Posts Tagged: Iowa

Lori Biwer-Stewart, linocut printmaker


More than a hobby: Lori Biwer-Stewart, linocut printmaker
Story and photos by Sara Friedl-Putnam • Originally published in the Fall 2015 Inspire(d)
Artwork by Lori Biwer-Stewart

lori_horizontalLike many artists, Lori Biwer-Stewart discovered her calling very early in life.

“I’ve loved to express myself artistically for as long as I can remember,” she says, recalling long, happy hours doodling and drawing as a child growing up on a farm outside Elma, Iowa. “It’s the only thing I ever thought I could do really well.”

That cMoreThanHobbyLogoonviction – and a naturally curious mind – led Lori to a commercial design degree at Hawkeye Institute of Technology in Waterloo, Iowa, and, a few years later, a basic printmaking class at MacNider Art Museum in Mason City. Armed with an abundance of natural talent, an expansive library of reference books, a deep love of the art form, and, yes, two printing presses, she began making (and selling) linocut prints out of her home in Osage, Iowa, more than 20 years ago.

Today she is known across the Midwest for her crisp, whimsical work, which explores themes like youth and innocence, relationships, and spiritual awakenings through the use of symbolic images like birds, doors, or keys. “The carving process is very therapeutic for me and has gotten me through many bad moments,” Lori says, candidly referring to her longtime struggle with depression. “Some people can write well or tell interesting stories – I much prefer to speak through the images and symbolism in my linocuts.”


Popularized by the likes of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso in the early- to mid-1900s, linocut is a deceptively simple, relatively inexpensive “relief” printmaking technique in which the artist uses a knife or gouge to carve a design into a sheet of linoleum (sometimes mounted on a wood block), inks the linoleum with a brayer (i.e. roller), and impresses the image onto paper either by hand or with a press. It was the ability to use the technique to create bold, decorative designs that first piqued Lori’s interest.

“Linocut printing enables artistic expression like no other art form – the cut of the knife creates a primitive feel that only adds to the intent and intensity of the message being communicated,” she says. “Sometimes my work is dark and sometimes it’s fun, but it’s always thought-provoking; whatever the image is, my goal is always to make the viewer think and question.”

meyou2 fireflies

ShinyThingsShe does exactly that in pieces likeMe and You,” in which a floating red balloon tied to an empty yellow chair symbolizes the yin and yang found in so many relationships…and “Fireflies,” in which a jar of fireflies nestled among wildflowers conjures up childhood memories of capturing the magical insects on hot summer nights…and “Shiny Things,” in which crows hording small gleaming objects suggest the tendency of so many to collect things they don’t really need. The three works are among more than 70 linocuts currently displayed on her website,

Her always eye-catching work has earned Lori, who also works as a graphic artist at Curries in Mason City, more than a few awards at art festivals over the past two decades. Yet, despite the accolades, she admits she still struggles with the challenges of “getting out there” and marketing her work, especially through social media. She encourages other artists just starting out to stay on top of current social-media trends and to do what she has done from the start – stay true to self. “Do what really interests you – whatever subject that is, whatever medium that is,” she says. “You will never find joy in your art if you are just creating what you think people will buy.”


Sara Friedl-Putnam has never considered herself particularly “artsy” or “craftsy,” but after being inspired by the talented women she profiled in this issue is seriously contemplating making a few gifts this coming holiday season.


Biwer-Stewart will display her work at the Wausau, Wisconsin, Festival of Arts on September 12-13 and the Autumn Artistry in Osage on September 19. Her work is also available in galleries across the Driftless Region and online at


“More Than a Hobby” is a special section of the Fall 2015 Inspire(d) Magazine. We’ve highlighted doers and makers in the Driftless region who are turning what they do like to do into so much more than a hobby – it’s a living! We love that. Stay tuned for additional More Than a Hobby features online in the coming weeks!

Driftless Region Museums: A Primer

Compiled by Inspire(d) Staff
Originally printed in the June/July 2010 issue of Inspire(d)

Sure, summer is all about festivals and swimming and canoeing and fairs, but what do you do when it’s raining? Or when it’s hot, humid, and sticky in a way that only the Midwest can be – like you’re trapped in a hot tub and there’s no time machine. Right?

Right. So in all our infinite wisdom, we hatched a plan: let’s learn more about some cultural, educational, fun, air conditioned museums in the Driftless Region. We asked each museum to submit a little entertaining information about what’s waiting within their walls for people like you and me. And boy did they deliver. Your kids can go rock climbing. You can see a clock someone once wanted to buy for $1 million dollars, a sailboat that actually crossed the Atlantic, and the place where the modern tractor was made. It’s all pretty cool. Literally and figuratively.

Check them out. Explore. If you’re a tourist, get the most of your stay. If you’re not – pretend you are!

