Abe Lincoln Enters Coles County, IllinoisArtists use certain visual cues to make a portrait feel heroic: bright, clear lighting, a low viewing perspective, strong or kind facial expressions, adoring masses, flying flags. These techniques cast the subject as trustworthy, powerful, and revered.

This is not how Charles Turzak did it. The print Abe Lincoln Enters Coles County, Illinois at first glance seems a traditional heroic portrait. A younger Lincoln stands in the center of the composition. The distant clouds appear to part behind his head, giving the effect of a halo and drawing our eyes to his face. He leans slightly to the left, muscles taught, in a pose seemingly moments away from action. He clutches an axe. His open collar, bare feet, and rolled-up sleeves suggest a hard-working everyman.

The John Deere Commons. Photo by Bruce Walters.

It's easy to start taking outdoor Christmas lights for granted about now. They have been draped over trees and strung along porch railings and under the eaves for weeks - even longer in the shopping centers.

Though often used with little real thought, they have symbolic connotations. It is intriguing to think of them as a modern equivalent of the Yule log that warmed our distant ancestors during the winter solstice. Or the guiding star over Bethlehem on the first Christmas.

Pause for a moment and consider how remarkable it is that these tiny electric lights can transform a bleak winter night into a delicately laced wonderland. How leafless trees can become magical, and simple homes can become places of wonderment. How they brighten more than the longest nights of the year. How fond memories grow from these fragile strings of lights.

Photo by Bruce Walters.

At the corner of Third Avenue and 19th Street in the Rock Island District is a glazed terra-cotta bust of an American Indian wearing a war bonnet that encircles his head, almost like the traditional painting of a halo. Arrows, peace pipes, and entwined snakes are also included in the symmetrical composition. This 10-foot-wide relief is placed above the second-story window on the rounded corner of the Fort Armstrong Theatre building.

Though the artwork is ornate, the dominant central face gives it a strong point of emphasis. The angular structure of the face and surrounding triangular patterns are counterbalanced by the overarching half-circle and circular shapes radiating from the composition's center.

The decorative patterns around the other second-floor windows and the building's outline are also composed of these geometric shapes and Native American symbols. The ivory-, blue-, yellow-, red-, and green-colored glaze stands out against the theatre's dark-red brick exterior.

Enrique Chagoya (American, born in Mexico 1953); 'The Headache,' after 'The Headache' by George Cruikshank, circa 1830, 2010; etching and chine collé; museum purchase.

Graphic Language: The Art & Literature of Comics (on display at the University of Iowa) traces the origins of comics, from the evolution of graphic style alongside printing technologies to their conceptual roots in satire and serialized short fiction. This path is well-defined through the chronological presentation of the works around the perimeter of the exhibit, and the inclusion of early images that are not yet "comics" yet were clear stepping stones for the medium.

Additionally, Graphic Language highlights the craft and technique of the individual comic artists. When converting hand-crafted images to reproduced prints, the subtle gestures of the hand of the artist are often lost. The original works, up to twice as large as their printed counterparts, show these subtleties. The explanatory labels and signage emphasize this point, and note the individual craft behind a usually mass-produced and commoditized medium.

Emma Farber, 'Zoning'

A school bus sits in an overgrown field, along with an abandoned car. A pipe bursts bright liquid in the upper right corner, and a bird's nest with blue eggs rests in the lower left. Keys dangle from the pipe, and a flashlight shines on the eggs. In the distance, we see an ancient-looking door emerging from a smudgy hillside in a vague landscape.

In her artist statement, Emma Farber articulates her works' theme of overcoming life's challenges, which she communicates through the use of significant symbols. This painting, Take Shelter, presents metaphors for shelter (the nest and door) as well as the means to access it (the keys and vehicles). The school bus has been lushly rendered, with attention to detail, and the eggs have a candy-like shine that entices the viewer. The choice of symbols reads easily to the viewer.

Take Shelter is typical of Farber's six paintings on display through October at the Phoenix Gallery, located at 1530 Fifth Avenue in Moline. Along with Farber's work are five paintings by Zachary Cleve, a fellow recent graduate from St. Ambrose University. Both artists present thoughtful content and areas of strong technique but could benefit from greater unity and a sense of completion.

Nature Spiral. Photo by Bruce Walters.

Nature Spiral is a circular arrangement of limestone boulders situated near the Mississippi River in the Illiniwek Forest Preserve, near Hampton, Illinois (just north of East Moline). Ideally suited for a park named after the regional Native American tribes, the artwork blends in with its natural environment and is reminiscent of Native American and Neolithic earthworks. The spiral can be reached by Illinois Route 84, or the Great River Trail for hikers and bicyclists.

The site was chosen in 1995 by a community-wide partnership led by Quad City Arts and River Action. Public meetings were arranged for the community to express ideas for an artwork that improved awareness of, appreciation of, and access to the Mississippi River. In all, nearly 50 historic preservationists, river activists, and members of the community contributed to the project led by area artist Kunhild Blacklock, who designed the work and supervised its installation.

