Art on the Farm—Drawing in visitors, Connecting to Agriculture

Farm Manager’s Mansion

It’s hard to miss a piece of art at the Allee Memorial Demonstration Farm. The artwork stands three stories tall and is painted a dozen colors.

When George Allee left his farm near Newell, Iowa, to Iowa State upon his death in 1958, the 15-room Victorian mansion he lived in on the property became the home of the farm manager. Over time, CALS administrators wondered what to do with the home because of the expense of maintaining the building built in 1891.

Local residents formed the Newell Historical Society to restore and preserve the Queen Anne style structure, and began leasing the mansion for $1 in 1989. Period furnishings, wallpaper and memorabilia decorate the mansion, which was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1992.

Marilyn Monson and her husband, Paul, are members of the society and among the dozens of volunteers who have put in thousands of hours restoring the home. She helps with furnishings and displays, while Paul papers the walls and ceilings. Bradbury & Bradbury Art Wallpaper of California supply the coverings that make the walls and ceilings, themselves, works of art.

Hundreds of visitors tour the Allee Mansion each year as both gallery and artwork. Homes in the Queen Anne style feature elaborate details and bright colors.

“We’re trying to recreate a Victorian lifestyle, not necessarily depict the home the way it was when the Allees lived there,” Marilyn Monson says.

Displays in the home connect it to agriculture. Mark Honeyman, animal science professor who is coordinator of the research farms, says the mansion attracts visitors who might not otherwise come to the farm.

“Once there, they often learn about agriculture and the Allee Farm’s research activities like the beef cattle that are part of a breeding project. The mansion is a strong tie to not only the local community but the state’s agricultural past,” Honeyman says.

One display contains information about the Allee family and parts of its collections. George Allee was a corn breeder who sponsored yield contests
in the early 1900s. He commissioned a painting that served as a trophy for the best ear of corn judged at a statewide contest, which hangs in the mansion.
A silver corn trophy is among others on display, on loan from the State Historical Society of Iowa.

Visitors touring the home are invited to work a hand corn sheller and grindstone. Monson said plans include renovating a bunkhouse near the mansion where the farm’s hired hands used to stay.

Native soils, community mural

2015-art-on-the-farm-community-muralNature has long inspired artistic expression. An example can be viewed in the Wallace Learning Center that houses the extension offices at the Armstrong Research and Demonstration Farm. The farm includes crops planted in strips to manage erosion on the sloping ground.

Ceramic artist Ingrid Lilligren, who is professor and chair of Iowa State University’s Department of Art and Visual Culture in the College of Design, produced a floor-to-ceiling artwork in the center’s lobby depicting the farm in tiles created with clay made from soils of the area. Her inspiration came from several sources.

“I was privileged to participate in the ISU Road Scholars Tour my second semester on campus,” she says. “We went to southwest Iowa and visited the Armstrong farm. I was deeply impressed by the impact of extension on the communities beyond Ames, and I continue to be humbled by all that we do in this arena.”

“When I was approached to create the mural, I remembered the research on row crops and obtained an aerial photo that I used in creating the imagery,” she says.

Lilligren met with local extension staff at the time about involving the community in naming the mural. “Field of Dreams,” suggested by an Exira couple, was judged the winning title.

Borlaug’s likeness and legacy

2015-art-on-the-farm-borlaugs-likenessAt the Borlaug Learning Center on the Northeast Farm near Nashua, an exhibit features Norman Borlaug, Northeast Iowa’s native son and Nobel Prize laureate, and his impact on agriculture and the world. The centerpiece is a smaller version of a statue of Borlaug that was produced for, and stands in, the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection.

The farm is known for its field research on crop and pest management and water quality. Additionally, Iowa State students designed or produced several pieces displayed at the center including a medallion on the floor of its entryway, ceramic sheaves of wheat and benches made from cherry grown in the area and other woods from countries where Borlaug did his research.