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Iowa Artists Help Celebrate State Parks Centennial

Feb 20, 2020

Iowa’s state parks have inspired visitors ever since the first site, Backbone State Park, opened in Delaware County in 1920.

A century later, the parks’ natural beauty is still a source of inspiration. A new art exhibition called “20 Artists, 20 Parks” opens next month in Des Moines before traveling to Dubuque, Clarinda and Sioux City. It showcases artwork that 20 Iowa artists made last summer in 20 state parks – all to celebrate the state parks centennial in 2020.

The show is organized by the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs; the Iowa Department of Natural Resources; and Iowa State University.

“The artwork is as varied as the parks themselves, from the Maquoketa Caves to Stephens State Forest to Gull Point on Lake Okoboji,” said the Iowa Arts Council’s Veronica O’Hern, who helped curate the show. “Together the paintings, sculptures, textiles, photos, videos and other art forms capture the sights and sounds of these unique pockets of the Iowa landscape.”

During their residencies last summer, the Iowa State artists – including students and faculty members from the Colleges of Design, Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Liberal Arts and Sciences – worked closely with DNR park rangers to learn about the parks’ ecosystems. The artists visited often to take notes, draw sketches and gather ideas. They created their artwork on-site or in their studios and will return to their assigned parks in summer 2020 to lead public demonstrations.

“This project is really a win-win. It encourages Iowans who love the outdoors to appreciate art, and art fans to get outdoors,” said Todd Coffelt, chief of the DNR’s State Parks Bureau. “Both elements – art and nature – contribute to Iowa’s high quality of life.”

Organizers decided the exhibition should travel in order to share the artwork statewide, as part of the DNR’s yearlong celebration of the parks centennial. Outdoor activities will ramp up this spring and summer at the 72 state parks and forests to highlight the importance of recreation, historic preservation, art, culture and natural resources.

“Iowans understand how precious our relationship is with the natural environment,” said Luis Rico-Gutierrez, dean of the ISU College of Design. “We’re delighted to work with the Department of Natural Resources and Department of Cultural Affairs to invite the public to enjoy and interact with our state parks in new ways.”

The 20 parks that are included in “20 Artists, 20 Parks” are featured on the Iowa Culture mobile app, a free and interactive tool to discover arts, history and cultural destinations across Iowa. More information about how to visit the parks is on the app, which the public can download for free from Google Play and the App Store. Visitors can also find state park information at

“20 Artists, 20 Parks” Traveling Exhibition

March 16 – May 2, 2020
Polk County Heritage Gallery
111 Court Ave., Des Moines
Opening reception: April 9

May 30 – Sept. 20, 2020
Dubuque Museum of Art
701 Locust St., Dubuque
Opening reception: June 5

Sept. 30, 2020 – Jan. 8, 2021
Clarinda Carnegie Art Museum
300 N. 16th St., Clarinda
Opening reception: October (Date TBD)

Jan. 30, 2021 – May 9, 2021
Sioux City Art Center
225 Nebraska St., Sioux City
Opening reception: Jan. 30, 2021

Featured Artists and State Parks

  • Clark Colby - Stephens State Forest, Chariton
  • Jennifer Drinkwater - Pine Lake State Park, Eldora
  • Nathan Edwards - Yellow River State Forest, Harpers Ferry
  • Firat Erdim - Lake Macbride State Park, Solon
  • Carol Faber - Stone State Park, Sioux City
  • Kristen Greteman - Wildcat Den State Park, Muscatine
  • Amy Harris - Lake of Three Fires State Park, Bedford
  • Brent Holland - Maquoketa Caves State Park, Maquoketa
  • Kimberly Moss - Backbone State Park, Dundee
  • Joe Muench - Mines of Spain State Park, Dubuque
  • Deborah Pappenheimer - Walnut Woods State Park, West Des Moines
  • Anna Segner - Rock Creek State Park, Kellogg
  • Celinda Stamy - Palisades-Kepler State Park, Mt. Vernon
  • Austin Stewart and Omar De Kok-Mercado - Brushy Creek State Park, Lehigh
  • Paula Streeter - Gull Point State Park, Okoboji
  • Nancy Thompson - Lacey-Keosauqua State Park, Keosauqua
  • Olivia Valentine - Viking Lake State Park, Stanton
  • Rob Wallace - Lake Darling State Park, Mt. Pleasant
  • Barbara Walton - Pikes Peak State Park, McGregor
  • Christopher Yanulis - Pilot Knob State Park, Forest City

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and its three divisions – the Iowa Arts Council, Produce Iowa - State Office of Media Production and the State Historical Society of Iowa – empower Iowa to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by connecting Iowans to the people, places and points of pride that define our state. The department’s work enables Iowa to be recognized as a state that fosters creativity and serves as a catalyst for innovation where the stories of Iowa are preserved and communicated to connect past, present and future generations.