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Food for Thought

While I’d depended on August to be hot and dry, I hadn’t expected hot and wet. After canceling our art class one week because of a soaking downpour, I decided I should have an alternate plan for the next rainy art day. I communicated with mothers about the idea of taking the class to the Museum of Natural History to draw some of the animals on exhibit there. I provided hard-backed tablets and clipboards for drawing, along with assorted pencils, crayons, charcoal, erasers and plain white typing paper. There were only four children besides my own that day, and we headed for Macbride Hall on the Pentacrest in downtown Iowa City. Summer classes at the University were over with, so we found nearby parking and relatively empty halls when we got there.
At first, the kids scurried about looking at the various exhibits as I had anticipated. As there seemed to be no one for them to disturb, I let them explore and they finally settled down to draw. This was during the early 1960s, well before the renovation of Macbride Hall, and most of the exhibits were simply collections of taxidermy specimens with very few of them placed in realistic settings or dioramas. After the initial flurry of exclaiming and running from place to place, the kids settled down to drawing and became silent in their concentration. The variety of kangaroos was very popular, as was a gorgeous bobcat – which I had always admired. Also, the kids seemed to be attracted to the birds, some of which were posed in realistic attitudes. On that day I got, by far, the best artwork the kids had done all summer.
Summer was winding down and I began thinking about the possibility of having a neighborhood art exhibit on one of the last Sundays before school started. The kids and I talked about it and they agreed to ask their mothers to bake cookies or to make punch. I could provide paper plates and cups, but knew I’d be too busy mounting the exhibit to have time for baking cookies. The response was enthusiastic and I began sorting through the accumulated artwork, planning display space, urging the kids to bring back some of their favorite projects – and praying for nice weather. Someone notified the Press-Citizen of our plans, and a reporter promised to show up and take pictures at the exhibit.
The designated day dawned cool and cloudy with a forecast of a possibility of rain. It would have been so much easier to make a decision about whether or not to go ahead with the exhibit if the weather had been definitely fair or foul. This vaguely threatening, in-between weather had me teetering on a wobbly margin of indecision. When I could get no definite weather forecast to help me, I decided to continue with the plan. I had strung wires across the yard to suspend some of the artwork from. The fence around our yard would provide a surface for fastening drawings and other two-dimensional pieces. The cave could go back in its original place, supported by broomsticks and the clothesline. Although the kids had never completed the Egyptian tomb paintings, there were enough to make an interesting display when I taped them to one of the plywood panels. The tragic circus panorama – with its repeated theme of collapsing trapezes – fitted nicely along one section of the fence. We hung some of the Egyptian jewelry and fans from the clothesline.
My nephew, who was living with us while attending college and was still there because of his part-time job, helped with the last-minute hanging of most of the drawings. We figured that if it started to rain the two of us would be able to save most of the artwork before it got very wet. The cave and other unwieldy displays would just have to be sacrificed in a real downpour. As the scheduled 2 p.m. time for the exhibit neared, we set up the refreshment table, strung my Christmas tree lights over a small tree near the table, and put up a sign in the front yard announcing that there was an art exhibit in the backyard until 4 p.m. – public welcome – though nobody but the immediate neighborhood and the woman from the newspaper showed up.
My art students were excited and proud of their achievements. Their parents were appreciative of the artwork and seemed to enjoy the neighborhood picnic atmosphere. Some of the children escorted an elderly neighbor across the street to see the exhibit and he immediately became the unofficial guest of honor. It was the only time in all the years I lived there that I saw him leave his house.