MUSCATINE, IOWA (August 16, 2021) — For those who regularly drive on Mulberry Avenue, monitoring progress of the sculpture installation and landscape project at the Muscatine Art Center has become a minor pastime this summer. Preparation of the site of the new sculpture began in May 2021, but the creation of the sculpture itself dates back to summer of 2018 when sculptor David Zahn shared images for the piece titled “Expressive Spirit.”
The Muscatine Art Center staff and board were interested in making use of the former Jayne House property but the grassy area in the front was in rough condition. One of two large beech trees fell in 2018, and the other tree was removed for safety reasons. The staff and board also wanted a way to help draw attention to the museum because the historic house blends with other homes in the residential neighborhood.
A bequest from the estate of Mary Jo Stanley provided the necessary funds to move forward with a project. The staff had been familiar with David Zahn’s work for several years, and his maquette of the dancing figure struck a chord with many. The staff, board, members of the Advisory Commission for the Muscatine Art Center Support Foundation Fund, and Stanley family members felt the piece connected Mary Jo’s love for visual arts with her love for performing arts. Mary Jo Stanley served as the chairperson for the Muscatine Art Center Support Foundation for 26 years, and all involved wanted to recognize not just the financial gift but also her leadership through the decades. The plaque for the sculpture describes Mary Jo as “an enthusiastic celebrator of the arts and their creators.”
Both Mary Jo, and her husband, Richard “Dick” Stanley passed away in 2017. “Together, the two worked to improve the lives of others, whether through the arts, humanitarian efforts, or social service,” explains Muscatine Art Center Director, Melanie Alexander. “Mary Jo and Dick, like his parents, Max and Betty Stanley, have left a lasting legacy to the State of Iowa and the citizens of Muscatine.”
Sculptor David Zahn made use of both abstract and realistic elements in designing the piece around the theme of celebrating the arts. Abstract forms are at the bottom, and as your eye is drawn upwards, the human figure emerges, becoming more realistic.
“My goal was to create an image that was dynamic, thought provoking, and interesting to look at from all angles,” explains Zahn. “I feel that the finished sculpture is positive, hopeful, and forward looking. I am so glad the Muscatine Art Center gave me the chance to create this sculpture.”
The dedication of the sculpture will take place on Thursday, September 9, with a ribbon-cutting 4:15PM, followed by a performance by Step Afrika! at 4:30PM. The University of Iowa’s Hancher Auditorium has arranged the Step Afrika! performance which will be held on the grounds of the Muscatine Art Center. Step Afrika! blends percussive dance styles practiced by historically African American fraternities and sororities, traditional African dances, and an array of contemporary dance and art forms. Mary Jo, as a lover of dance, would have enjoyed this short performance.
Chuck Swanson, Executive Director of Hancher Auditorium, explains, “Mary Jo Stanley was a very special friend who loved the performing and visual arts. She personally enjoyed the arts, but she also valued the impact that the arts have on transforming the lives of other people. Step Afrika! is a company Mary Jo would have embraced, and I am so excited they will be helping to celebrate her memory.”
The ribbon cutting and Step Afrika! performance is free of charge. Guests are welcome to bring a blanket or lawn chairs and are encouraged to wear a mask. Following the performance, guests may visit with sculptor, David Zahn.
The Muscatine Art Center is located at 1314 Mulberry Avenue in Muscatine, Iowa. Hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, 10AM-5pm; Thursday evenings until 7PM; and Saturday and Sunday, 1-5PM. Admission is free. Donations are appreciated.