'The Mighty Fine Line,' by William Gustafson. Photo by Bruce Walters.

The first railroad bridge across the Mississippi (at Rock Island) and the establishment of industry in Moline are commemorated in two Quad Cities murals painted by William Gustafson. One can almost feel the wheel of progress beginning to turn in the depiction of these transformative events.

The Mighty Fine Line is a 55-by-45-foot mural on the south side of Steve's Old Time Tap in the Rock Island District, near the corner of Third Avenue and 17th Street. Painted in 2006, the mural marks the 150th anniversary of the completion of the first rail bridge to span the Mississippi River. Gustafson, who teaches art at Rock Island High School, worked with Curtis Roseman - a local historian and professor emeritus at the University of Southern California - to provide historic details of the mural's subjects. As Gustafson told me in an interview, historic accuracy in these works was important to him.

'The Peaceful Warriors,' by Skip Willits. Photo by Bruce Walters.

The Peaceful Warriors by Skip Willits and No Future - No Past - No You - No Me by Terry Rathje are located in an alley, not displayed prominently at a building's entrance or in an open location as one might expect for such thoughtful and professionally produced artworks. Both artists, however, created their pieces knowing that they would be displayed alongside graffiti, dumpsters, and loading docks.

Entering the alley between Second and Third avenues from 17th Street in the Rock Island District - near Theo's Java Club - one is initially met by Willits' three metal sculptures mounted high on a brick wall. The welded masks, made from hot rolled-metal sheets, are approximately five feet in height. In the daytime, they feel benign; their gaze is diffident. At night, they feel like armored sentries posted at an entry into darkness.

'Sketch for a Cubist Still Life' (1938), from the collection of the Augustana College Art Museum

The Abstract Expressionist artist Perle Fine once said, "If I feel something will not stand up 40 years from now, I am not interested in doing that kind of thing."

Susan Knowles, who curated the career retrospective Tranquil Power: The Art of Perle Fine that closes October 23 at the Augustana College Art Museum, believes that the artist's output met that high standard.

The irony is that Fine, late in her life and until the past decade, was largely "forgotten," Knowles said in a recent phone interview.

Part of that is a function of Abstract Expressionism being distilled in the cultural memory to a few key figures. "Now it seems like all we know is Pollock and de Kooning," Knowles said.

But even though Fine was an active, exemplary, and important participant in the mid-20th Century movement, her notoriety diminished over time while many of her peers' didn't. She was interviewed, covered by the media, collected, and invited by Willem de Kooning to join the exclusive Artists' Club. Yet when the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1978 organized a show about the "formative years" of Abstract Expressionism, for example, it omitted Fine.

'Exhaling Dissolution' in Faye's Field. Photo by Bruce Walters. Click on the image for a larger version.

Just north of the corner of 18th Street and Middle Road in Bettendorf is - strangely - a large head made of bark in an open field. More than 13 feet tall, it's hard to miss. What makes the sculpture feel truly immense, however, is how the artist has fulfilled her goal of "giving the Earth a voice" through this work.

'Exhaling Dissolution.' Photo by Bruce Walters. Click on the image for a larger version.The sculpture, created by Sarah Deppe - a 24-year-old artist from Maquoketa, Iowa - is meant to represent the natural world. Its surface is made of cottonwood bark found on the ground. As Deppe has written: "I incorporate bark and wood because I believe it is less detrimental for the environment than other mediums. I feel as though I am simply borrowing from nature, and it will be returned to the Earth as it decomposes off my sculptures."

The artwork's title, Exhaling Dissolution, refers to the pollution constantly being spewed into the environment.

Inspired by Deppe's research into deforestation, the artwork took four months to plan and construct. Since its completion in 2010, it has been displayed on the Northern Iowa University campus and along the Riverwalk in the Port of Dubuque before being installed in Bettendorf on June 29, 2012. The artwork will be displayed in Faye's Field for only one year - through June 2013.

Pre-1892 downtown Davenport

I recently came across a photograph of downtown Davenport taken from the corner of Second and Harrison streets and facing north. The photo has a 1907 copyright date but appears to have been taken before 1892, when the Redstone Building was built. As I looked at the image carefully, I was struck by the realization that nothing in this photo - not one building or object - still exists.

I also saw a set of century-old photos of a roller coaster, merry-go-round, music pavilion, bowling alley, tunnel of love, and steep water ride - proclaimed as the largest amusement park west of Chicago - at the present-day location of the Black Hawk State Historic Site. It is so strange to see old photos that are identified as places we know well, yet little in them is familiar.

From one year to the next, the Quad Cities seem to change little. Over the course of decades, however, the differences are dramatic.

The same is true of public artworks. Many dozens of artworks have been painted over, removed, or relocated. Not surprisingly, aging materials account for the disappearance of many of these artworks; the cumulative effects of sunlight and temperature extremes take their toll on paint and materials such as wood.

The decision to move an artwork to another site, on the other hand, usually stems from remodeling or changes in ownership of the property where the artwork was originally situated.

