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Artist Perspective: Barbara Fedeler

Posted on February 10, 2021 at 2:00 PM by Guest Writer

Artist Barbara Fedeler describes her inspiration for the charcoal drawing Effigy Mounds Winter Overlook, included in Compelling Ground: Landscapes, Environments, and Peoples of Iowa exhibition at the Brunnier Art Museum.

“The landscapes of Northeastern Iowa ground me. The farmed fields and wooded valleys were home to my family. We worked the fields and livestock, processed the garden produce, gathered nuts and berries from the woods, and whiled away time exploring and learning the land surrounding the farmstead. This land, as I remember it, was diverse and productive, and reflected ideals of family farming and ownership.

In the late 1980s response to economics, swaths of Iowa’s farmlands surrounding the Volga River Valley were placed in conservation reserve programs. This move, late in the farming crisis, converted acres of erodible farmland into ten to fifteen year ‘set-aside’ programs. My return to Iowa, post graduate school, correlated with this conversion of land, and spurred me to capture the scenic valleys and farmlands inspirational since childhood.

The early landscape drawings featured grasses interrupted by small slices of corn, bean, and hay fields. The visual contrasts of texture and mass were subtly intriguing. Created with willow charcoal, the drawings invited viewers to travel across the land, over the hills and through the valleys. Characterized by slightly elevated vantage points, enlarged middle ground spaces, and markers for the traveler to pause, these drawings speak of beauty and promise.

Farm policies and land use have changed dramatically in the last 25-35 years. Corporate agriculture has expanded corn and bean fields. Brushy trees and fences between small fields were cleared, and monocrops march from me to the horizon. It is a bland, uniform plane. The loss of smaller farmsteads with their curious mix of outbuildings, broadening of driveways for larger equipment, building of large sheds using metal pre-fab materials and a declining rural population have impacted my source images. These are altered landscapes, and I seek other landscapes for inspiration.

Effigy Mounds National Monument, near Marquette, IA, is a site I visited annually in the late fall from 1988-2005. On these bluffs, high above the Mississippi River, the Native Americans built these mounds as burial grounds to honor their loved ones. The trails wind through effigy mounds and majestic native trees, offering glimpses of the massive Mississippi waterways and estuaries. In this nature there is remembrance of the past, and the past alterations of these lands connected a people with a place.

In the fall of 2017, after artist residencies spent drawing the landscapes of Arizona and Mississippi, I returned to Effigy Mounds. Multiple visits and observations of seasonal changes were the catalyst for multiple drawings, including the panoramic view titled Effigy Mounds Winter Overlook.”

~ Barbara Fedeler


Effigy Mounds Winter Overlook, 2020
Barbara Fedeler
Willow charcoal on paper
On loan from the artist.

Categories: Artists

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