Vesterheim Museum, 520 West Water Street, Decorah, Iowa
May – October open daily: 9 am – 5 pm, Thursdays ‘til 8 pm November – April: Tuesday – Sunday, 10 am – 4 pm, Thursdays ‘til 8 pm
Admission: $10/adult, $8/senior over 65, and $5/children age 7 –18 • 563-382-9681

With 24,000 artifacts and 16 historic buildings, this national treasure uses the Norwegian-American experience as a lens to explore the diversity of an immigrant nation. Step inside to discover stories of courage and beauty. You’ll find a cabin made from a single tree, a sailboat that crossed the Atlantic Ocean, elaborate costumes, colorful painting, silver wedding crowns, woven tapestries, and even intricately carved butter molds. The lives of the people who settled our nation were often as colorful as their folk art, and their stories speak through the objects they left behind. Come and see what they have to say. “USA Today” named Vesterheim one of “10 great places in the nation to admire American folk art.” Vesterheim also preserves living traditions through classes in Norwegian culture and folk art, events, tours to Norway, and educational programs for children and adults. Preserving a heritage. Connecting us all.

The Porter House, 401 West Broadway Street, Decorah
Hours:June – August open daily: 10 am – 4 pm, and Sundays 1 pm – 4 pm.
Admission: $5/adult, $4/seniors, $3/children age 6–16, Children 6 and under free 563-382-8465

Near the turn of the century, Grace Young fell in love with the “boy next door,” Adelbert (Bert) Field Porter, and married him in her parent’s music parlor in June 1904. They lived out their lives in the Italianate Villa that previously belonged to Grace’s parents – it now houses their personal furnishings, collections, artwork, photographs, and library. A.F. Porter’s collection of exotic butterflies, gathered over seven trips around the world, is the focal point of the museum, along with Grace’s piano in the music room, and her painted china collection. The museum grounds include a unique rock wall designed by Bert and built from his extensive collection of rocks and minerals. Fountains, birdbaths, planters, and a water garden enhance the gardens surrounding the house. In July of 1968, Bert conveyed the house and it’s contents for preservation as a public museum.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, Burr Oak, Iowa (Off Highway 52, 12 miles north of Decorah or three miles south of the Minnesota state line)
Summer Hours: Monday – Saturday: 9 am – 5 pm, Sunday 12 – 4 pm
Admission: $7/adult, $5/children age 6-17, Family Rate $25 • 563-735-5916

Question: Who has 10 eyes, no income and was forced from their previous life by an invasion? Answer: The Charles Ingalls family when they moved to Iowa in 1876 and Laura was nine years old. Laura’s family left the Banks of Plum River in Minnesota, fleeing the horrible grasshopper plague, to find a better livelihood. In Burr Oak, they helped run the Master’s Hotel and they moved twice more during their year in the small village. The building where they first lived opened as a museum, 100 years after their move, in 1976. The third site where they lived was the birthplace of their fourth daughter, Grace. Knowledgeable guides – familiar with Laura through Burr Oak history, her widely-read books, or the popular television series – help guests from around the globe understand the Ingalls’ Iowa life and times. Come explore the story of one of our country’s most beloved authors.

Children’s Museum of La Crosse, 207 5th Avenue South in historic downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin
Hours:Tuesdays – Saturdays, 10 am – 5 pm; Sundays 12 – 5 pm (closed Mondays and major holidays)
Admission: $6/person (Sunday Savers: $1 off admission!) Infants and members FREE • 608-784-2652

Learning and fun…rolled into one, for the young and the young at heart! Spend some affordable, quality time with your kids at the Children’s Museum of La Crosse, where you’ll explore three floors of hands-on exhibits, a climbing wall, gift shop, and much more. Lots of new exhibits added in recent months, including the heart-pounding NEOS game, Whoosh, Toothy Tango, kid’s crane, and a two-story rescue center. Memberships include a full year of admission + other benefits, starting at only $50! The $120 Passport level membership includes admission to over 425 participating museums nationwide! Ask about birthday parties, field trips, summer camps and other programs: convenient and fun – and kids will even learn something!

The Minnesota Marine Art Museum, 800 Riverview Drive, Winona, Minnesota
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10 am – 5 p, Sunday 11 am – 5 pm (Closed Mondays and Holidays)
Admission: $6/adult, $3/students age 5 – college, 4 and under free, $20 Family Rate • 507-474-6626

The Minnesota Marine Art Museum is not what you expect, or where you expect to find it. Next to a working Mississippi river port in the beautiful “historic island city” of Winona, the Museum houses one of the best collections of art inspired by water in the United States. A place where everyone is welcome (no art degree required!), the Museum is a year-round destination that hosts ongoing events and programs for kids, families, and adults including our popular Toddler Tuesdays and Family Fest.

