Photo by Bruce Walters

To enter Oakdale Memorial Gardens, at 2501 Eastern Avenue in Davenport, one passes through twin stone pillars that stand 12 feet tall. The Art Nouveau side gates, made of patterned iron bars and a metal plate with an oak-leaf design at its center, are both beautiful and imposing, solemnly announcing the dignified purpose of the site within. Passing between the center pillars, we feel we're leaving the commonplace behind.

Through this passage - constructed circa 1897 - is a refuge from the fast-paced world. Arranged on the park-like expanse of lawn that stretches over acres of gently rolling hills, with massive oak trees and flowering gardens, are thousands of graves - and also many sculptures .

Oakdale, Chippiannock Cemetery in Rock Island, Riverside Cemetery in Moline, and the Mount Calvary and Pine Hill cemeteries in Davenport were the first garden cemeteries in the Quad Cities. Established in the 1850s, they also served as the first public parks in the area, providing a place for the general public to enjoy magnificent sculptures and garden settings previously available only to the wealthy.

(Our botanical parks weren't developed until some three decades later, such as Vander Veer Botanical Park in Davenport in 1885; it was among the first botanical gardens west of the Mississippi.)

The cemetery sculptures in this article were selected, in part, because of the artists' skill but - more importantly - for the artworks' capacity to communicate concepts and emotions. These works are examples of what funerary art can accomplish within a clearly circumscribed purpose - to help the living celebrate, remember, and mourn the dead.

For the most part, these sculptures are not creative, personal expressions of the artist. Yet they are not uniform in the feelings they convey. Some are comforting; others are stark reminders that life is brief. Some are massive and exotic, others humble and typical but no less evocative.

Photo by Bruce Walters

Fifty years ago - on August 23, 1963 - approximately 2,000 people gathered at the LeClaire Park bandshell for a civil-rights rally that served as a warm-up for the national March on Washington. Twenty-eight local delegates who would participate in the historic march were introduced. They would hear Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his "I Have a Dream" speech in the nation's capital five days later.

This was by no means the only rally at the bandshell. George W. Bush, for example, gave a campaign speech on its stage in 2004. Barack Obama spoke there three years later.

The bandshell has also served as center stage for numerous annual events -including the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival, River Roots Live, the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival, and the Quad City Symphony Orchestra's Riverfront Pops concert. Past performers on the stage include Greg Brown, Albert Collins, Blue Öyster Cult, Buddy Guy, Little Feat, Los Lobos, The Marshall Tucker Band, and - this past weekend - the Wallflowers.

The bandshell's official name is the W.D. Petersen Memorial Music Pavilion. It was built in 1924 as a memorial to his daughter Wilma, who had died the previous year at the age of 38. Petersen paid for the pavilion's construction himself.

Freight House Farmers Market Entrance by Eric Mart. Photo by Bruce Walters.

The entrance to the Freight House Farmers Market - at 421 West River Drive in downtown Davenport - is framed by a 15-foot-tall arched entry. The artist, Eric Mart, also created the gateway to his studio and the Sol-Iron Gallery at 620 West Third Street, just a few blocks away. Although both entires are made entirely of metal and are similar in size, one is welcoming while the other is intimidating. Their impact is shaped, in large part, by their settings and our associations with the objects used.

The brightly painted, freestanding entrance to the Freight House Farmers Market is flanked by a variety of flowering plants. It feels friendly and open. The handmade, cutout letters are playful. In this good-natured context, the tines of the pitchfork at the top of the arch seem to reach upward, almost like the rays of a rising sun. The vintage rotary hoes seem like pinwheels and flowers. Although the archway serves as a business sign, it is also a striking sculptural form.

'Spirit of Place.' Photo by Bruce Walters.

Downtown Moline's industrial past is memorialized by two metal sculptures. One is abstract, the other representational. Both are reminders that the downtown riverfront was once crowded with factories and was at the heart of the "Farm Implement Capital of the World."

Spirit of Place, an imposing 19-foot-tall sculpture, stands between the i wireless Center and the Radisson hotel on a lawn that stretches from River Drive to the riverfront. The iron sculpture consists of a massive wedge seemingly piercing a geometric form atop a conical base. Unless one reads the nearby plaque that states that John Deere's first plow factory was built on the site in 1848, the artwork seem out-of-place in its pleasant surrounding.

Photo by Bruce Walters

On May 30, a 48-foot stretch of panels was set up on a row of easels for Kevin McQueen Lonergan II and Gary White to paint a graffiti-style aerosol-art mural on the Figge Art Museum's plaza. Interrupted daily by rain and wind over the course of the following week, the images and lettering of the mural were developed, painted out, rethought, and painted again in a roller coaster of creativity.

According to Lynn Gingras-Taylor, creative-arts coordinator for the Figge, "Kevin and Gary are recognized internationally as premier artists in their genre. They have been making aerosol art for more than 30 years."

She added: "The mural they have painted at the Figge is a wonderful, colorful mix of a painterly mural style and cutting-edge graffiti fonts. ... [W]e will exhibit it at the museum and will also display it at various Figge family events."

The artists continue to participate in street-art events across the nation; the next is Paint Louis on June 21 in St. Louis.

The Centennial Bridge. Photo by Bruce Walters.

Connecting Davenport and Rock Island, the Centennial Bridge is one of the most beautiful architectural structures in the Quad Cities. Viewed in the daytime, it is a graceful example of modern design. At night, the lights on the bridge's five arches transform it into the river's showpiece.

The bridge was designed by Iowa native Edward Ashton (1903-1985). Its lack of ornamentation is consistent with modern design's dictum that form follows function, yet Ashton stated that he built every bridge with an eye for the visible beauty of the structure. He designed more than 20 bridges - including the Julien Dubuque Bridge in Dubuque, Iowa - but considered the Centennial Bridge his best design.

Photo by Bruce Walters

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Bix 7 race, a bronze statue of two runners was unveiled in 1999 at the corner of Fourth Street and River Drive in Davenport, in front of the Quad-City Times building. They are atop a five-foot pedestal and base on the eastern front of the Bix 7 Plaza, a circular garden with a walkway and honorary plaques that commemorates the participants and contributors to the annual race. The runners are Bill Rodgers, who won the seven-mile race twice, and Joan Benoit Samuelson, a four-time Bix 7 women's champion. Both athletes represented the U.S. in the Olympics; Samuelson was the gold medalist in the first women's marathon.

The life-size sculpture depicts the runners side-by-side, running nearly in tandem with a similar stride that conveys a sense of equity between the genders in sports. The figures are confident but not triumphant - not stretching their arms out in victory.

Scott County Soldier's Monument. Photo by Bruce Walters.

The Quad Cities have two prominent, highly visible Civil War monuments: the Rock Island County Soldiers' Monument in Rock Island and the Scott County Soldier's Monument in Davenport. Both were completed in the years following the war. It was not until 2003, however, that a monument to the Confederate soldiers who died at the Rock Island Arsenal was built.

The Rock Island County monument, located on the county-courthouse grounds near the Centennial Bridge, was unveiled on April 9, 1869 - the fourth anniversary of General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox. The memorial was designed by Leonard Wells Volk (1828-1895), who briefly lived in Rock Island before opening his studio in Chicago in 1857. Volk had the distinction of being the only sculptor to model Abraham Lincoln's features from life; casts of the future president's face and hands were made by Volk in 1860.

The Scott County Soldier's Monument, located in the center of the 1100 block of Main Street near Central High School, was dedicated a dozen years later, on July 4, 1881. Rodney Forsyth Carter (1838-1912) is credited as the monument's designer.

'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.

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