Art Center offering meetings on Japanese Garden restoration

Margaret Hurlbert
Margaret Hurlbert
Margaret Hurlbert works as the Editor of Discover Muscatine Newspaper.

Muscatine Living

MUSCATINE, Iowa–With the growing season approaching, the staff of the Muscatine Art Center has turned their thoughts towards the restoration of their Japanese Garden, which will begin this year. As they undertake this long awaited project, they invite the community to learn more about the endeavor by attending two upcoming public meetings.

April 7 at 5:30 p.m., Muscatine Art Center Director Melanie Alexander will go through the details of the restoration from the time the Art Center first started planning it to the completion of work, which she anticipates will happen in the spring of 2023. Alexander will share how the Art Center worked with Iowa State University Professor Heidi Hohmann to create a restoration plan for the almost 100-year-old garden, which quite possibly represents the last Japanese Garden in the state planted before the Second World War. She will also detail how the Art Center secured a $122,402 grant through the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, overseen by the State Historic Preservation Office and the National Park Service as well as a $100,000 grant from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust. Alexander will also walk through the process of having Tall Grass Archeology survey the site prior to the restoration project and how Aunt Rhodie’s Landscaping & Design Studio will transform the garden back to its original state, complete with Sumac trees instead of the overgrown yews and White Pines that replaced them. At this first presentation, guests may ask questions and share their memories of the garden in years gone by.

May 22 at 1:30 p.m., Beth Cody, a researcher and author of “Iowa Gardens of the Past,” will share her discoveries about the Japanese Garden. She will examine the possible inspirations for the garden, which Laura Musser originally had added to the grounds of the Musser Mansion in about 1930. From a possible introduction to Japanese culture at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, the Saint Louis World’s Fair (or Louisiana Purchase Exposition) in 1904, to Japanese Gardens she could have seen at the home of one of her siblings, or in Burlington, or on the grounds of the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois, Cody will trace Musser’s exposure to Japanese Gardens as well as their popularity at the time. Cody will also share historical findings and photographs that will help the Art Center restore the garden and talk about the rise and fall in popularity of Japanese Gardens. As Alexander put it, “her research helped us understand how rare our garden is.”

Both meetings will take place at the Muscatine Art Center, located at 1314 Iowa Avenue. Interested Muscatine residents may attend either or both meetings, as they see fit.

By sharing the history of the Japanese Garden and the Art Center’s plans to return it to its former glory, Alexander hopes to get people excited about both the restoration process and the beautiful final results it will achieve. “I’m just excited to have it more like Laura had it,” said Alexander, who looks forward to seeing the garden get more sun and have a working water feature once again. “It’s a pivotal change for the garden, and we want people to understand why we are doing what we’re doing,” she emphasized.

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