Enrique Chagoya (American, born in Mexico 1953); 'The Headache,' after 'The Headache' by George Cruikshank, circa 1830, 2010; etching and chine collé; museum purchase.

Graphic Language: The Art & Literature of Comics (on display at the University of Iowa) traces the origins of comics, from the evolution of graphic style alongside printing technologies to their conceptual roots in satire and serialized short fiction. This path is well-defined through the chronological presentation of the works around the perimeter of the exhibit, and the inclusion of early images that are not yet "comics" yet were clear stepping stones for the medium.

Additionally, Graphic Language highlights the craft and technique of the individual comic artists. When converting hand-crafted images to reproduced prints, the subtle gestures of the hand of the artist are often lost. The original works, up to twice as large as their printed counterparts, show these subtleties. The explanatory labels and signage emphasize this point, and note the individual craft behind a usually mass-produced and commoditized medium.

Emma Farber, 'Zoning'

A school bus sits in an overgrown field, along with an abandoned car. A pipe bursts bright liquid in the upper right corner, and a bird's nest with blue eggs rests in the lower left. Keys dangle from the pipe, and a flashlight shines on the eggs. In the distance, we see an ancient-looking door emerging from a smudgy hillside in a vague landscape.

In her artist statement, Emma Farber articulates her works' theme of overcoming life's challenges, which she communicates through the use of significant symbols. This painting, Take Shelter, presents metaphors for shelter (the nest and door) as well as the means to access it (the keys and vehicles). The school bus has been lushly rendered, with attention to detail, and the eggs have a candy-like shine that entices the viewer. The choice of symbols reads easily to the viewer.

Take Shelter is typical of Farber's six paintings on display through October at the Phoenix Gallery, located at 1530 Fifth Avenue in Moline. Along with Farber's work are five paintings by Zachary Cleve, a fellow recent graduate from St. Ambrose University. Both artists present thoughtful content and areas of strong technique but could benefit from greater unity and a sense of completion.

Nature Spiral. Photo by Bruce Walters.

Nature Spiral is a circular arrangement of limestone boulders situated near the Mississippi River in the Illiniwek Forest Preserve, near Hampton, Illinois (just north of East Moline). Ideally suited for a park named after the regional Native American tribes, the artwork blends in with its natural environment and is reminiscent of Native American and Neolithic earthworks. The spiral can be reached by Illinois Route 84, or the Great River Trail for hikers and bicyclists.

The site was chosen in 1995 by a community-wide partnership led by Quad City Arts and River Action. Public meetings were arranged for the community to express ideas for an artwork that improved awareness of, appreciation of, and access to the Mississippi River. In all, nearly 50 historic preservationists, river activists, and members of the community contributed to the project led by area artist Kunhild Blacklock, who designed the work and supervised its installation.

Completed in 1997, Nature Spiral is primarily made of 65 boulders, with outlined images of native birds, fish, insects, animals, and plants cut into the surface of many of the stones. Among the flora and fauna is a bald eagle, channel catfish, mayfly, deer, silver maple, cattail, and waterlily. Approximately 800 feet in circumference, the spiral also includes planted trees and wildflowers. A nearby informational sign provides a map of the spiral and a key to the iconic images on the rocks.

'A Time of Malfeasance #11' and '#12'

What kind of person habitually lies, cheats, and steals? In the exhibit A Time of Malfeasance at the Figge Art Museum, printmaker Virginia Myers visualizes corruption through the psychological landscapes in which its perpetrators reside.

Malfeasance refers to a public official abusing his or her post, either through illicit or harmful endeavors. The early 1970s, when these works were created, was a period of political turmoil - Vietnam, Watergate, oil embargoes, and economic recession. Although this historical context was a likely influence on Myers, the artist doesn't reference these events specifically; instead, she abstracts the mindset of the participants.

Myers has been a professor in the University of Iowa Fine Arts Department since 1962 and has been working in printmaking for more than 50 years. The Malfeasance prints were made using dry-point etching, a process in which the artist scratches the image into a copper plate, inks the surface, and prints it with a press onto paper.

The show includes 21 individual prints, with six framed in pairs. The largest of the group measures roughly three by two-and-a-half feet, with the smaller works sized approximately 10 by 12 inches. Completed in 1974, this series was gifted to the Figge by collector Herbert Tyler. These works, located on the second floor, will be on display through October 14.

