unloading-the-fainting-sofaDuring our visioning process the public requested seating in the alleys, so several places to relax and gather have been carefully planned. A key mission for ArtPlace America’s placemaking projects is to strengthen the social fabric of communities. The arts have a unique capacity to draw people together, and it is understood that serendipitous encounters in welcoming places like ours can contribute to healthier, more diverse communities. Seating is being provided at the east, west and south entrances of our project site, and thanks to easement spaces provided by property owners, there will be welcoming gathering spots at 3 additional locations. Iowa artist Matthew Kargol and his crew recently installed an entire outdoor “living room” near the center of the alley project! Because the public asked for artwork that is fun, functional and kid friendly, this installation fits the bill – it definitely communicates Marion’s brand as a great place to raise a family.

the-kargol-crewThe furniture comprising this living room setting, titled Drawing Room, is meant to bring the whimsy of a paper cartoon to the real world in human scale. This allows visitors to interact within the space and become characters in a story that they are continually creating. Fabricated steel and automotive paint are combined to create functional seating, and a colorful painted rug will anchor the nostalgic living room set to the site. Born in 1975 in Oskaloosa, Iowa, Matthew Kargol earned a BA and MA in visual art and sculpture from the University of Northern Iowa, and an MFA from Clemson University. Since 1998 he has completed several commissions for large-scale public sculptures in Iowa, South Carolina, South Dakota and Colorado. He is an art educator and art advocate who finds ways for communities to incorporate the arts into everyday life.

Website: www.matthewkargolart.com



As shown in the paver art situated at the center of our project site, the City of Marion was established in 1839 (5 years before Iowa gained statehood). The idea for a traditional compass motif was envisioned in 2014, when community members developed the artistic vision for our ArtPlace grant application. The locals like to joke that Marion is the crossroads of the universe, and that all trails lead to Marion, so including this marker seemed a fitting focal point for our placemaking project. Our Leadership Team agreed to order a customized compass rose by PaverArt of New Jersey and had it installed where our 2 alleys intersect.

compass-roseA remarkable “New Map of Iowa” from 1850 shows Marion as THE transportation hub of Linn County. Iowa City was then the state capital, and neighboring Cedar Rapids did not yet exist. In those early days, it is said that half of Marion’s men worked for the railroad, but only our older residents remember the stream of freight and passenger trains rumbling through town. Marion’s railroad beds are now being converted to trails, so today’s residents and visitors are once again using historic routes for transportation and recreation. The Lincoln Byway and developing trail systems actually do lead to Marion!

cabooseDuring our visioning process, the public repeatedly asked for artwork that would reflect the City’s history. So our Artist Selection Panel knew they had to find a way to celebrate our railroad past in a way that would resonate with current and future residents. They looked to Waterloo artist Dan Perry to create a fun, colorful, abstract steam engine that would become a magnet for kids of all ages. Take a look at my previous post featuring his sculpture to see which visual elements echo those found in Marion’s beloved caboose, now retired at City Square Park a half block away.

It was a sight to behold, watching a colorful 17-foot tall abstract steam engine fly through the air and land at its appointed spot in the alley. This exciting installation was accomplished in just a few minutes, but represents many months of planning, design work and fabrication. On hand to assist Dan Perry was his colleague from the University of Northern Iowa and fellow public artist, Tom Stancliffe.


Confluence is defined as assemblage, which refers to disparate components coming together to create a whole. Elements of this abstract sculpture reference mechanical components of steam engines such as gears and wheels, offering a nod to Marion’s past as a classic railroad town. The interlocking forms also suggest the similarities between a machine and a thriving community – each has several moving parts that need to work together to achieve a goal. This colorful sculpture is meant to honor the past, energize the present, and hint at the future.


Over the past 10 years, Dan Perry has exhibited his artwork across the United States in over 25 juried group shows and 7 solo exhibitions, and has completed 7 public art commissions. At the University of Northern Iowa, he is currently an instructor as well as the Art Studio Technician. Dan serves on several civic organizations, including the Cedar Falls Public Art Committee.