The following are some of the best-known artworks in the Quad Cities that have been removed or relocated. Some were painted on walls; some stood prominently in front of buildings; and some lived in parks and cemeteries. Some were created by renowned artists, others by area students. What they have in common is that they are no longer at their original sites.

'Davenport Blues.' Courtesy Loren Shaw Hellige.

Marlene Miller, 'Girl 1'A museum patron expects to find informative signage near an artwork., including biographical information about the artist, a description of the piece's historical context, or critical acclaim. Instead, the placard near the Marlene Miller sculpture Girl 1 - currently on display in the Figge Art Museum's Waxing Poetic show - reads: "what gestates in the roots unseen / reveals herself as tall on the inside / grown whole-sprung from a trunk / full of well manners & bluest eyes / puzzled by where she comes from."

This pairing of a visual work with a poem highlights how we assign meaning to art. In his words, Ryan Collins captures the literal appearance of the work- referencing the tree trunk, the girl's intensely blue eyes, and her polite but befuddled posture and expression.

But it also reads the sculpture. "Grown whole-sprung" and "tall on the inside" refer to the aged and androgynous face, contrasted with the child's body: The texture of the head is chunky and scratchy, as opposed to the smoothness of the body. Collins imagines the sudden appearance of this creature, enhancing our view of it without dictating a specific interpretation.

The exhibit - running through October 7 - is less about the artworks as stand-alone objects than about the process of inferring meaning. In addition to artworks matched with poetry in specific response to them, viewers are invited to create their own written reactions. At the center of the exhibit is a writing table with pens and paper, and under each work is a hanging packet of collected visitor responses. The technologically inclined are prompted to Tweet their responses to designated hashtags.

Dillon Memorial. Photo by Bruce Walters.

Davenport's Main Street begins at a fountain in LeClaire Park and leads directly to another in Vander Veer Botanical Park to the north. Both are significant city landmarks, yet each has a distinct history and appearance.

Campbell's Island war-memorial bronze relief. Photo by Bruce Walters.

On Campbell's Island is a war memorial side-by-side with an artwork dedicated to peace. One rises imposingly; the other is unassumingly low to the ground. Together, they give us a greater perspective on the area's history than if we were to consider them separately.

Campbell's Island war memorial. Photo by Bruce Walters.Campbell's Island is just north of East Moline, accessible from Illinois Route 84. The island is named for U.S. Lieutenant John Campbell, who was leading three gunboats past it on July 19, 1814, when his boat was grounded during a storm. While vulnerable, they were attacked by an estimated 500 Sauk warriors allied with the British Army. The attack led by Black Hawk and the ensuing fight became known as the Battle of Rock Island Rapids - one of the most western battles of the War of 1812. In all, there were between 35 and 37 casualities (depending on the source) among Campbell's men and their families - including the deaths of 14 men, a woman, and a child.

In 1908, the Campbell's Island State Memorial was dedicated on the site where the lieutenant's boat lay derelict for years. The monument is maintained by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency as a state historic site.

David Plowden, 'Bean Field & House, Grundy County, Iowa 2003'

Iowa is hardly renowned for dramatic landscape or architecture. One can drive for miles with no sign of life other than a road and a tilled field.

Bean Field & House, Grundy County, Iowa 2003 by photographer David Plowden dramatically depicts such a bare scene. Roughly 80 percent of the composition is sky, with sparse, fluffy clouds. At the bottom is a strip of dark land, with rows of crops running to the horizon. On the left side is a boxy house, which becomes an interesting subject when framed by the immense sky. The lines of beans bring the viewers' eyes upward, emphasizing the void. The tininess of the house in the picture makes the viewer feel diminutive.

Plowden's composition illustrates that the beauty of Midwestern scenery often lies in its grand simplicity, and how that alters the sense of scale. The stark flatness of the land, only occasionally punctuated by trees or farm buildings, shifts our field of vision; the sky begins to seems bigger, and everything on the ground becomes smaller.

David Plowden's Iowa (at the Figge Art Museum through August 26) masterfully captures the scale-warping effects of the landscape, and the photographer's 47 images of rural and small-town Iowa ably document the Midwestern agricultural aesthetic.

But he also manipulates and confuses viewers' perceptions - of size, distance, plainness, and even time - through artistic tools such as juxtaposition, viewing angle, and lack of context.

Stuart Morris, 'Lloyd's Trek.' Photo by Bruce Walters.

A large abstract sculpture, Lloyd's Trek, greets visitors to Schwiebert Riverfront Park in the District of Rock Island. Standing some 20 feet tall at the park's southwest corner, the sculpture seems to watch protectively over the many areas of activities: a fountain meant to be run through; a playground that combines digital game elements with contemporary slides, swings, and climbing structures; a checkerboard concrete beach; walkways; and a performance stage.

The artwork feels fresh and intuitive. Though the artist, Stuart Morris, said it is an abstraction of a walking figure, its playful balance and irregular shapes also suggest a precarious stack of blocks or a doorway to the park.

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