116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — Cara Briggs Farmer has been a busy artist in Eastern Iowa over the last few years.
Briggs Farmer, 46, has two public projects completed in Marion with another large one on the way, a few in Cedar Rapids, two in Iowa City and some sprinkled in smaller communities, including Anamosa, Elkader, Manchester and Waukon.
Plus, she’s lost count of the work she’s done for private homes.
“I have done more large-scale commissions in the last year than I ever had,” Briggs Farmer said.
She is the owner of Marion business Synergy Metalworks, where she creates art pieces from steel and scrap metal.
In Marion, Briggs Farmer is the artist behind the Uptown Artway arch, titled “Prairie Schooled,” her first large-scale project. On the anniversary of the 2020 derecho, she also unveiled a derecho-inspired art piece in City Hall titled “Symbiosis.”
The City Hall barrier, made of stainless steel and polycarbonate, incorporates design elements from photos the artist took while on a walk at Thomas Park, including images of a tree canopy and stump. The project cost $8,500 and was less expensive than other barrier options being looked at by the city, including bulletproof glass.
Her newest project for Marion is the design of the new pedestrian bridge spanning Marion Boulevard.
Peterson Contractors Inc. began work for the new bridge in August. The project will take 95 working days or 19 weeks of good weather, Marion Associate Planner Kesha Billings said.
“We anticipate construction to be complete in the spring of 2022,” Billings said.
As the bridge is being partly funded with federal funds, Briggs Farmer’s portion of the project, which includes decorative columns, cannot be added until the Iowa Department of Transportation closes out of the project file. That could be months after the bridge is up and running, Billings said.
However, the decorative railings Briggs Farmer designed are part of the project that Peterson Contractors is in charge of because of the safety aspect so they will be installed with the rest of the bridge’s main structure.
“Cara has been involved in every step and had design input regarding the bid package items that will not actually be contributed by her,” Billings said.
Briggs Farmer said her design is very “prairie school” and architectural. She calls the project “Nimbus,” which is defined as a luminous cloud or a halo surrounding a supernatural being or a saint.
“That is honestly as a citizen and working artist, how I feel about Marion,” she said. “It’s also a nod to the historical Uptown.”
Briggs Farmer gained experience over decades of working in the arts. A Clinton native and graduate of the University of Northern Iowa, Briggs Farmer moved up to the Twin Cities in Minnesota to work as a technical director for a theater.
During her years in that role, she designed, engineered and built stage scenery and learned to weld.
“It’s just a very intense long schedule and at some point, you just hit burnout physically and mentally. I wanted to make art on my own terms. I wanted a greater sense of permanence,” Briggs Farmer said.
She moved back to Iowa, eventually meeting her wife and settling in Marion, where she opened her business.
“I discovered that Marion and Cedar Rapids is a spectacular place to be a working artist,” she said. “There’s some special magic about our population. It’s big enough to support the arts but because of our socioeconomic diversity, you can find your spot here. The population is so open-minded when it comes to the arts.”
And here in Eastern Iowa, Briggs Farmer has also found a permanence in her art. The pieces she has designed for cities like Marion will be viewed by residents for decades to come.
“It does make me stand up a little taller and get a little swagger, seeing things I’ve made, and I always think about everyone who had a part in getting it there,” Briggs Farmer said. “What I love about installation is it’s always a group effort. It goes back to that community effort of doing theater. It’s like ‘come on kids, let’s put on a show.’”
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