“Captivated by Japan: Laura Musser McColm & Her Era” and Sean Fitzgibbon Exhibits at the Muscatine Art Center -- through October 23.

Through Sunday, October 23

Muscatine Art Center, 1314 Mulberry Avenue, Maquoketa IA

Visitors to the Muscatine Art Center can explore two very different stories from Muscatine’s past through October 23, with the venue's main floor hosting Captivated by Japan: Laura Musser McColm & Her Era, and the Stanley Gallery's middle floor housing a series of graphic illustrations by Sean Fitzgibbon.

Captivated by Japan: Laura Musser McColm & Her Era, considers some of the factors that may have sparked McColm’s installation of a Japanese-style garden in 1930, while Fitzgibbon's illustrations tell the story of Norman Baker, his time in Muscatine, and his cancer hospital in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. “Objects from the permanent collection are featured on both floors," explains Muscatine Art Center Director Melanie Alexander. "The top floor is a mix of home furnishings, clothing, and garden features that either were made in Japan or contain Japanese-inspired design elements. On the middle floor, a selection of artifacts from the Norman Baker collection are on view.”

The Captivated by Japan exhibit weaves research by author and consultant Beth Cody, who was contracted to investigate and write about the 1930 Japanese Garden. The original research project was funded by a grant from Humanities Iowa, while Cody’s involvement in the exhibition 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. McColm attended both the 1896 Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. Other sources of inspiration included operas such as The Mikado and Madama Butterfly, teahouses including the Japanese Room at the Hotel Muscatine, and the availability of Japanese goods for sale through traveling bazaars, catalogues, 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 upon the death of her husband in 1933.

Kokeshi dolls

Cody also documented landscape designers who created Japanese-style gardens in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with her research focused on landscape designers who worked in the Midwest in the decades and years before the installation of Laura’s garden in 1930. “The fabrics, porcelain, and decorative objects in the exhibition capture the imagination,” states Alexander. “As we prepare to rehabilitate the Japanese Garden, it has been so important that the staff, board, and broader community revisit why there is Japanese Garden in Muscatine.”

To complement the Captivated by Japan exhibition, staff has arranged a loan of Kokeshi dolls from the collection of Kristin McHugh-Johnston, which are on view in the showcases near the Muscatine Art Center's front desk. A full afternoon of programs is scheduled for October 15, starting with a look at the Kokeshi collection at 1 p.m. followed by a guided tour of Captivated by Japan at 1:30 p.m. The day concludes with a Japanese Taiko Drum performance by Japan America Society of Iowa’s Soten Taiko, an event funded by the Mary Jo & Richard H. Stanley Human Conditions Grant.

graphic illustration by Sean Fitzgibbon

Meanwhile, on the middle floor of the Stanley Gallery, visitors are immersed in the strange world of Norman Baker, a Muscatine native who was an inventor, radio broadcaster, politician, and medical swindler. Baker set up a cancer hospital in Muscatine and battled the American Medical Association, along with the Federal Radio Commission. In 1933, Baker was “run out” of Iowa and set up a radio station in Mexico that broadcast to the United States; four years later, he purchased the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

The Crescent Hotel is the centerpiece of illustrator and author Sean Fitzgibbon’s graphic non-fiction book, with illustrations from that work on view in the exhibition alongside Baker artifacts. A closing reception is scheduled for October 23, where Fitzgibbon will sign books, with copies of What Follows is True: Crescent Hotel available for purchase through the Muscatine Art Center. The book signing is from 1:30 to 3 p.m., and immediately afterward, the historical short film Norman Baker: The Man in Purple will be screened in the venue's Music Room. Filmmaker Chad Bishop and producer Laura Liegois will be on hand to discuss the film.

Both Captivated by Japan: Laura Musser McColm & Her Era and the Sean Fitzgibbon exhibits will be on display through October 23, and regular gallery hours are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. While admission is free, donations are appreciated, and more information is available by calling (563)263-8282 and visiting MuscatineArtCenter.org.

Support the River Cities' Reader

Get 12 Reader issues mailed monthly for $48/year.

Old School Subscription for Your Support

Get the printed Reader edition mailed to you (or anyone you want) first-class for 12 months for $48.
$24 goes to postage and handling, $24 goes to keeping the doors open!

Click this link to Old School Subscribe now.

Help Keep the Reader Alive and Free Since '93!


"We're the River Cities' Reader, and we've kept the Quad Cities' only independently owned newspaper alive and free since 1993.

So please help the Reader keep going with your one-time, monthly, or annual support. With your financial support the Reader can continue providing uncensored, non-scripted, and independent journalism alongside the Quad Cities' area's most comprehensive cultural coverage." - Todd McGreevy, Publisher