Completed in 1997, Nature Spiral is primarily made of 65 boulders, with outlined images of native birds, fish, insects, animals, and plants cut into the surface of many of the stones. Among the flora and fauna is a bald eagle, channel catfish, mayfly, deer, silver maple, cattail, and waterlily. Approximately 800 feet in circumference, the spiral also includes planted trees and wildflowers. A nearby informational sign provides a map of the spiral and a key to the iconic images on the rocks.

'A Time of Malfeasance #11' and '#12'

What kind of person habitually lies, cheats, and steals? In the exhibit A Time of Malfeasance at the Figge Art Museum, printmaker Virginia Myers visualizes corruption through the psychological landscapes in which its perpetrators reside.

Malfeasance refers to a public official abusing his or her post, either through illicit or harmful endeavors. The early 1970s, when these works were created, was a period of political turmoil - Vietnam, Watergate, oil embargoes, and economic recession. Although this historical context was a likely influence on Myers, the artist doesn't reference these events specifically; instead, she abstracts the mindset of the participants.

Myers has been a professor in the University of Iowa Fine Arts Department since 1962 and has been working in printmaking for more than 50 years. The Malfeasance prints were made using dry-point etching, a process in which the artist scratches the image into a copper plate, inks the surface, and prints it with a press onto paper.

The show includes 21 individual prints, with six framed in pairs. The largest of the group measures roughly three by two-and-a-half feet, with the smaller works sized approximately 10 by 12 inches. Completed in 1974, this series was gifted to the Figge by collector Herbert Tyler. These works, located on the second floor, will be on display through October 14.

Pamela Crouch

"It was awful," says area artist and performer Pamela Crouch. "The year and a half I went through the whole cancer thing was just awful. The worst thing ever. But I have an amazing husband, I have an amazing family, and I have the love and support of all these people who are available.

"And when they're not available? I have a paintbrush."

That, in a nutshell, is the concept behind Living Proof, the group exhibit - on display throughout the Bucktown Center for the Arts from September 30 through October 29 - that will showcase artistic works, in numerous media, by more than a dozen breast-cancer survivors residing between Chicago and Camanche, Iowa. Originally conceived by Crouch and Chicago-area artist Mary Ellen Cunningham, Living Proof will be enjoying its second Bucktown exhibition in as many years, and will feature roughly five-dozen never-before-displayed works created by both professional and amateur artists.

"A lot of times," says Moline resident Crouch of living with cancer, "you're so tired. You're so exhausted. You're overwhelmed and you feel very isolated. And that's what Living Proof is about: getting those feelings out in some kind of creative way."

Sacred Heart Cathedral. Photo by Bruce Walters.When Sacred Heart Cathedral (at the corner of Iowa and 10th streets in Davenport) was completed in 1891, its bell tower and spire was the tallest structure in the Quad Cities. Soaring majestically above the surrounding trees and neighborhood, its approximate height of 160 feet seemed even greater because of its placement at the top of a steep hill near the crest of the bluff overlooking the Mississippi.

Several blocks to the west, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral (at 121 West 12th Street) had been constructed 18 years before. Although a spire was part of architect's original plans, it was not built because of a lack of funds.

But in 1998, Elizabeth Haines (a member of the Trinity congregation) personally financed the building of a bell tower and spire. In memory of her grandparents - who were charter members of the cathedral - the 131-foot tower was built to its original specifications.

'Family Portrait' (1976)

There is no doubt that Jim Konrad was a brilliant technician.

"He knew more about the nature of artist materials than any other artist in the Quad Cities," said Sherry Maurer, director of the Augustana College Art Museum.

"He was very serious about technique," said his wife Cathy. "And they [his artworks] all have superb technique - color form, composition, things like that." She called him an "artist's artist."

Peter Xiao, a teaching colleague of Konrad's at Augustana for more than two decades, said the artist's work is "perfectly balanced" in terms of color - the dark and light, the chromatic scheme.

The Figge Art Museum, in its description of two Konrad works in its collection, notes his "meticulous craftsmanship and expertise in painting methods and materials."

And in an interview with Bruce Carter earlier this year for the WVIK program Art Talks, Konrad (whom I never met) called himself a teacher of fundamentals. "The more you understand about how to use your materials and how to do it, the more it frees you to be an artist," he said.

'Landscape (Grey Barn)' (1990)

Konrad's technical acumen is plainly evident in the Augustana College Art Museum's current memorial exhibit, celebrating the artist and faculty member who died in May at age 67.

For just one admittedly minor illustration, look at how he painted masking tape in a number of pieces. As Maurer said, "Sometimes ... we've had big debates as to whether it's real tape or not."

But praising somebody's proficiency - even one as fine-tuned as Konrad's - can be a backhanded compliment. And the body of work on display at Augustana College shows an artist fluent in many forms of expression who explored the world in rich and sometimes discomforting ways.

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