Website: www.danperrysculpture.com


It’s been an exciting week, with artists traveling from across the country to install their projects! Luke Crawley and Quincy Owens from the Indianapolis area were the first ones in, assembling their colorful pillars near the center of our project site. It’s astonishing to see them brightly lit at night, when the banding patterns rapidly pulse and change color unpredictably as a result of the colored LEDs inside each sculpture. What an innovative way to combine science and art!

chris-millers-bike-rack-handThis week Chris Miller drove here from Calais, Vermont to install his bicycle rack. To carve the giant-sized granite hand that appears to rise out of the concrete to hold up the bike rack, he used his own hand as a model. Miller’s project honors the sculpting methods of the past, employing traditional techniques that contrast with the high-tech approach invented by Crawley and Owens. Meeting each of these artists has been an inspiration, and I’m looking forward to networking with them in the future!

chris-millers-installationAs seen in the photo above, a historic building located in the heart of our project site is undergoing a transformation. By March the new owners hope to have the building completely renovated and opened as a new business – Brick Alley Pub and Sports Bar. Their open-air patio and glass walls facing the alley will allow customers to enjoy the artwork and cultural programming year-round. ArtPlace America’s funding for our project, which is made possible by national banks and foundations, is already demonstrating how investments in the arts and culture drive economic development.




One of the first art installations is scheduled for November 3! Chris Miller will be driving here from Vermont to install his granite sculpture near the center of the project site. Life is a Ride is a larger-than life carved granite hand rising out of the pavement to hold a coiled bicycle rack. The 1000-pound hand features a fingerless biking glove with MARION etched into the strap. This whimsical bike rack encourages exercise, and supports the city’s brand as a fun, health-minded “Blue Zones” community.

Vermont sculptor Chris Miller works in granite, wood and marble, creating figurative and representational sculptures for indoor and outdoor installations. He began carving in 1976 and now focuses on national commissions.

Website: chrismillerstudio.com

During the alley project’s visioning process, many community members requested plant material, seating and artwork inspired by nature. So a few benches and planters with seasonal greenery will be scattered throughout the project site. While real trees would be problematic in a tight space like ours, Marion’s Artist Selection Panel found a sculptor to create a beautiful tree-like structure.


The title, Alley Blome, is derived from the Norwegian definition of “a flower,” along with the English definition as “a lump of metal,” making it the perfect title for this sculpture. The aim of this abstract steel form is to impart the calming effect of a majestic tree along with the excitement of an exploding firework. The towering tree-like sculpture helps to create a somewhat hidden oasis where one can sit to reflect, take a break, and enjoy the moment. The theme of Alley Blome references the Marion community’s appreciation of trees, and its designation as “Tree City USA.”


Jake Balcom is a master metalworker who received degrees in Science and Welding Tech before opening a shop specializing in custom architectural metal work. His award-winning designs are held in a dozen public outdoor spaces and over 70 private collections. Jake now resides in Kansas City, MO where his primary focus is outdoor public art installations and large-scale chandeliers.

Website: www.jakebalcomsculpture.com


Cedar Rapids artist John Schwartzkopf’s woodworking studio was inundated during the flood of 2008, but the bulk of his equipment, tools and materials were safe upstairs in the historic Cherry Building when the Cedar River crested above flood stage again in September. John was busy fabricating 2 benches and a gateway feature for the 11th Street entrance into the project site when he and other tenants were forced to suspend work and move their belongings to the hallways upstairs. Fortunately most of the New Bo area was protected this time around, but small business owners like John remain stressed due to lost productivity.


John Schwarzkopf’s project titled Alley Gateway consists of a roofed structure that forms a porch-like entrance between adjacent buildings. The differing heights of architectural features gave rise to the asymmetrical design. Homage is paid to the historical context by using related materials while also reflecting a contemporary look rather than a pastiche of the design of adjacent structures. The two benches placed within the alley reflect the design of the gateway feature and offer pedestrians a place to linger. While majoring in Philosophy and Anthropology in college, John Schwarzkopf was doing woodworking. His artwork was first shown at local galleries and the Marion Arts Festival, which jump-started his career. He now shows at galleries around the Midwest and his work is held in many private and public spaces, notably Cedar Rapids institutions.

Website: www.johnsawdust.com