‘Expressive Spirit’ invites creativity to Art Center lawn

MUSCATINE, Iowa–For anyone who has not driven down Mulberry Avenue recently, the sight of a new sculpture on the Muscatine Art Center’s lawn offers a welcome surprise. Though the addition of the “Expressive Spirit” may seem like a new development, its roots go back much further in the Art Center, and Muscatine’s, history.

In Oct. 2008, the Muscatine Art Center purchased the property directly adjacent to it, 1402 Mulberry Avenue, which the then 108-year-old Henry and Ella Jayne home occupied. In 2010, a private buyer had the home moved to its current location at 1200 Iowa Avenue, where it still stands today. In 2018, the Art Center removed a pair of beech trees, even older than the home they once stood next to, due to storm damage and general unsoundness. With the lot clear, albeit in somewhat rough condition, the Art Center had a space to add additional outdoor public art to their grounds.

One year prior, Dick and Mary Jo Stanley died. A lover of both visual and performing arts and chair of the Muscatine Art Center Support Foundation for 26 years, Mary Jo Stanley made a bequest to the Art Center to help them continue bringing high quality art to the community.

Using these funds, the Art Center commissioned Quad Cities sculptor David Zahn to create a piece to grace their lawn with. When he presented the Art Center Staff, the Art Center Support Foundation’s Advisory Commission, and members of the Stanley family with a small clay maquette of a partially abstract, partially realistic statue of a dancer, they felt entranced by it and decided the full sized version would provide a fitting tribute to Mary Jo Stanley’s legacy.

Over the course of 2019, Zahn brought the Art Center a larger maquette and then invited staff to his workshop to see the full scale clay version of “Expressive Spirit” before he cast it in bronze. Late in the spring of 2020, the final sculpture arrived at the Muscatine Art Center, where staff safely stored it until they had the outdoor space where it would stand ready for its installation. Throughout the summer of 2021, Sustainable Landscape Solutions worked to prepare the landscaping and hardscaping to surround “Expressive Sprit,” as well as the base to place it on. In mid Aug. they completed the project, and the Art Center announced plans to officially celebrate its installation with the community.

Earlier this year, Chuck Swanson of the University of Iowa’s Hancher Auditorium contacted Muscatine Art Center Director Melanie Alexander and asked her if she would like the performing arts troupe Step Afrika! to perform in Muscatine. Thinking of how much Mary Jo enjoyed the performing arts, Alexander considered inviting the group, which performs traditional African, African American, and contemporary styles of dance, to the dedication in Mary Jo Stanley’s honor a thoughtful tribute. “Chuck and I and Mary Jo’s son and daughter thought it was a performance she would enjoy, so we thought it was a way to mark Mary Jo’s support for the arts, not just here but in eastern Iowa,” Alexander detailed.

The Muscatine Art Center will hold their dedication ceremony and performance on the Art Center grounds Sept. 9 at 4:15 p.m. The Art Center encourages the public to attend and to wear masks, as social distancing may prove difficult.