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State Historical Society of Iowa

New 'Art at the Cafe' Exhibition Showcases Mary Jones' "The Looking Dress"

Apr 24, 2018

DES MOINES – East 14th Street might seem like an unlikely place to find artistic inspiration. But that’s why it appeals to Mary Jones.

The Indianola artist’s walks along the street have inspired a series of map-based collages that she’ll display in "The Looking Dress," the next show in the Iowa Arts Council’s Art at the Café series. It opens with a reception on May 4 and remains through July 31 at Café Baratta’s in the State Historical Building of Iowa.

“What I see are people’s daily lives, how they actually live,” Jones said. “On East 14th, people aren’t dressing to be seen. They’re going to laundromats and things like that. They’re not always expecting that someone is watching them.”

The artist often drove East 14th (Highway 69) on her way to Grand View University, where she taught art and design until she retired in 2017. But over the last few years, she’s parked the car here and there to explore the area on foot.

She takes photos. She jots notes in a notebook. She collects newspapers and receipts from cups of coffee she buys along the way, all to add to the layers of her artwork.

She sees. And she is seen, which is partly why eyes started showing up on the clothing of the people in her artwork. That’s what inspired the title, “The Looking Dress.”

“When I’m looking, I’m also aware of being looked at,” she said. “I think that’s true of everyone who’s out in a public space or common area.”

Jones is interested in how neighborhoods form and evolve. She studies how people become attached to their particular patch of the planet, how they personalize their homes or shops.

In Chicago, where she grew up and worked as an illustrator — she’s published work in the Chicago Tribune and Playboy, among others — she watched what happened when Interstate 90/94 replaced a smaller road. When the zoning changed, so did the area’s mix of businesses and overall character.

Jones didn’t learn to drive until she was 40, partly because she relied on Chicago’s public transportation but also because she just prefers to walk. Now 67, she says the physical activity frees her mind to think in new directions.

But oddly enough, in her step-by-step quest to find a sense of place, she also found an irony.

“I find I’m thinking about other places,” she said. “Everything I see brings up another memory.”

If you go:

  • What: Art at the Cafe: The Looking Dress exhibition
  • When: May 4 – July 31 with opening reception May 4, 5-7 p.m.
  • Where: Cafe Baratta's in the State Historical Building of Iowa, 600 E. Locust Street in Des Moines
  • Hours: Cafe Baratta's is open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Saturday
  • Admission: Free

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.