What’s better than traveling where you can see amazing art and architecture? I love to do both. Public art adds so much to an area’s interest with something to see almost everywhere. Iconic architecture draws the eye to unexpected places and offers a bit of history and a unique story to a town. Iowa is filled with great opportunities to do both — see great art and architecture!
Travel with me and see the last Frank Lloyd Wright hotel in Mason City, Iowa, art on silos in Fort Dodge, a sculpture garden in Kimballton, and more. These towns provide a backdrop for things to see and do. In Oskaloosa, the historic bandstand is the centerpiece of the town, the Hurst Lime Works have a special story, and Grant Wood is a star in Cedar Rapids.
1. Mason City, Iowa — Art And Architecture
Mason City is also called “River City” because the city grew up centered on the Winnebago River.
This beautiful city also has two Frank Lloyd Wright sights in town. The first Wright stop is the Historic Park Inn, which according to its website is the “last remaining Frank Lloyd Wright-designed and built hotel in the world.”
I stayed in this cool hotel, originally called the Park Inn Hotel. The hotel was completed by Wright’s associate William Drummond. Wright left the country with his mistress Mamah Borthwick Cheney and traveled to Europe during 1910 when the hotel was constructed. Wright never returned to Mason City. This property was the idea of attorneys James Blythe and J.E.E. Markley. They were serving on the board of directors of the City National Bank and wanted to expand. They thought they could meet several goals with one building that could provide a home for the bank, new offices for their firm, and of course, the new hotel!
Over time, the beautiful hotel was almost torn down because it had undergone changes of ownership, and funding issues over the years. Thankfully Wright on the Park, Inc., came to the rescue. The nonprofit organization restored1 and now owns the historic Park Inn Hotel. Besides staying at the hotel, visitors can also tour it as well. The tour begins in what was the dining room and is now the lobby. One of the highlights is the amazing original stained-glass ceiling. The furniture, the lighting, the lobby, and the stained glass all show the style that made Wright famous.
The second Wright stop is the Stockman House, a middle-class Wright home. Dr. Stockman and his wife Eleanor wanted a new home, and wanted it designed by Wright after seeing a home he designed in Ladies Home Journal. The design was of Wright’s Fireproof House, with a foursquare design along with appendages. The Stockman house was built in 1908. Today the home is open for tours, and visitors can marvel at Wright’s original design and construction!
2. Fort Dodge, Iowa — Art On Architecture
For those like me that love the combination of art and agriculture, there is nothing better than the murals on the silos in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Traveling through with my husband Keith, we stopped and walked around this amazing site. Australian artist Guido van Helten is both a photographer and painter. He created a 360-degree mural of portraits of residents on the 110- foot once abandoned grain silo. The project began in autumn of 2018 and was completed that winter.
3. Oskaloosa, Iowa — Art And Architecture
In the center of Oskaloosa square is a beautiful bandstand built in 1912. On a hosted trip to Oskaloosa this summer, my husband and I admired this architectural beauty! A Waymarking website shares details of this bandstand, and gazebo that is the focal point of Oskaloosa’s historic square. The bandstand is on a concrete base supported by wrought iron posts, and it is decorated with ceramic tiles. The wrought iron steps lead up to the gazebo floor. The ceiling is lighted with multiple lights and the roof is trimmed with wrought iron details.
The square also boasts a few cool statues, one of Chief Mahaska, whom the County name was derived from, and one a decorative Spanish torpedo. Off the square is The Alley, a short lane filled with art highlighting Oskaloosa’s past. The alley leads to the Oskaloosa Art Center, which features an art gallery and offers art classes.
The square is not the only place to enjoy art, throughout Oskaloosa sculptures are included as part of the Oskaloosa Sculpture Tour. There are also a few murals like the historic one of John Lacey, a former legislator linked to the development of our nation’s national parks.
Pro Tip: When staying in the Oskaloosa area, stay at the beautiful McNeill Stone Mansion B&B. This beautiful stone mansion was built between 1908 and 1909.
4. Cedar Rapids — Art And Architecture
Art museums are places of beauty, and the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art is astounding. Initially housed in a former Carnegie Library, the building was later attached to a new building offering a huge new museum with the beauty of the old incorporated! The art inside includes works by Cedar Rapids native son, Grant Wood. Associated with the museum is the Grant Wood studio where he lived and worked from 1924 to 1935. This loft home/apartment is a cool place to visit as well!
Visiting on a hosted trip a few years back, I followed the Grant Wood trail and discovered his amazing stained glass window that stands 23 feet, six inches high and 20 feet wide. The Memorial Window was designed in 1927 by the then relatively unknown artist. Located in the Veterans Memorial Building, built between 1925-1927, the building is managed and maintained by the Veterans Memorial Commission. Besides Wood’s Memorial Window, there are also other artistic memorials to U.S. veterans including a three-foot replica of the Iwo Jima Memorial designed by Felix de Weldon and cast in 1960.
On top of the building is a Cenotaph, an empty coffin to honor the city’s war deceased.
Pro Tip: The National Czech and Slovak Museum & Library is a fascinating place profiling the immigrant history in Cedar Rapids. Also, include a stop in the Czech Village as well as the beautiful Brucemore Historic Estate!
5. Charles City, Iowa — Art And Architecture
There are many things to love about Charles City like the Floyd County Historical Museum which profiles rural history, but when looking for a unique place to see art, look towards the Mooney Art Gallery! The Mooney Art Collection is part of the historic Carnegie Charles City Public Library which offers its own architectural beauty. While on a trip with the Midwest Travel Network I saw this amazing library, which has a gallery that the public can come and enjoy. The exhibit includes masters like Rembrandt, Grant Wood, and Salvadore Dali, to name a few. Photographer Arthur Mooney left this magnificent collection to the Charles City Library.
Pro Tip: Stay at the Red Cedar Lodge for luxury cabin accommodations. Located right outside of town, this is a great family or girl’s getaway stay.
6. Elk Horn and Kimballton, Iowa — Art And Architecture
Elk Horn, Iowa, and its sister town Kimballton are Danish communities I visited on a hosted trip. In Elk Horn, the Danish Windmill is a windmill built in 1848 in Denmark. The windmill was disassembled, transported to the U.S., and reassembled in this small community. Visitors can tour this remarkable windmill. Also, enjoy a view of the veterans mural in Elk Horn.
Kimballton has The Little Mermaid Statue Garden. Established in1978 a replica of the famous Little Mermaid statue of Copenhagen, Denmark is in the center of the fountain. There are also eight different bronze sculptures depicting Hans Christian Andersen’s famous tales.
Another sculpture that is an Iowa “thing” is the Freedom Rock, there are several of these boulders throughout rural Iowa painted as a “Thank You” for our nation’s veterans.
7. Hurst Lime Works — Maquoketa, Iowa — Architecture
The Hurst Lime Works located outside Maquoketa, Iowa, offers visitors a view and walk among the Hurst lime kilns. The Hurst Lime Works is an amazing architectural sight with a fascinating history. According to the placard outside of the huge lime works, “The kilns were used to produce lime from local stone quarries. Lime mortar was used for building foundations, plasterwork, and as a finishing coat. More than 8,000 barrels of lime were produced weekly during peak operation.”
Pro Tip: While in Maquoketa stop and dine at the historic Decker Hotel. Good food and a cool environment!