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Monday, May 2, 2016

Arts on the River

Monday, November 17, 2003

Artisans guild is born at Linn Grove

The scenic little riverfront town of Linn Grove is serving as a lightning rod for some of Iowa's most talented artisans.

What would you least expect to find in a funky waterfront canoe rental and bait shop gathering spot? Beautiful tooled leather, fine rustic western-style furnishings, expressive ceramic sculpture, handmade high-fashion jewelry, bronze sculptures?

In this unique juxtaposition environment, the Cedar Ridge Artisans Guild was born last weekend to rave reviews, as crowds marched through the Linn Grove Landing for hours on end to view the three-dimensional art forms, giving the historical rural town nestled in the bluffs the flavor of an arts colony.

"Dedicated to the pure enjoyment of creating."

That is the motto of the Cedar Ridge Artisans Guild, an idea that was hatched last summer by Steve and Beth Cathcart and Monte Scholten. The motto is Beth's doing.

The Cathcarts returned to Iowa, where Beth's roots reach back 130 years into Linn Grove history, and founded Rocking M Furniture, producing old world and western rustic furniture and accessories such as cedar stick chairs, beds, tables and side pieces hewn from native stock.

Scholten, founder of the Western Design Conference in Cody, Wyoming, the nation's largest conference for Western furniture and accessories, has sold his handmade goods nationwide as well as in six foreign countries. He was traveling through Linn Grove, and seeing an eagle in the trees near the Linn Grove Dam, was struck by its beauty, he decided on the spot that he would move there. He has recently restored and opened the Linn Grove Landing, and operates Americana Classics, fine furnishings with a Plains Indians flavor.

The families found themselves to be kindred souls.

"It was kind of a shock to find someone doing a similar art form in a small community, but a good surprise," Beth said.

Rather than becoming competitive, the two furnishing artists started to explore the idea of bringing their skills together with others in a new arts group.

"There are so many excellent artists in this region, and we wondered how we could find the best of the best. Marketing is the usual downfall of the artistic person, and we thought that if we worked together, we could bring the people in," she said.

"The Artisans Guild will be a way to share with the public all of the wonderful work that is being done around here that people may not know about," Beth said. "The most important element may be to get the artists together and inspire one another. You can just feel the synergy there when you get a group of artistic people together in one place."

And so, Linn Grove's Fine Arts Weekend was planned, to showcase the Cedar Ridge Artisans in their first public appearance, as well as to combine with a fundraiser dinner, school play and other events. The crowds were more than the group could have expected, and many from Storm Lake, Spencer and beyond signed the guest book.

"This was our first gathering - we were strictly just sticking our toes out into the water to see how it would feel," Beth laughed.

Those on hand indicated surprise at the diversity and quality of the work. "I think there is appreciation in rural Iowa for people with these skills. The people we have here tend to be talented and well-educated," she said.

The nine initial members of the Cedar Ridge Artisans said that they hope the public event will give them some name recognition, and help to attract other artisans around northwest Iowa to join in.

"A lot of people don't know how good they are," Scholten said.

Meanwhile, the Cedar Ridge Artisans serves as one more boost for economic development and tourism for the ambitious little community. "We want to promote recreation and tourism based on the native beauty of the area," Beth said. "The image for the city seems to be going that way. Some people envision Main Street Linn Grove becoming an interesting place for people to travel to on the weekends. The city has been trying to attract a restaurant, which will help as well."

The artisans would eventually like to establish their own exhibit/sale gallery in Linn Grove. "Where it all goes, you never know. So far the response has been very positive," Beth said.

The group includes Diane Noll of Linn Grove with her Bluebird Creek Art jewelry in stone and silver, leather workers Bob Leach of Cherokee and C.S. Fraley of Sioux Rapids, potter Chad Elliot of Spencer, Peterson artist Barbara McGee with her The Flying M - The Art Store, potter and wood cut artist Verlin Potts of Boone, and bronze sculptor Russell Christensen of Neola.

The group will be gathering soon to "formalize things a little more," Beth said. Anyone interested may contact Scholten at 712-296-3649, or the Cathcarts at 712-296-3790.

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