Posts Tagged: sara friedl-putnam

Driftless Area Wetlands Centre

Photo by Kat Busse

Have you visited the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre in Marquette, Iowa, yet? It opened its doors in August 2013 with one goal in mind – to connect people of all ages to the natural world and empower them to positively impact their local environments. We say, “Mission accomplished,” ‘cause this place is awesome!

By Sara Friedl-Putnam

“What kind of bird is that?”

“Why is it sitting on those rocks?”

“Are there a lot of others like it around here?”

After (almost) stumbling upon a white-bellied, brown-winged bird and its nest, three inquisitive young boys – busy planting purple coneflowers during a native plants restoration event – excitedly fire questions at Katrina Moyna, the gung-ho director of the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre (DAWC).

All photos by Sara Friedl-Putnam unless noted

“It’s a killdeer,” Moyna replies softly to the first question, motioning the boys to back away from the nest. She answers the second just as succinctly: “Those aren’t rocks – they’re eggs.” The answer to the third question, however, will have to wait – the killdeer (or charadrius vociferous), resting comfortably just moments before, has suddenly broken into a dramatic, attention-grabbing “broken-wing act” to lure the boys, whom it views as predators, away from its nest.

It’s a spectacular display of the spontaneity of nature. It’s also a prime example of the experiential – and occasionally accidental – learning that regularly transpires at the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre, an environmental education and community center established in 2013.


“Our mission is to get people of all ages to unplug and experience the outdoors,” says Moyna, an Elkader, Iowa, native. “Everyone, regardless of age or background, can reap the benefits of connecting with – and learning from – the natural world, especially in a place as breathtakingly beautiful and biologically and geologically rich as the Driftless Area.”

KatrinaThat was exactly the message a committed group of citizen volunteers successfully conveyed to members of the Iowa Great Places Board in 2008, the year the board awarded the neighboring Mississippi River towns of Marquette and McGregor a “Great Place” designation and a $325,000 grant to build DAWC, develop the surrounding area (including a man-made wetland and restored prairie), and construct the McGregor-Marquette Center for the Arts.

By 2011 the two communities had secured the funding needed to break ground on a three-acre site just a half-mile from the Mighty Mississippi. (Bright-colored railroad cars in the center’s “backyard” serve as a highly visible reminder that the site once accommodated the largest railroad terminus in the state.) And in August 2013, DAWC finally opened its doors. “We’ve worked hard to spread the word that we are here, that we are open –year-round, in fact – and that we have interesting things going on,” says Moyna without a pause. “Though we’ve only been open a short while, we’re gaining momentum each month.”

And that’s a (very) good thing. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American spends a whopping 93 percent of his or her life in buildings or vehicles – but innumerable studies have shown that spending time outdoors boosts creativity, improves physical fitness, and reduces stress. The takeaway? Turn off the TVs. Stash away those cell phones. Unplug the video games. Then throw on some shoes and head outside. “Kids who spend time in nature grow into adults that care about protecting it,” says Moyna. “Something as simple as holding a frog or planting a flower can help children form a magical – and lasting –connection with the land.”


In 2014, nearly 4,500 visitors streamed through the center’s doors, half hailing from far beyond the region. This year DAWC expects to attract even more, thanks in large part to a “something-for-everyone” schedule boasting more than 50 events. “Nature provides a way for families to bond,” says Moyna. “We want to ensure this is a place where learning is fun for all ages.”

Mission accomplished. A hawk watch drew hundreds of nature enthusiasts last fall, as did an Easter egg hunt and petting zoo last spring. Highlights this summer include a rollicking “Friday Night Live” Farmers Market (music included!) each Friday from May into October, an “epic” (Moyna’s word) Dino Day at the end of July, and a Tom Sawyer Adventures program that will take area youth out on the Mississippi River to fish, swim, bird watch, wade for mussels, and, yes, learn a bit about the history of the world-famous waterway. This kind of inventive, locale-based programming, Moyna emphasizes, could not succeed without the help of many partner organizations, including the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, Big Springs Trout Hatchery, Effigy Mounds National Monument, Osborne Nature Center, La Riviere Park, and the Upper Iowa Audubon Society. “Our partners are the ones doing the ‘dirty’ work – forging into the Driftless Area’s back waters, exploring its deep ravines, and hiking its forests,” she says. “They are our eyes and ears in the area’s plant and animal communities.”

Photo courtesy North Iowa Times

And if DAWC has its way, it will soon have even more “partners” spreading the word about the wonders of this region – its deep caves and cold-water streams, temperature-regulating (algific talus) slopes and awe-inspiring bluffs, colorful plants and crafty animals. The DAWC Ambassadors Program, piloted last year and launched in January 2015, immerses participants in nature so they can learn about and promote the plant life, birds, fish, and mammals in their own backyard. “What if we could help people develop as much pride in and enthusiasm for their natural ecosystem as they have for their local sport teams?” muses Moyna. “What if they then shared that passion with those around them?”

