The Dubuque Museum of Art has acquired more than 2,100 pieces of art since 2001, and the number is rising. Its latest exhibit, “2,100 and Counting,” displays more than 200 of those works, arranged in chronological order according to when the museum acquired each piece.
A walk through the exhibit not only is a walk through great art. It is a walk through the history of DuMA’s art acquisitions of the past two decades, the generosity of those who have donated art to the museum and the astounding talent of both regional artists and those who are known worldwide.
Visitors will find works by renowned artists like Salvador Dali, Thomas Hart Benton, Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt and Iowa’s own Grant Wood, alongside the works of local artists including Gail Chavanelle, Cynthia Nelms-Byrne, Mark Chamberlain, Francesco Licciardi and others.
The complete collection of books and etchings by children’s author and illustrator Arthur Geisert — an Elkader, Iowa, resident — as well as the only intact collection of photographer Edward Curtis’ “North American Indian” also are included.
DuMA curator and registrar Stacy Peterson and her staff spent more than a year and a half on the concept and execution of the exhibit, which will run through Sunday, June 13.
“It was a lot of hours,” she said. “It was like putting together a puzzle, figuring out how all these pieces were going to go together.”
Chavenelle, a Dubuque artist who works in metal, was humbled and surprised when Dr. Peter and Martha Whitis donated “The Family,” a rusted steel piece she had made for them early in her career.
“(It) was created for their fireplace. It was absolutely the biggest thing I had ever made,” she said. “Unbeknownst to me, they donated it when they downsized. I was honored that not only had a collector donated it but that the museum accepted it.”
Nelms-Byrne, an artist who was a member of the Tuesday Club, a group of Dubuque artists who would meet weekly to paint alongside each other, also was amazed that her painting, “Quiet Places,” found its way into the exhibit.
“Ed (Deckert) was an acquaintance of ours, and he bought it for the museum in memory of Tom Gifford, who was also a friend of ours,” Nelms-Byrne said. “I’m not even sure why he did. I guess he thought the museum should have it. It’s really an honor to be with those artists. It’s just kind of amazing that I would be in an exhibit with them.”
While the exhibit has a focus on regional art, it also highlights area collectors.
“Not all regional collectors collect art by regional artists,” Peterson said. “So some of the works that have come into the collection are very well-known — Picasso, Dali, Rembrandt. But there’s still that focus on regional — whether it’s artists or collectors.”
Jack and Mantea Schmid, of Dubuque, have donated significant pieces of art to the museum, including half of the Geisert collection (Geisert gifted the other half) and works by New Mexico artist Forrest Moses, which they acquired during a trip to Santa Fe.
“They took us to an art gallery, and we went to Forrest Moses’ studio,” Jack said. “We decided after that to buy some of his artwork, and it’s at the museum.”
Moses’ “Cold Water Reflections” is part of the exhibit.
“When we arrived here (in 1989), we were flabbergasted by the arts community. And the arts in this city are just getting stronger,” Mantea said. “We’re thankful we can do something for the community, and we’re happy to see it on display for everyone to enjoy.”
And it’s obvious that enjoyment is felt not only by those who view the art, but by those who create it as well.
“On page five of the catalog, there’s Wood and Salvador Dali and Art Geisert … and Chavenelle,” Chavenelle said. “Oh my gosh. I feel honored to be included.”
The exhibit not only is a reflection of what DuMA has acquired in the past two decades, it also is a look into the museum’s future.
“We can look at this (exhibit) and say, ‘Look what we’ve done in the last 20 years,’” Peterson said. “But we can also look ahead to the ideas we have for building and expanding, and how we’re going to keep adding to the collection.”