Rochester Art Center, 40 Civic Center Drive SE, Rochester, Minnesota (on the Zumbro River)
Hours: Wednesday, Friday, Saturday: 10 am – 5 pm; Thursday: 10 am – 9 pm; Sunday: 12 – 5 pm
Admission: $5/adult $3/senior (62 and over); Free to children, students, members & Olmsted County Resident • 507-282-8629

Then: Founded in 1946, the Rochester Art Center presented local and regional art for nearly 30 years. For the next 30, RAC became a national focus for arts and crafts, particularly ceramics. Now: Today, RAC is a venerable organization in cool new digs. In 2004, we built an ultra-modern building, presenting contemporary art. We’re famous for Free Family Day (1st Saturday/month), Total Arts Day Camp; 3rd Floor Emerging Artists Series; national and international artists; FLUX (late evening music/art/performance for young-adults), and as a top 10 place in Minnesota for weddings and receptions… the view’s that beautiful.

Bily Clocks Museum/Antonin Dvorak Exhibit, 323 S. Main Street, Spillville, Iowa (12 miles south of Decorah)
Hours: May – October: Monday-Saturday, 9 am – 5 pm, Sundays, 12 – 4 pm April – November: weekends only
Admission: $6/ adult, $5/senior 65 and over, $4/youth age 6-17, $16/Family • 563-562-3569

Why did Henry Ford in 1928, offer $1million for one of the Bily brothers clocks and why did they refuse the offer? Take a tour of the Bily clocks museum, located in the quaint village of Spillville, and you’ll find out! Experience for yourself this one-of-a-kind collection of 40 hand-carved clocks created by Frank and Joseph Bily (bee-lee), farmers by trade and carvers by night. And why did Antonin Dvorak, Czeck composer from Praque, find his way to Spillville? That answer is found on the second floor of the museum. You’ll just have to come to find out!

Froelich Tractor Iowa John Deere Museum, 24397 Froelich Rd., Froelich, Iowa (4 miles east of Monona on U.S. Highway 18)
Summer Hours: Open six days a week (closed Wednesdays): 11 am – 5 pm • 563-536-2841

The Froelich visitor experience includes an 1891 general store museum, an 1866 restored country school, a l903 dairy barn, a rebuilt railroad depot, a turn of the century blacksmith shop, and a mini-grain truck display (new in 2009). The highlight of the summer is the Froelich half-scale model tractor display and video of its historic development. In 1892, in this tiny village, John Froelich invented the first farm tractor powered by a gasoline engine that operated in forward and reverse. It became the Waterloo Boy and the current John Deere tractor division in Waterloo, Iowa. Historians credit Froelich, Iowa, as the birthplace of the modern farm tractor. (Photo by Danny Eilers)

Villa Louis, 521 North Villa Louis Road, Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin
Hours:Open May 1 – Oct 31: 9:30 am – 5 pm. Guided tours on the hour from 10 am to 4 pm
Admission: $9/adults, $7.75/seniors, $4.50/youth 5-17, $24/family • 608-326-2721

The Villa Louis, also known as Dousman Mansion, is located on St. Feriole Island in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. Today the site is restored to its late-19th century grandeur, when it was the estate of the prominent H. Louis Dousman family. At the center of the estate is the elegant Villa Louis mansion, designed by E. Townsend Mix and built in 1871. Earlier it had been home to Louis’s father Hercules L. Dousman, and before that the land was occupied by Fort Crawford. Prior to this, in 1814, the Siege of Prairie du Chien was fought at the site by American and British troops hoping to control Fort Shelby during the War of 1812. Still farther back, the site was of importance to American Indian tribes, especially the Mound Builders. Today the Villa Louis is the finest example of a British Arts and Crafts interior in a rural setting in the United States.

Music we’re loving…

Looking for some fresh listening? Some of our favorite roots artists have incredible albums out and we’d love to share them with you!


First, Duluth Bluesman Charlie Parr (who will be performing in Decorah at the Courtyard & Cellar September 11) has a new album entitled “Stumpjumper” on the epic Red House Records label. Charlie has been tearing up the roots / slide guitar for years and has hit a real home run with this latest recording.


Meanwhile NE Iowa’s own Joe & Vicki Price have a great album out – recorded by Joe McMahan at Wow & Flutter Studios in Nashville – entitled “Night Owls”. If you don’t already know, Joe & Vicki are royalty at Inspire(d) HQ, and we can’t sing the praises loud enough for this incredible blues duo. Even the cover of this record is an epic piece by Vicki Price depicting the now vaporized Main Entrance in Prairie du Chien, WI. The old school vibe of this record leaves you wishing you were sitting in a tavern listening to the masters work… Why aren’t you???


On the other side of the country, but in a similar-to-Driftless-region of Woodstock NY, Ruth Ungar and Michael Merenda, along with a super sweet crew of horns and beats and sounds, have released a truly roots inspired record. “Mike + Ruthy” as they are known, recorded “Bright As You Can” for the 30 Tigers label and we can’t get enough of it. We’re also scheming as hard as we can to get them to Decorah… the band also visits CSPS/Legion Arts in Cedar Rapids on Friday, October 2.  Shine on, indeed.