Art on the Byways: Artwork approved for Founders Park

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Cara Briggs Farmer, a Marion, Iowa-based artist, has created a sculpture that will be placed this summer in Founders Park.

By Pam Reinig
Register Editor

The Elkader City Council last week approved an Art on the Byways Project, which will eventually result in the placement of a metal sculpture in Founders Park.
Three Bells is the title of the piece created by Marion artist Cara Briggs Farmer. The artwork has been designed to “reflect the rolling hills of the countryside and to echo the bells of the Clayton County Courthouse and St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.
Total cost of the project is estimated at just under $8,400.  Most will be covered by three grants: Byways of Iowa Foundation, $3,500; Clayton County Foundation for the Future, $1,000; and Upper Mississippi Gaming Corporation, $2,500. The remaining $1,400 will come from private donations to the project. It is hoped that the piece will be installed as part of the 2018 Art in the Park festival in August.
The Register has an opportunity to interview the artist. Here are responses to the questions we put to Briggs Farmer.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I grew up in Clinton, Iowa.  I’m a total river rat, and spent the better part of my childhood in the woods and bluffs around the Mississippi.  I also had a penchant for picking up tools and building things.  When I was in sixth grade, I saw windsurfing on TV for the first time. Lacking the ability to buy (or even find) a sailboard, I built a six-foot sail for my skateboard.  That was one of my best bad ideas as a kid. After one terrifying ride, that sail went right in the trash. Then I saw snowboarding on TV and modified a sled with homemade bindings.  That idea actually kind of worked.
When/how did you get interested in art?
I was always kind of a weird kid, and when I started high school I immediately found my tribe in the theater department.  Building sets was my jam, and I got pretty good at it.  Good enough to get a tech theater scholarship my senior year.  I went to UNI and majored in theater, then split for Minneapolis.  I had a great first career as the tech director of a professional theater in Saint Paul; engineering, building, and sometimes designing stage scenery.  After eight years, I was ready to make art on my own terms and came back to my home state.  And this was a great choice.
My wife and I make our home in Marion, and are the proud owners of a small commercial building that houses both my gallery and weld shop.  My work as an artist is a good balance of fine art, custom metalwork, and (now) public art.
What was your inspiration for the Elkader piece?
The piece I’m proposing for Elkader (“Three Bells”) comes from three points of inspiration:  the beautiful rolling hills leading into town, the prominence of both the clock tower and the church bell tower, and the super cool inclusive playground in the park.  I thought it would be nice to propose a sculpture that did more than just sit there. So this piece has three bells in it. The bells will be made from recycled compressed gas cylinders and will have inverted pendulums above them. I promise they won’t ring on their own.
As for how I approach art:  I think there’s already enough lofty, esoteric, “What does it mean?” art in the world. I’m much more interested in getting to know a community before I design something; asking questions and listening to the people who will have to look at the thing every day. I understand that whatever I conceive, it’s only one idea from one person.  So I stay open to criticism because it yields better art.  I like to mix recycled materials in to my work because it offers people a point of reference.  It’s also really satisfying to pull something out of the junkyard and put it in a piece of art.

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