Regardless of age, participants must attend three discovery/exploration activities at DAWC or partner sites; take part in three educational events at DAWC or local schools; and work with a skilled mentor to complete and present a special-interest project that positively impacts the Driftless Area. Upon completion of the program requirements, participants receive a badge and have the opportunity to take part in a special trip down one of the area’s major waterways. Might that waterway be the Mississippi? “That part’s a surprise,” says Moyna with a smile.

But folks interested in DAWC need not sign up for the Ambassadors Program nor wait for one of its many events to reap the benefits of visiting the center. It is open five days a week and offers plenty of opportunities to touch, feel, and explore both indoors and out. Inside, a muskrat and mink look to tussle in one of several taxidermy displays that line the building’s large glass windows. Four black shelves feature an array of rock formations – calcite, stromatoporoids, straight-shelled cephalopods, and others – endemic to the region. And a large wooden table in one corner showcases more than 20 preserved waterfowl, all poised as if ready for flight.

Just outside, a large observation deck extends into the wetland area to facilitate viewing of local flora and fauna, and eye-catching signs present important facts about the wetlands themselves. Were you aware that half of the world’s wetlands have disappeared since 1900 – or that development and conversion continue to pose huge threats to these areas? Did you know that wetlands are home to some of the richest biodiversity on the planet – or that they provide vital habitat for more than 40 percent of the entire world’s species, including killdeer, or charadrius vociferous?

That fun fact recalls the third question posed during the center’s native plant restoration event last April – namely, is killdeer prevalent in the Driftless Area? Yes, charadrius vociferous is a common species inhabiting a wide range of wetlands throughout North America, including those in Northeast Iowa. And the chance to spot one doing its thrilling “broken-wing act” is just one of many reasons to dive into this area called the Driftless. “There really is nowhere else like this place in the world,” says Moyna. “Once people begin to really understand all the Driftless Area has to offer, they also begin to really value it.”


A Florida native, Sara Friedl-Putnam still remembers the awe she felt upon first viewing the spectacular limestone bluffs of the Driftless Area nearly two decades ago. She is thankful that organizations like DAWC are working hard to connect area residents with this special place and share its many natural wonders.


Grab your shoes and head outside!

The Driftless Area Wetlands Centre – located at 509 U.S. 18, in Marquette, Iowa – is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 am to 4 pm. For more information, call (563) 873-3537 or visit


Driftless Art Tours + More!


Driftless Art Tours and Festivals are coming up!

By Sara Friedl-Putnam • Originally published in the Fall 2013 issue of Inspire(d)


For some it means once again watching football Friday nights and sending kids off to school in the mornings…seeing leaves change color on the trees and pumpkins ripen on the vine.

But the season also signals the start of a whole OTHER season – art tour season! Area residents and visitors alike get the opportunity to experience behind-the-scenes magic of many talented artists in the Driftless Region.

“It’s fun to see how artists work,” says Darla Ellickson, an accomplished Decorah-based jewelry-maker and the cofounder of the Northeast Iowa Artists’ Studio Tour (NIAST), the largest and longest-running artist studio tour in the state. “NIAST and other area studio tours present great opportunities to see not only what’s involved in the creative process but also how accessible making art really is.”

Curious how Ellickson crafts her stylish, metal, no-piercings-required “ear loops”? Wondering what constitutes a “fiber farm”? Seeking to purchase a one-of-a-kind gift for a family member or friend – or treat yourself to something funky and fun? Looking for that perfect excuse to head “over the river”? Or perhaps just itching to take in the natural beauty that defines fall in the Driftless Region while traversing roads less traveled?

Then you’re in luck.

The fun starts with the Driftless Area Art Festival (Sept 19-20) in Soldiers Grove, WI. And the first weekend of October – which just happens to be national arts and humanities month – kicks off three straight weekends of Driftless Region art tours. Artists open their studio doors to visitors just for these events. (Cameras strongly recommended – all tours showcase some of the most stunningly scenic areas the region has to offer!)

“One of the great things about NIAST and other studio tours is that they feature artists in their working environments,” says Ellickson, herself one of the 50+ artists who will take part in NIAST 2015. “There’s really no substitute for that.”

Curiosity piqued? Then plan for a peek into area artists’ creative worlds on these tours this fall.


Driftless Area Art Festival
Where: Beauford T. Anderson Park, Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin
When: Saturday, September 19 10:00-5:00
Sunday, September 20 10:00-4:00

DriftlessAreaArt Festival Logo_Web“Celebrating the visual, performing, and culinary arts of the Driftless Area”. From painters and potters to musicians and brewmasters – Soldiers Grove comes alive each fall with big tents and beautiful art. The offerings are as exquisite as they are varied, and all in a setting replete with the hills and valleys that define the Driftless Region. Soldiers Grove, in Crawford County, WI, hosts the eleventh annual Driftless Area Art Festival. No matter what direction you are coming from, you’ll enjoy a scenic, meandering journey through wooded hills and deep valleys of the region to arrive at the inspirational setting of Beauford T. Anderson Park and the Soldiers Grove community. Kick off “Art Season” with this great FREE festival!