Pamela Crouch

"It was awful," says area artist and performer Pamela Crouch. "The year and a half I went through the whole cancer thing was just awful. The worst thing ever. But I have an amazing husband, I have an amazing family, and I have the love and support of all these people who are available.

"And when they're not available? I have a paintbrush."

That, in a nutshell, is the concept behind Living Proof, the group exhibit - on display throughout the Bucktown Center for the Arts from September 30 through October 29 - that will showcase artistic works, in numerous media, by more than a dozen breast-cancer survivors residing between Chicago and Camanche, Iowa. Originally conceived by Crouch and Chicago-area artist Mary Ellen Cunningham, Living Proof will be enjoying its second Bucktown exhibition in as many years, and will feature roughly five-dozen never-before-displayed works created by both professional and amateur artists.

"A lot of times," says Moline resident Crouch of living with cancer, "you're so tired. You're so exhausted. You're overwhelmed and you feel very isolated. And that's what Living Proof is about: getting those feelings out in some kind of creative way."

Sacred Heart Cathedral. Photo by Bruce Walters.When Sacred Heart Cathedral (at the corner of Iowa and 10th streets in Davenport) was completed in 1891, its bell tower and spire was the tallest structure in the Quad Cities. Soaring majestically above the surrounding trees and neighborhood, its approximate height of 160 feet seemed even greater because of its placement at the top of a steep hill near the crest of the bluff overlooking the Mississippi.

Several blocks to the west, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral (at 121 West 12th Street) had been constructed 18 years before. Although a spire was part of architect's original plans, it was not built because of a lack of funds.

But in 1998, Elizabeth Haines (a member of the Trinity congregation) personally financed the building of a bell tower and spire. In memory of her grandparents - who were charter members of the cathedral - the 131-foot tower was built to its original specifications.

'Family Portrait' (1976)

There is no doubt that Jim Konrad was a brilliant technician.

"He knew more about the nature of artist materials than any other artist in the Quad Cities," said Sherry Maurer, director of the Augustana College Art Museum.

"He was very serious about technique," said his wife Cathy. "And they [his artworks] all have superb technique - color form, composition, things like that." She called him an "artist's artist."

Peter Xiao, a teaching colleague of Konrad's at Augustana for more than two decades, said the artist's work is "perfectly balanced" in terms of color - the dark and light, the chromatic scheme.

The Figge Art Museum, in its description of two Konrad works in its collection, notes his "meticulous craftsmanship and expertise in painting methods and materials."

And in an interview with Bruce Carter earlier this year for the WVIK program Art Talks, Konrad (whom I never met) called himself a teacher of fundamentals. "The more you understand about how to use your materials and how to do it, the more it frees you to be an artist," he said.

'Landscape (Grey Barn)' (1990)

Konrad's technical acumen is plainly evident in the Augustana College Art Museum's current memorial exhibit, celebrating the artist and faculty member who died in May at age 67.

For just one admittedly minor illustration, look at how he painted masking tape in a number of pieces. As Maurer said, "Sometimes ... we've had big debates as to whether it's real tape or not."

But praising somebody's proficiency - even one as fine-tuned as Konrad's - can be a backhanded compliment. And the body of work on display at Augustana College shows an artist fluent in many forms of expression who explored the world in rich and sometimes discomforting ways.

Photo by Bruce Walters.

Hill Arches is a bronze sculpture created in 1974 by one of the most prominent sculptors of the 20th Century, Henry Moore (1898-1986). Moore's monumental works are often based on human forms, but as its title suggests, this piece is meant to be seen in a relationship with its environment.

It is located on a small island in the reflecting pond directly in front of the Deere & Company world-headquarters building in Moline, off John Deere Road a little more than three miles east of Interstate 74.

Viewed from the island, the sculpture is massive. Weighing more than 8,800 pounds, it is 18 feet in length and 12 feet high. But when viewed from a distance, its open spaces give it an unfolding, rising quality. Though large, it appears to float just above the lawn, its base hidden by the grass. This is a fitting paradox for a sculpture that works both with the modern architectural style of the world headquarters and with its surrounding landscape.

