Waukee Public Library Chosen as New Home for Popular Outdoor Sculpture
Public artwork holds a unique place in communities, as it requires no museum admission, no gates, no guards and no velvet ropes. It’s just out in the open, welcoming, almost insistent that you ponder it with questions like, ‘Why is this here?’ or, ‘What is the meaning of this?’ Public art enhances the backdrop of our bustling daily lives to remind us of the quiet pleasures of beauty and creativity.
The lawn of the Waukee Public Library recently received such an enhancement in the form of a large iron sculpture. The man and woman from Grant Wood’s iconic “American Gothic” are central to the piece, called “Iowa–Past and Present–Living Fence.” The faces are flanked on each side by tall prairie grass and corn stalks.
This isn’t the sculpture’s first metro-area home. Crafted by artist John Brommel in 2003, the piece was initially commissioned for the William Krause family. (William Krause was the co-founder of Kum & Go and his son, Kyle Krause, is the current CEO.)
Krause had sent an architect to find an artist who could create something out of metal for a plot of land known as Teamwork Acres (along University Avenue, just west of SE Indigo Lane). Kum & Go often used this land for company events and training.
The search turned up Brommel, whose other works include “Pulling Together”—a large stainless steel sculpture featuring two hands holding pipe wrenches—which resides in front of the Plumber and Steamfitters Local Union No. 33.
Brommel said when he spoke with Krause about the commission, the businessman mentioned that one of his wife’s favorite works of art was “American Gothic,” and with that, the new sculpture’s central theme was agreed upon.
There was one major catch: Krause wanted the piece completed and installed in just 30 days due to an upcoming event. Krause also wanted it to be constructed out of metal from the junk pile of his friend’s family farm. Brommel did just that; he collected the metal, shaped it down to size and formed it into the piece he’d drawn freehand on his basement floor with a Sharpie.
“I constructed it in three sections that were bolted together, just so it would be narrow enough to get up the stairs,” said Brommel.
Once installed, the iconic “American Gothic” pair stood strong and tall with a red barn in the background. It was a slice of Americana, classically Iowan and a tribute to a beloved work of art, all in one.
When later asked to add a fence to the piece, Brommel took great pains to mimic the size and shapes of native Iowa tall grass and corn stalks. The addition made the piece 20 feet long, with heights ranging from three to 10 feet.
“I did the math so the pieces would progress in size according to the golden ratio,” Brommel said. “I model after how nature actually grows.”
Stainless steel rods form the fence stalks, and thin copper, which previously coated the Iowa State Capitol’s dome, form the thin silks topping the ears of corn.
Summer Evans, City of Waukee marketing and communications director, said the sculpture was moved to its new home near the Waukee Public Library by way of a parkland dedication. A developer, operating under the name of Grant Woods LLC, purchased the acreage on which the piece was previously installed. The art was sold as part of the property, which was purchased for a single family residential development.
“As a part of any residential development within the city of Waukee, the developer is responsible for dedicating a portion of the property to the city for parkland purposes,” Evans explained. “The amount of parkland dedication is based on the density of the development. In this case, the development is rather small, and the dedication requirement would have been minimal to the city.”
In lieu of sanctioning off any parkland within the development, the developer donated the artwork—appraised at $33,000—to the city, Evans said. She explained that several sites around Waukee were explored as potential homes for the art, but the library was ultimately chosen due to its “central location and extensive public use.”
Waukee Public Library director Kristine Larson is just one of many people in Waukee excited to have the piece added to the library grounds.
Larson said it’s a discussion piece for visitors, especially now that viewers can see it closer than before; each angle to the piece provides a unique view.
“I hope everyone takes the opportunity to stop by and see it,” said Larson. “It really connects with the progress of Iowa, and also Waukee.”
Mark your calendars to do just that at the upcoming dedication of the piece on Saturday, May 14 at the Waukee Public Library.