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Iowa Artist

Artists at Edgewater


A treasure of skilled artists reside at a senior community in West Des Moines. One might mistakenly think it’s all about crocheting or baking cookies. Instead, they’re carving wood, shaping silver jewelry and more.

The artists featured here, along with more than 35 other vendors, will sell a variety of handmade arts and goods at the Edgewater Holiday Mart on Nov. 4, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 9225 Cascade Ave. in West Des Moines.  


Carved Santas by 91-year-old woman

At Ruth Dotterer’s apartment, she eagerly shows her studio where wood-carved Santas of all sizes are stacked from floor to ceiling. On the opposite side are dozens of woodworking tools; woodburning, carving and paint supplies; and a stack of odd-shaped wood.

Ruth began carving Santas after she and her husband bought a place by Lake Red Rock. As she walked the lake shoreline, cypress wood washed up on their property. Picking up a piece, she attempted sketching a Santa on it. 

“My dad had given me a Santa each Christmas,” she recalls. “I missed getting Santas after he passed.”

She began carving eyes and a hat, while a neighbor showed her how to use tools. A friend in nearby Pella, Ralph Yarsma, owned a bakery and gift shop. He suggested selling her Santas at his shop. 

“Everybody loved it. They bought them all out,” she recalls.

She made Sinterklaas for the Pella’s Dutch celebration. Her brother once took dozens of her Santas out of state, where, again, they sold out. She was approached by a company in the 1980s to make a mold with her design, creating more Santas. She estimates she’s sold close to 10,000 Santas the past 40 years.

When taking her first carving class, she was the only woman. The class was assigned a task of carving an animal. A man with expensive wood challenged her. 

“I had driftwood,” she said. “The teacher said Ruth is the only woman who has sold more carvings than any of you in the classroom.”

Today, at 91 years old, she is up by 6 a.m., carving, exercising and ramping up for her busy season. Staying current, she now creates Iowa Hawkeye and Iowa State Cyclone snowmen. 

As a former antiques dealer, she also sells her Santas at West End Salvage. She’ll never quit, saying, “My dad would be amazed I carried on his Santa tradition. I’m amazed I’ve done it this long.”


Baskets and wood

While friends are catching up on the latest TV show, Bill and Barb Keck are busy crafting.

Barb took a basket-weaving class 30 years ago and makes functional baskets out of reed. Some hold tissues, magazines, kitchen utensils and more. She lost track of how many she made after creating 180 baskets. 

She’s on call if her family members need a basket for a gift. With three kids, 12 grandkids and 12 great-grandkids, it happens frequently.

She recalls the Longaberger basket craze, comparing her baskets. 

“Mine cost $6 to make. A Longaberger cost $86,” she recalls. 

Her husband, Bill, set up a studio in their basement for woodworking. After he served in the Navy, he built kids’ toys out of wood.

Today, he is creating cutting boards and making jewelry with silver and polished stones.

“Barb has first right of refusal for anything I make,” he explains. “Then, whatever the granddaughters want goes to them.”
He and Barb do their work in Arizona during the wintertime. They’ve both sold at art fairs, and Bill says it’s easy to find inspiration for his rock cutting.

Bill says, “Hobbies are fun to have. It keeps you active. We know a lot of retirees who just sit at home.”

Barb agrees.

“Hobbies haven’t taken over our lives,” she said. “We still have fun.” ♦

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