranged a loan of Kokeshi dolls from Kristin McHugh-Johnston’s collection. The dolls are on display in the display cases near the reception. A full afternoon of programming is scheduled for Saturday, October 15, beginning with a preview of the Kokeshi Collection at 1 p.m., followed by a guided tour of the “Captivated by Japan” exhibition at 1:30 p.m. ends with a Japanese Taiko drum. performance by Soten Taiko of the Japan America Society of Iowa. The show is funded by the Mary Jo & Richard H. Stanley Human Conditions Grant.

On the ground floor of the Stanley Gallery, visitors are immersed in the bizarre world of Norman Baker, a Muscatine native who was an inventor, broadcaster, politician and medical con man. Baker established a cancer hospital in Muscatine and fought the American Medical Association, as well as the Federal Radio Commission. In 1933 Baker was “burnt out” from Iowa and started a radio station in Mexico that broadcast to the United States. In 1937 Baker purchased the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

The Crescent Hotel is the centerpiece of illustrator and author Sean Fitzgibbon’s graphic nonfiction book. Illustrations from the book are featured in the exhibit alongside Norman Baker artifacts. A closing reception is scheduled for Sunday, October 23. Fitzgibbon will be signing books, and copies of his book, “What Follows is True: Crescent Hotel,” are available for purchase through the Muscatine Art Center. The book signing will take place from 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. At 3:00 p.m., the historical short film “Norman Baker: The Man in Purple” will be screened in the Music Room of the Muscatine Art Center. Filmmaker Chad Bishop and producer Laura Liegois will be on hand to discuss the film.

Admission to exhibitions is free. Admission to events on October 15 and 23 is also free. Reservations are not necessary.