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Elegy to the Spanish Republic, Robert Motherwell

A FIGGE PUDDING: Davenport, Iowa

getaway-chicago logo Intent on seeing the Figge Art Museum and whatever else struck them as being noteworthy, Alan and Neil descended on Davenport, Iowa on a chilly Saturday morning. A month earlier the Getaway Guys had explored Rock Island-Moline and Nauvoo, Illinois and had passed through Davenport to take U.S. 61 to Fort Madison where they re-crossed Ole Man River and headed to Nauvoo. With Davenport their primary target a month later, they crossed the Mississippi at Dubuque (having spent the day before in Galena, Illinois) and followed U.S. 61 south again.

davenport4As is frequently the case when Neil and Alan go exploring, Mr. Midwest (Alan) had been in, out and around the Hawkeye State many times. Maybe it was Iowa or maybe Nebraska Neil drove across when heading to California at some time during the past 50 years. Regardless of which, he had little knowledge of Iowa’s history before he and Alan journeyed from Dubuque to Fort Madison while researching articles for the Evanston Roundtable and their own website, getaway-chicago.com.

Compared to many Iowa communities, Davenport is fairly large and, not unlike its brethren along the Mississippi, it probably has an interesting story to tell as a major river port. But it seems to lack a distinctive, preserved historic district reflective of its past. The Guys did find a cluster of riverside warehouses converted to restaurants and bars, and they investigated its “old town” which proved to be somewhat paltry and less than exciting on a Saturday morning. As Neil said to Alan, “maybe under the cover of darkness and jammed with young revelers this joint really jives.” The Guys didn’t wait until dark to find out.

davenport1davenport2After getting lost, Barney and Cogbill finally found the Vander Veer Botanical Garden. Not expecting a Chicago Botanic Garden, they discovered a nice park with a wide variety of trees and other plant life, plus a smallish facility devoted to exotic plants in a glass enclosed environment which proved to be rewarding and welcome. Leaving the Vander Veer Botanical Garden, they ventured south across Davenport to the Putnam Museum of History and Natural davenport3Science where the natural science exhibits fascinated Alan. Natural science is a subject Neil is lukewarm about, but his travel partner loves it. Neil is drawn to local history exhibits, of which the Putnam has an abundance with its artifacts and ephemera dug out of local attics, garages and basements. The Getaway Guys have seen a zillion exhibits of historic local artifacts over the years and for some odd reason they never seem to be uninformative or uninteresting. There are always Victrolas, early radios and dresses worn by matrons of local society, but also unique items that tell about local history.

davenport5Overlooking Davenport’s riverfront, the Figge Museum of Art was designed by the English architect, Sir David Chipperfield and completed in 2005. It is the successor to the Davenport Art Museum. In recognition of substantial seed money to build a state of the art facility in a more prominent location, the V.O. and Elizabeth Kahl Figge Foundation gave a large contribution and the name of this surprising museum was changed in recognition of the Foundation’s support.davenport6 Architecturally, The Figge Museum of Art isn’t your typical, egomaniacal, celebrity architect edifice. It is a somewhat plain rectangular structure with an interesting, yet unobtrusive exterior of glass well-suited to its mission as a repository of important works of art. It is user friendly and easy to navigate. Alan is the un-jaded art observer of the Getaway Guys. His non- judgmental insights are often uncanny and right on the mark. Neil is the more critical partner, but the size and location of the Figge collection proved to him davenport7once again that significant works of art can be found in the least likely places. In addition to a temporary NASA exhibition featuring technical inventions for space exploration, the permanent collection included works by Robert Motherwell, Fernand Leger, Max Beckman, Lyonel Feininger, Marsden Hartley and Thomas Hart Benton (to name a few) that were show stoppers. The Guys also saw an edition of a perennial American favorite, “Coming Through the Rye” by the American sculptor, Frederick Remington. Close by was a stunning moon-lit landscape by the somewhat mysterious American painter, Ralph Albert Blakelock, one of Neil’s favorite mid- 19th century artists. Last, but not least, a selection of furniture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, a surprising assemblage of African artifacts and a unique gathering of Haitian works were also fascinating.

Just maybe, a journey dedicated to solely to Davenport may not be the ticket for a getaway adventure. Missing is the nostalgia of a Milwaukee or Kalamazoo, but it isn’t uninteresting either, especially the Figge Art Museum, a delicious “pudding” of great art.

NOTE: The Figge Art Museum presently houses a number of works from the University of Iowa's art collection, many of which are illustrated here. January 2013

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