Iowa Alumni Magazine | April 2008 | Features

Art for Art's Sake

By Tina Owen

Whether it's a bold contemporary print or a velvet portrait of Elvis, the art we choose to decorate our homes speaks to our souls.

"Beauty is in the eye of beholder" aptly describes the intensely personal statements we make with the paintings we hang on our bedroom walls, the sculptures that inhabit our living rooms, and the quirky little objects that make us smile.

Of course, you don't have to be an expert to appreciate art, but when you are such an expert—when you live and breathe art, work with it every day, surround yourself with it—how does that affect your choices and style? It's like wondering about a famous film director's favorite movie or the book lying on a best-selling author's nightstand.

Iowa City is famous for its artistic vibe and the creative types drawn here by the UI Museum of Art, the UI School of Art and Art History, and several notable galleries and festivals. Iowa Alumni Magazine asked a number of local professional art-lovers to reveal some of the art they can't live without.

Todd Thelen and Eric Dean

Every cupboard, shelf, and cabinet—every nook and cranny—in Todd Thelen and Eric Dean's Iowa City home holds some kind of treasure: American art pottery, modern sculptures, a Southeast Asian tin mask, religious icons, Native American pottery, 1960s Norwegian fondue sets, colorful anodized aluminum tableware.

Self-confessed "magpies," Thelen, 90MA, 93MFA, owner of the Artifacts vintage store downtown, and Dean, chief curator of visual materials at the UI School of Art and Art History, collect a dizzying array of art items. The two artists (Thelen is a printmaker, Dean a photographer) particularly cherish items that are handmade by an individual, that establish a connection with that artist's vision and personality. As a result, their home holds more than artwork—it's full of memories.

This green pot here? Thelen and Dean fell in love with it on a two-week vacation touring all the art potteries in North Carolina. The hulking sculpture that encases a chunk of wood in a cage of nails? They purchased it from an M.F.A. student at the UI.

"It sounds corny, but art is our lives," says Dean. "It's an important part of who we are. It's not simply that we have a life and bring art into it-the two are intertwined."

Howard Collinson

UI Museum of Art director Howard Collinson admits to a surprisingly complicated relationship with art.

"Like many museum directors and curators, I have a problematic love-hate relationship with art objects," he explains. "At work, I'm surrounded by thousands of beautiful objects, but along with the creative possibilities they represent comes the burden of care."

At home, Collinson shares his space with a relatively small collection that includes several works by artists he knows personally. UI associate art professor Susan White created the stunning 2001 acrylic and enamel on canvas called Hegemony that dominates Collinson's dining room.

"It reminds me of fireworks," says Collinson. "Most importantly, it's art I can live with."

Don Rinner

Color sparkles, shimmers, and gleams in Don Rinner's personal art collection.
Although the actual pieces vary dramatically in shape, size, texture, and medium—including wood, paper, metal, stone, and ceramics—Rinner often finds himself drawn to the same kind of glowing hues and glossy forms he deals with in his work as a goldsmith, jeweler, and part-owner of the Iowa Artisans Gallery.

On one wall of his living room, a thread painting created by Huichol Indians from Mexico radiates fluorescent shades of pinks, turquoise, and yellow. On a nearby coffee table, a crimson and yellow etched aluminum and acrylic bowl by Iowa artist Louise Rauh, 94BFA, 97MFA, 00MFA, displays a striking combination of toughness and fragility.

Rinner recognizes and appreciates the technical skills and creative visions that his fellow artists poured into their pieces. "They've invested a lot of time in their work," he says. "And each piece is unique."

Tom Aprile and Laura Young

Everyday, simple objects take on new meaning and artistic relevance in the home of two UI art professors.

In Laura Young and Tom Aprile's light-filled Iowa City home, work-worn tools lean on window ledges, antique carnival game wheels line the walls, and hand-crafted folk art toys perch on ledges and shelves.

Folk art—with its simple, honest, and inventive qualities and its clean geometric lines—appeals to both Aprile, a sculptor, and Young, a painter. In fact, some items from Young's collection of antique funnels made their way into her distinctive still-life paintings.

As seen through artists' eyes, even mundane objects become imbued with creative possibilities—and surprising eloquence. Hanging near the professors' kitchen is artist and UI M.F.A. candidate Terry Rathje's, 06MA, contemporary take on a carnival wheel, which offers this thoughtful motto: "Love is Fairly Rare; Life is Rarely Fair."