Starting September 3rdstvisitors to the Muscatine Art Center (1314 Mulberry Ave.) can explore two very different stories from Muscatine’s past.
On the main floor of the Stanley Gallery, the exhibit “Conquered by Japan: Laura Musser McColm & Her Era” considers several factors that may have prompted Laura Musser McColm’s installation of a Japanese-style garden in 1930, according to a release of the Art Center. On the middle floor of the Stanley Gallery, Sean Fitzgibbon’s graphic illustrations tell the story of Norman Baker, his time in Muscatine and his cancer hospital in Eureka Springs, Ark.
Both exhibitions will be on display until October 23. Muscatine Art Center Director Melanie Alexander said, “Objects from the permanent collection are displayed on both floors. The top floor is a mix of home furnishings, clothing and garden features that are either made in Japan or feature Japanese-inspired design elements. On the middle floor, a selection of objects from Norman Baker’s collection are on view.
The exhibit “Occupied by Japan” interweaves the research of author and consultant Beth Cody, who was contracted to investigate and write about the Japanese Garden of the 1930s. The original research project was funded by a grant from Humanities Iowa while Cody’s involvement in exhibit was funded by a Humanities Project Grant from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.
Cody’s research looked at trade with Japan in the late 1800s, followed by Japan’s presence at highly visited expositions such as the World’s Fairs.
Laura Musser McColm participated in the 1896 Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. Other sources of inspiration included operas such as Mikado AND Madame Butterflyteahouses such as the Japanese Room at the Muscatine Hotel and the availability of Japanese goods for sale through bazaars, catalogs and department stores such as McColm & Co. Store.
Laura’s husband, Edwin, was President of McColm & Co. while Laura served as Treasurer and Secretary before becoming President after her husband’s death in 1933.
Cody also documented landscape designers who created Japanese-style gardens in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Her research focused on landscape designers who worked in the Midwest in the decades and years just before Laura’s garden was installed in the 1930s. .
“The fabrics, porcelain and decorative objects in the exhibition capture the imagination,” said Alexander. “As we prepare to rehabilitate the Japanese Garden, it has been so important that the staff, the board and the broader community revisit why the Japanese Garden exists in Muscatine.”
To complement the Occupied by Japan exhibit, staff have arranged a loan of Kokeshi dolls from Kristin McHugh-Johnston’s collection.
Dolls can be seen in the display cases near the reception desk. A full afternoon of programs is planned for October 15th starting with a look at the Kokeshi collection at 1:00 p.m., followed by a guided tour of the “Occupied by Japan” exhibit at 1:30 p.m. The performance is funded by the Mary Jo & Richard H. Stanley Human Conditions Grant.
On the middle floor of the Stanley Gallery, visitors will be immersed in the strange world of Norman Baker, a Muscatine native who was an inventor, radio broadcaster, politician and medical quack.
Baker established a cancer hospital in Muscatine and fought the American Medical Association, along with the Federal Radio Commission. In 1933, Baker “ran out” of Iowa and set up a radio station in Mexico that broadcast to the United States. In 1937, Baker purchased the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Ark.
A closing reception is planned for October 23st. Fitzgibbon will be signing books and copies of his book, The following is true: The Crescent Hotel, are available for purchase through the Muscatine Art Center. The book signing is from 1:30 to 3:00 p.m
At 15:00, the historical short film, Norman Baker: The Man in Purple, will be performed in the Music Hall at the Muscatine Center for the Arts. Director Chad Bishop and producer Laura Liegois will be on hand to discuss the film. Entrance to the exhibitions is free. Admission to the October 15 and 23 events is also free.
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