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Dutch Masters, Suffragettes and Anniversaries


Molly Wood replicates still-life paintings of the masters by raising her plants indoors and lighting her photos exclusively with natural light.

Molly Wood, Vanitas with Poppies

Olson-Larsen Galleries is celebrating its 40th anniversary with an exhibition that includes 70 pieces by 55 artists from its four decades in town. Memorial photo montages are also included for nostalgia. The show is testimony to the gallery’s contribution to the Iowa art scene, founded by Marlene Olson and Ann Larsen after they purchased Jan’s Gallery from Jan Shotwell in 1979. Those three ladies represented Iowans who did not want to move to New York or San Francisco, at a time when making it here was a long shot.

Most of the art and artists were familiar to me after 30 years of writing about the gallery. One who was not is Molly Wood. She is a photographer who grows and nurtures her subject matter. Inspired by the Dutch masters of the 17th century, she grows the same plants and flowers that inspired not only Rembrandt, van Aelst, Hals and Vermeer, but also the “tulip bubble,” which was one of the craziest market crashes in history.

Wood replicates still-life paintings of the masters by raising her plants indoors and lighting her photos exclusively with natural light. She is intrigued by the history of such plants.

“Early interest in the plants was in their toxic fatal properties,” she said. “Women who grew gardens were often considered witches. There was a ‘Doctrine of Signatures’ that basically said a plant’s shape dictated its use in medicine. Queen Anne’s lace was considered a birth control device. Kidney shaped plants were used to treat kidney ailments. Poppys were used in surgery. (They still are).

“I have been trying to grow a tulip like the one that created the Tulip Bubble. It’s white with red streaks and was created by a virus,” she explained. There is one Wood still life in the exhibition, but several others are in the storage room.

Also interesting are the photo-like realism of Tilly Woodward’s painting “Cricket Ball” and Barbara Fedeler’s “Effigy Mounds – Winter;” the delightful magical realism of Michael Brangoccio’s “Turn Coat;” the goddesses and Buddhas of both Mark Koenen Claussen and Wendy Rolfe; and the Iowa landscapes of John Preston, Barbara Walton, Gary Bowling, Justin Rogers, Bobbie McKibbin, Anna Lambrini Moisiadis, Ellen Wagener, Michael Johnson and David Gordinier.

This exhibition will play through May 24. An accompanying exhibition of “interactive installations and pop-up dinners” will be held each Tuesday by Julia Franklin in the Olson-Larsen Guild on Fourth Street in Valley Junction.

Also keeping to the theme of historical art, Artisan Gallery 218’s “Battle for the Ballot” represents the first half of Mary Kline Misol’s “Suffrage Project.” Kline-Misol has long hung her chapeau on the hat rack of historic realism. Her series on the historic Alice Liddell, who inspired Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland tales, so impressed the Lewis Carroll Society that they held their only convention outside Europe in Des Moines. Her portraits of the women of the wild west, the Transcendentalists, and of some of Carroll’s contemporaries have been as impressive as her paintings of wildlife.

This new series is, as always, thoroughly researched. The exhibition includes excellent background literature. The show should be a required field trip for any educational group interested in the brave work of some wild and crazy women. She focuses on the passing of voting rights for black and minority women, which was a big problem in the 1920s. I am not proud to say this, but I learned more about the suffrage movement at this show than I had previously known. This show plays through July 30.

One of China’s great contemporary painters, Lianjie Kheng, is a main subject of an exhibition at Moberg Gallery. “+Inter/National Contemporaries” will include works by eight other artists and will play through June 15. ♦

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