Admission and parking are free. Handicap parking is available, and entrances have curb ramps. Socialized dogs on leashes are permitted.


Bonus! If you’re looking for more fun – also check out the Taste of NE Iowa Farm Crawl Sept. 26-27!
Taste of NE Iowa Farm Crawl
Where: 6 communities in NE Iowa
When: September 26-27, 2015

BuyFreshBuyLocalHow do local farmers successfully grow fruits and vegetables, produce flowers and herbs, make ice cream and butter, and even bottle wine? Find out during this great event, which offers a glimpse of the day-to-day workings of several Northeast Iowa farms.


Northeast Iowa Artists’ Studio Tour
Where: Decorah, Iowa, and 35-mile surrounding region
When: October 2-4, 2015

2015 niast poster.inddThey may be conveniently clustered within a 35-mile radius of small-town Decorah, but many of the dozens of artists taking part in the 2015 Northeast Iowa Artists’ Studio Tour (NIAST) have long traveled throughout (and well beyond) the United States to exhibit their works.

“There were so many artists doing high-caliber shows throughout the country, but people in and around Decorah didn’t know that they were here,” says Ellickson of the main reason she and Margaret Davis of the Decorah Regional Arts Council (now Driftless Art Collective) decided to launch the first Northeast Iowa Artists’ Studio Tour in 1998. “We honestly didn’t know how that first tour was going to turn out, but it was well enough attended that we decided to keep on going.”

And going. And going.

This year will mark NIAST’s 17th tour. Sculptors? Yep. Oil painters? They’re on the tour too. So are jewelry-makers, ceramicists, potters, fiber artists, wood-workers, basket-makers, silk painters, photographers, quilters, and, yes, even kaleidoscope-makers. Where will you find them all come the second weekend of October? Nestled in and around the lush hills and vales of Decorah and its environs, of course!

Fresh Art Tour
Where: Lake Pepin and the Chippewa Valley of Wisconsin
When: October 2-4, 2015

FreshArt15Never heard of “fresh art”? Broaden your artistic boundaries as you learn why Wisconsin has much more to offer than dairy farms, cheese curds, and Badgers and Packers games. Witness art-in-the-making during discussions and demonstrations by the varied artists (more than two dozen in all) taking part in this year’s Fresh Art Tour, a unique opportunity to experience the eclectic galleries and studios sprawled throughout the Mississippi River town of Lake Pepin and its surrounds. Marvel at the rich colors of autumn in Wisconsin (not to mention the Chippewa Valley’s rolling hills) while witnessing the diverse talents of painters, potters, scultors, and other skilled artists at work.


Sheep and Fiber Farm Tour
Where: Southeast Minnesota
When: October 10–11, 2015
or (Facebook has the 2015 latest info!)

FarmFiber15What’s a “fiber farm”? Find out as you spend a weekend exploring four scenic farms in Southeast Minnesota. All are dedicated to promoting the fiber arts and raising animals that produce yarn (think yaks, alpacas, and Shetland sheep) and other materials used in fiber-art products. Discover what’s involved in raising “fiber” animals. View the fiber-milling process in action. Be inspired by the softness and intricate textures of homespun yarn and other items crafted by local artists.

“Visitors will gain a better understanding of how ‘fiber’ animals – including wool-breed sheep, yaks, and alpacas – are raised and why natural fiber is good for ourselves, our children, and the world we want to leave behind,” promises Jean Mueller, tour director. “They will also see firsthand how fiber is transformed into a medium artists have used for centuries to make blankets, throws, and various other items.” Cool! Er…warm!



Fall Art Tour
Southwest Wisconsin (Baraboo, Dodgeville, Mineral Point, and Spring Green)
When: October 16–18, 2015

More than 50 artist studios in unique locations ranging from restored breweries to one-room brick schoolhouses. Rolling hills spruced with trees in vibrant fall foliage. And the distinct friendly flavor of small-town Wisconsin. Once again this fall, painters, sculptors, potters, weavers, jewelers, woodworkers, and mixed-media artists in four small Wisconsin towns will open their studios to offer a behind-the-scenes look at how (and why) they create their art.

And the artists aren’t the only draw of this popular tour. Visitors also have the opportunity to soak in the sites of Mineral Point, the first Wisconsin city placed on the National Register of Historic Places; visit Taliesin, the Spring Green-area home and studio of renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright; and experience the dramatic natural beauty (500-foot cliffs, anyone?) of the Baraboo-area Devil’s Lake State Park.

Now get out there and enjoy these amazing beautiful fall weekends!


Author Sara Friedl-Putnam has thoroughly enjoyed learning about the artistic endeavors of some of the region’s most talented individuals during past NIAST events and looks forward to experiencing even more tour stops this fall!

Looking for some tips to get the most out of your tour? Check out our handy self-guided art tour infographic for ideas!

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!