The carpeting of debris under a Steve Banks sculptureLittering the bottoms of the display cases at the gallery inside the Quad City International Airport is a landfill-like carpeting - a mat of apparent cultural detritus under Steve Banks' sculptures. It initially appears ancient, like scattered pottery shards, but a closer inspection reveals pizza slices, pie crusts, bullets, masks, and chunks of carvings, all out of earthenware clay.

We see this fascination with objects across this exhibit, among the work of both Banks and mixed-media artist Aaron Tinder. The Quad City Arts show - running through August - consists of three large sculptures and four mixed-media canvases by Banks, and eight mixed-media works on paper by Tinder. Their use of familiar objects makes this exhibit accessible, but their mysterious and metaphorical treatment provides depth.

Rock Island's Main Library. Photo by Bruce Walters.More than a century separates the opening dates of the most recent and the oldest public-library buildings in the Quad Cities. The differences between these buildings reflect our changing relationship to the environment, and their architecture reflects the evolution of the library from a symbol of culture to a community center.

Davenport's Eastern Avenue branch library (at 6000 Eastern Avenue) opened a year ago on July 10. The horizontal shape of the building and curved entrance relate to its surrounding environment, an open, grassy area of gentle rolling hills. The library has been designated by the U.S. Green Building Council as a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) building. Its environmental features include a geothermal-heating and -cooling system, stormwater-management systems for the roof and parking areas, and energy-efficient lighting. Even the building materials were selected to ensure a healthy environment for the library staff and patrons.

Davenport's Eastern Avenue branch library. Photo by Bruce Walters.

At the library's entrance is a wall covered in sheets of bronze. The prominent position of the wall and its subtle patterning make it seem more like a minimalist sculpture than the means to drain water from the roof into the rain basin and bioswale. The bronze wall is set within a rain garden - planted with native plants and grasses, helping the water soak into the ground instead of running into the storm sewers. The ecologically conscious approach to the design of this building is remarkably different from the neoclassical design of libraries in the early 20th Century.

Davenport's Eastern Avenue branch library. Photo by Bruce Walters.

The Rock Island Main Library (at 401 19th Street in the Rock Island) opened on December 15, 1903. The building became the permanent home for a library collection that was established in 1855 and made public in 1872, making it the oldest public library in the state of Illinois. Funded primarily by Rock Island businessmen Frederick Weyerhaeuser and Frederick Denkmann, the building opened shortly before the Carnegie libraries in Davenport and Moline.

Rock Island's Main Library. Photo by Bruce Walters.Originally called Rock Island's Temple of Literature, the building's fluted Ionic columns, exterior of quarried stone, and classical-styled ornamentation are indeed derived from ancient Greek and Roman temples. The dozen names incised in the frieze near the roof - from the Greek poet Homer to the American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne - say, in effect, that there is an unbroken link between us and the founders of Western Civilization.

One enters the main section of the building by ascending a flight of stone steps and passing through an imposing foyer. We literally rise higher when we come into this archive of knowledge. Though one is now greeted by collections of digital information - DVDs, CDs, and audiobooks - the interior architecture is formal, creating a very different atmosphere from the more welcoming and comfortable space of the newer libraries.

The Rock Island Main Library has had public meeting rooms and a children's collection of books - even an art gallery - from its inception. Yet this is a far cry from the community centers that libraries have evolved into. More than just lenders of books, libraries now provide Internet access and community rooms for a great range of not-for-profit organizations - from the Girl Scouts to senior groups, from choirs to quilters. When you are next looking for an a pleasant coffee shop, consider going to the library.

But are buildings art?

Frank Lloyd Wright, perhaps America's most renowned architect, certainly thought so when he stated, "The mother art is architecture."

Contemporary architect Richard Meier expanded on this by saying: "Architecture is the greatest of the arts, and it encompasses thinking that other arts don't even deal with. Like [the] relationship of the work to the individual human being - the person who uses it, the person who experiences it, the person who sees it, and how that person perceives that space."

Bruce Walters is a professor of art at Western Illinois University.

This is part of an occasional series on the history of public art in the Quad Cities. If there's a piece of public art that you'd like to learn more about, e-mail the location and a brief description to BD-Walters@wiu.edu.

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