116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / Life
By Diana Nollen/The Gazette
Two fall shows at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art contain books of revelations for museum curator Sean Ulmer.
The pottery that stunned him when he met Clary Illian back in 2005 or 2006 has evolved into a solo show beginning Saturday and a book. A book by Charles Barth has evolved into the painter and printmaker's first solo show at the museum since his 1991 exhibition, “Los Colores de Mexico.”
He has had many area exhibits over the years, from college galleries to the Campbell Steele Gallery in Marion. He also created a Day of the Dead altar for a 1991 “Dia de los Muertos” event at CSPS in Cedar Rapids. The following year, that altar won “best of show” honors at the 41st Iowa Art Exhibit at the Des Moines Art Center.
His new Cedar Rapids exhibition, “Charles Barth: A Kaleidoscope of Culture,” opens Sept. 8 and runs through Jan. 5 in the Museum of Art's second-floor gallery, where historic Cedar Rapids postcards are on display.
The show takes its name from Barth's book, published in 2009 and featured in The Gazette that year with this description:
“(The book) captures his vision of the history and mystery of the land, through 50 intaglio prints that leap off the page in a kaleidoscope of color. Based on 25 years of traveling through Mexico with his wife and students, the prints incorporate images of ancestors, goddesses, cultural icons, famous artists, including Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and lots of skeletons, influenced by the Day of the Dead festival.”
“When I got a copy of this book, I thought, ‘My goodness, we really need to do a show,'?” Ulmer says.
That time has come, and the exhibition will feature 30 works by Barth, 69, who taught art for 30 years at Mount Mercy University before retiring in 2003. He and his wife, Ellen, spend spring and fall in Cedar Rapids and summer and winter in Oaxaca - pronounced “wa-hock-a” - in southern Mexico. The city, nestled in a temperate valley, boasts more than 250,000 inhabitants and a vibrant art community, rich with museums, galleries and artisans.
Barth will return to Cedar Rapids for the exhibition and its opening. In the meantime, he shared his thoughts on the event through an email interview with The Gazette.
Q: What are you looking forward to sharing with your Iowa audience through the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art exhibition?
A: A glimpse of the culture of Mexico and the differences that it has to offer. For instance, 1) how the Day of the Dead is celebrated as a joyful event, 2) the celebration of real superheroes such as El Santo, the great wrestler and 3) the exciting contributions of artists such as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
Q: What will we see in the exhibition?
A: What you will see in this exhibit is an altar for a Day of the Dead dedicated to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, an altarpiece dedicated to El Santo, a famous wrestler, gouache paintings and intaglio prints involving a variety of Mexican subjects, and several wearable art pieces related to Mexican themes.
Q: Tell me a little about the altar you'll be building during the Cedar Rapids exhibition.
A: The Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico on the evening of Nov. 1 through Nov. 2. On this special day, the Mexicans reconnect with their departed loved ones by displaying altars in their homes and decorating their graves in the cemetery.
The altar in this exhibition is dedicated to Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Diego is one of the great Mexican muralists the 20th century and Frida is the most popular Mexican female artist. This altar features a stage built by my son-in-law, Steve Takes. On the stage, Frida and Diego, as marionettes, give the performance of their lives which is an art installation. They are guided by a life-size skeletal version of Frida above a velvet painting screen backdrop. The art contains photos of Frida and Diego, tissue paper marigold flowers, paper cuttings, candles, incense, food made of papier-mache and a variety of Mexican Folk Art objects.
On a secondary level, the altar is also dedicated to our recently deceased cats Frida and Diega. Diega was a female. The cats resided with my wife, Ellen, and me for 15 years. Images will be present in the form of wood carvings and photos.
Q: What do you hope audiences learn from this exhibition?
A: I hope that the audience will learn that our Southern neighbor is a very thriving and culturally rich country. I hope that the audience understands and appreciates some of the differences of this unique country of Mexico.
Q: What kind of impressions do you hope they'll take away?
A: I hope that audiences will form impressions of the joy of celebrating the Day of the Dead as a time to reflect and remember departed loved ones. Mexicans believe that in death there is a continuation of life. I also hope that visitors will be impressed with the expansive culture of Mexico including the imagery, color and tradition that the exhibit intends to reveal.