Rouse, by Alison SaarDescribing the creator of the new exhibition STILL ..., on display from February 9 through April 14 at the Figge Art Museum, the venue's executive director Tim Schiffer says that installation artist and sculptor Alison Saar "is kind of pushing the boundaries of what sculpture is." Clearly, Schiffer has a gift for understatement.

In Saar's exhibit piece titled 50 Proof, a vintage washstand sits below a glass bust of a human head, from whose eye sockets flows a continuous stream of black tears. In Black Lightning, a red fluid signifying blood is pumped, through copper tubing, from a bucket on the floor into a pair of boxing gloves on the wall. And in Rouse, a nude figure stands amidst a healthy assemblage of deer antlers, and cradles over her head another nude figure resting in deer antlers.

Well, make that antler sheds, as Saar is quick to say, "No animals were harmed in the making of this piece of art." She laughs. "I don't want PETA in there setting it all on fire."

Tim SchifferIf you're looking for excitement from Tim Schiffer - the Figge Art Museum executive director who started on August 1 - don't talk to him. Instead, just look at the walls.

In our interview on January 25, the soft-spoken Schiffer articulated a modest plan for the Figge, but one that visitors will be able to see for themselves in "clusters" of exhibits that play off each other.

Schiffer's predecessor, Sean O'Harrow - who left after three years at the Figge to head the University of Iowa Museum of Art in November 2010 - believed that the Figge needed to emphasize education above all else (including being an art museum) and that the endowment needed to be built from $5 million to somewhere between $20 million and $50 million.

Because the process of developing a strategic plan for the Figge is just getting underway, the new executive director didn't offer measurable goals in those areas. But Schiffer - who had been executive director of California's Museum of Ventura County since 1999 - has already put his stamp on the museum in a different way.

'St. Anthony Church Pioneers.' Photo by Bruce Walters.

In 1989, Donna Marihart and Ann Opgenorth completed a brazed-copper sculpture for the 150th anniversary of St. Anthony Catholic Church (417 Main Street in Davenport), the oldest standing church building in Iowa. Titled St. Anthony Church Pioneers, the sculpture depicts a group of men and women who contributed to the founding of the church and the City of Davenport. The composition as a whole creates a sense of community.

The figures are gathered behind a portrayal of a seated Antoine LeClaire (1797-1861), who is holding an open plan or map. LeClaire donated the land on which the church was built.

'The Mighty Fine Line,' by William Gustafson. Photo by Bruce Walters.

The first railroad bridge across the Mississippi (at Rock Island) and the establishment of industry in Moline are commemorated in two Quad Cities murals painted by William Gustafson. One can almost feel the wheel of progress beginning to turn in the depiction of these transformative events.

The Mighty Fine Line is a 55-by-45-foot mural on the south side of Steve's Old Time Tap in the Rock Island District, near the corner of Third Avenue and 17th Street. Painted in 2006, the mural marks the 150th anniversary of the completion of the first rail bridge to span the Mississippi River. Gustafson, who teaches art at Rock Island High School, worked with Curtis Roseman - a local historian and professor emeritus at the University of Southern California - to provide historic details of the mural's subjects. As Gustafson told me in an interview, historic accuracy in these works was important to him.

'The Peaceful Warriors,' by Skip Willits. Photo by Bruce Walters.

The Peaceful Warriors by Skip Willits and No Future - No Past - No You - No Me by Terry Rathje are located in an alley, not displayed prominently at a building's entrance or in an open location as one might expect for such thoughtful and professionally produced artworks. Both artists, however, created their pieces knowing that they would be displayed alongside graffiti, dumpsters, and loading docks.

Entering the alley between Second and Third avenues from 17th Street in the Rock Island District - near Theo's Java Club - one is initially met by Willits' three metal sculptures mounted high on a brick wall. The welded masks, made from hot rolled-metal sheets, are approximately five feet in height. In the daytime, they feel benign; their gaze is diffident. At night, they feel like armored sentries posted at an entry into darkness.

'Sketch for a Cubist Still Life' (1938), from the collection of the Augustana College Art Museum

The Abstract Expressionist artist Perle Fine once said, "If I feel something will not stand up 40 years from now, I am not interested in doing that kind of thing."

Susan Knowles, who curated the career retrospective Tranquil Power: The Art of Perle Fine that closes October 23 at the Augustana College Art Museum, believes that the artist's output met that high standard.

The irony is that Fine, late in her life and until the past decade, was largely "forgotten," Knowles said in a recent phone interview.

