116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Nearly 10,000 miles separate Eastern Iowa and the Australian Outback, but artistic themes unite them.
Grant Wood in the verdant Heartland and the Indigenous people living in the red earth desert half a world away have embraced the artistic beauty in the land beneath their feet and the patterns it evokes.
And now, people in Wood’s territory can see the patterns from Australia in “Dreamings: Australian Aboriginal Paintings.” The exhibit features 31 recent works of acrylic paint on linen canvas, painstakingly created by the artists of the Warlukurlangu Workshop and the nearby Indigenous villages of Yuendumu and Nyirripi, in central Australia.
The works are on view at least through June 21 in the ground floor gallery at the CRST Corporate Headquarters in downtown Cedar Rapids. They’re hanging from scaffolding facing First Street SE, and are easy to see day and night from the sidewalk, or by appointment inside the gallery.
All the pieces are for sale, and because the workshop pays its artists as pieces are completed, the funds raised through exhibit sales are channeled back into improving village life. The money has paid for a grocery store, a child care center and even a vehicle that can be used for trips outside the villages.
Janelle McClain, 72, former owner of the CornerHouse Gallery in Cedar Rapids with her husband, George, curated the exhibit, and arranged to have the pieces shipped to Cedar Rapids.
So far, about half the pieces have been sold, with some buyers agreeing to keep their purchases on display during the exhibit. Prices range from $125 to $3,000 for the largest work, but the average cost is $200 to $500, McClain said.
Works taken to their new homes before the show closes will be replaced by other pieces shipped to Cedar Rapids.
“It will be kind of an evolving exhibition,” McClain said.
What: “Dreamings: Australian Aboriginal Paintings”
Where: Ground floor gallery, CRST Corporate Headquarters, 201 First St. SE., Cedar Rapids
When: Through June 21; view from sidewalk day and night, or by appointment via email at email@example.com or website dreamings.squarespace.com/contact
Open viewings: 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday; noon to 2 p.m. May 12 and 20
Information: Janelle McClain, McClain Consulting, (319) 270-0017; email firstname.lastname@example.org or online at dreamings.squarespace.com/
She and her husband eventually will hand them off to their son, Logan, to exhibit and sell in Portland, Ore.
The McClains live in Cedar Rapids and have family ties to Australia that began with an exchange student George’s family hosted in 1960. Through the years, both families have visited each others’ homelands. In the 1990s, their Australian friends arranged for the McClains to see the Warlukurlangu Workshop where the pieces are made, and Janelle fell in love with the spirit and the artistry there.
She specializes in American Regionalism, and immediately recognized the parallel fascination with pattern between Wood and the Indigenous artists.
"You see it in these works. You see it in Grant Wood’s work, especially his propensity to liking pattern, being drawn to pattern. You see it in so many works,“ she said, noting that she also observed the artistic lure of patterns when she and George lived in Alaska and France early in their marriage. “You see it everywhere. You see it in the American West.
“That draw to pattern is a universal thing,” she said, seen across various cultures.
If a viewer didn’t know the origin stories, McClain feels the Aboriginal pieces look like they could have been created by contemporary artists in New York, instead of mostly by women, working on the ground, dipping sticks into acrylic paint half a world away.
“When you understand where they come from, it gives you all these levels of interest,” she said.
Aboriginal artists also weave stories into their designs. Outsiders are given just a surface explanation, but the meanings go much deeper for people living with these traditions. These story paintings are called “dreamings.”
From what she’s been told, McClain said the imagery often refers to the land, finding water, water holes, watching the movement of animals, as well as desert animals and some rather gory scenes of snakes devouring their prey.
“You’ll see animal footprints in a lot of these if you start looking,” she said. “The painting we bought when we were at the workshop, the woman artist told us it was all about a particular bird whose name I cannot remember, who was trying to find a waterfall.”
Hunting is another theme, as the women typically hunt for eggs and the seed-bearing grasses they could grind into flour for sustenance while the men were away hunting for meat. The artist pointed out that little ovals inside circles signify eggs.
Each of the exhibition paintings has an accompanying story supplied by the artist. To see them, click on each painting posted at dreamings.squarespace.com/
McClain said the exhibit serves as a way to create both a virtual and safe in-person experience during this time of pandemic.
“It's almost like traveling around the world,” she said.
Comments: (319) 368-8508; email@example.com