Art center among 5 historic preservation projects to receive grant money

Local News

The Muscatine Art Center, a department of the City of Muscatine, has received a $122,402 grant to restore the historic 1929 Japanese Garden installed by Laura Musser McColm.

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs announced the funding award as one of five historic preservation projects receiving a combined total of $600,000 in grant awards, a news release says. The other funded projects will take place in or near Creston, Decorah, Elkader, and Keokuk.

The grants are funded by the U.S. Department of Interior’s National Park Service and administered by the State Historic Preservation Office, which is part of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

The Japanese Garden project at the Muscatine Art Center developed from a Historic Landscape Preservation Plan prepared by Iowa State University Associate Professor Heidi Hohmann and Graduate Assistant Asif Khan. Hohmann made her initial visit to the site in 2019, and fieldwork took place in June of 2020.

Referencing historic photographs and archives held at the Muscatine Art Center, Hohmann established a timeline for the garden and described the historic garden’s character defining features. The plan includes a series of side-by-side then-and-now photographs to illustrate how various components of the garden have changed over time. The plan also evaluates the garden’s historic integrity as defined by the National Register of Historic Places.

Implementation of the Historic Landscape Preservation Plan will help mitigate change that has occurred in the garden over the last 50 years, the release says. Although the garden in its present state retains the bone structure of the historic garden, some changes implemented since becoming a public garden in 1965 have not been holistic in approach.

The 2020 treatment plan takes an overall approach that will bolster the garden’s historic integrity while improving its function as a public space. Specifically, this project will repair the garden’s water system, replace vegetation, and provide better access and interpretation.

“There are few existing Japanese-style gardens in the Midwest that date to this time period,” said Melanie Alexander, director of the Muscatine Art Center. “Japanese-style gardens were popular in the United States in the late 1890s through the early 1940s, but most were removed or neglected during World War II. We are currently working with a consultant, Beth Cody, author of ‘Iowa Gardens of the Past,’ to research the garden and place it in its historical context.”

Cody’s research is funded by a grant from Humanities Iowa and is intended to aid in creating public programs, a booklet about the garden, and other interpretive materials.

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs created the grant program last fall, after Iowa became one of just eight states to receive funding through the National Park Service’s Paul Bruhn Historic Revitalization Grants program. The federal program was named in honor of an influential preservationist in Vermont and designed to support states, tribes, local governments and nonprofit organizations that own properties on the National Register of Historic Places.

“This was a great opportunity to collaborate with our federal partner, the National Park Service, to support historic preservation projects, boost economic opportunities and promote a sense of local pride in communities across the state,” Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Director Chris Kramer said. “Revitalizing these historic icons will better showcase the authentic character of rural Iowa and will benefit generations to come.”

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