Part of that is a function of Abstract Expressionism being distilled in the cultural memory to a few key figures. "Now it seems like all we know is Pollock and de Kooning," Knowles said.

But even though Fine was an active, exemplary, and important participant in the mid-20th Century movement, her notoriety diminished over time while many of her peers' didn't. She was interviewed, covered by the media, collected, and invited by Willem de Kooning to join the exclusive Artists' Club. Yet when the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1978 organized a show about the "formative years" of Abstract Expressionism, for example, it omitted Fine.

'Exhaling Dissolution' in Faye's Field. Photo by Bruce Walters. Click on the image for a larger version.

Just north of the corner of 18th Street and Middle Road in Bettendorf is - strangely - a large head made of bark in an open field. More than 13 feet tall, it's hard to miss. What makes the sculpture feel truly immense, however, is how the artist has fulfilled her goal of "giving the Earth a voice" through this work.

'Exhaling Dissolution.' Photo by Bruce Walters. Click on the image for a larger version.The sculpture, created by Sarah Deppe - a 24-year-old artist from Maquoketa, Iowa - is meant to represent the natural world. Its surface is made of cottonwood bark found on the ground. As Deppe has written: "I incorporate bark and wood because I believe it is less detrimental for the environment than other mediums. I feel as though I am simply borrowing from nature, and it will be returned to the Earth as it decomposes off my sculptures."

The artwork's title, Exhaling Dissolution, refers to the pollution constantly being spewed into the environment.

Inspired by Deppe's research into deforestation, the artwork took four months to plan and construct. Since its completion in 2010, it has been displayed on the Northern Iowa University campus and along the Riverwalk in the Port of Dubuque before being installed in Bettendorf on June 29, 2012. The artwork will be displayed in Faye's Field for only one year - through June 2013.

Pre-1892 downtown Davenport

I recently came across a photograph of downtown Davenport taken from the corner of Second and Harrison streets and facing north. The photo has a 1907 copyright date but appears to have been taken before 1892, when the Redstone Building was built. As I looked at the image carefully, I was struck by the realization that nothing in this photo - not one building or object - still exists.

I also saw a set of century-old photos of a roller coaster, merry-go-round, music pavilion, bowling alley, tunnel of love, and steep water ride - proclaimed as the largest amusement park west of Chicago - at the present-day location of the Black Hawk State Historic Site. It is so strange to see old photos that are identified as places we know well, yet little in them is familiar.

From one year to the next, the Quad Cities seem to change little. Over the course of decades, however, the differences are dramatic.

The same is true of public artworks. Many dozens of artworks have been painted over, removed, or relocated. Not surprisingly, aging materials account for the disappearance of many of these artworks; the cumulative effects of sunlight and temperature extremes take their toll on paint and materials such as wood.

The decision to move an artwork to another site, on the other hand, usually stems from remodeling or changes in ownership of the property where the artwork was originally situated.

The following are some of the best-known artworks in the Quad Cities that have been removed or relocated. Some were painted on walls; some stood prominently in front of buildings; and some lived in parks and cemeteries. Some were created by renowned artists, others by area students. What they have in common is that they are no longer at their original sites.

'Davenport Blues.' Courtesy Loren Shaw Hellige.

Dillon Memorial. Photo by Bruce Walters.

Davenport's Main Street begins at a fountain in LeClaire Park and leads directly to another in Vander Veer Botanical Park to the north. Both are significant city landmarks, yet each has a distinct history and appearance.

Campbell's Island war-memorial bronze relief. Photo by Bruce Walters.

On Campbell's Island is a war memorial side-by-side with an artwork dedicated to peace. One rises imposingly; the other is unassumingly low to the ground. Together, they give us a greater perspective on the area's history than if we were to consider them separately.

Campbell's Island war memorial. Photo by Bruce Walters.Campbell's Island is just north of East Moline, accessible from Illinois Route 84. The island is named for U.S. Lieutenant John Campbell, who was leading three gunboats past it on July 19, 1814, when his boat was grounded during a storm. While vulnerable, they were attacked by an estimated 500 Sauk warriors allied with the British Army. The attack led by Black Hawk and the ensuing fight became known as the Battle of Rock Island Rapids - one of the most western battles of the War of 1812. In all, there were between 35 and 37 casualities (depending on the source) among Campbell's men and their families - including the deaths of 14 men, a woman, and a child.

In 1908, the Campbell's Island State Memorial was dedicated on the site where the lieutenant's boat lay derelict for years. The monument is maintained by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency as a state historic site.

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