Upcoming Exhibits - Octagon Center for the Arts

Upcoming Exhibits

Grilling Ice


July 6 - August 11, 2018


This exhibit examines the ways that matters of mortality and masculinity manifest themselves in a contemporary Haitian context. Too often for young men in Haiti the way that they express their masculinity becomes a matter of survival itself. In an environment where simply surviving daily life can become an act of rebellion, young Haitian men end up constructing layers of masculine identity to protect themselves against the near impossible circumstances that they find themselves in. This collection of work focuses on stripping away those layers that define life for young Haitian men. The majority of my subjects in these pieces are nudes to show them at their most authentic and most vulnerable selves underneath the impenetrable facades that they enshroud themselves in. Life expectancy for men in Haiti is 60.98 years so by the time they reach the age of 30, Haitian men can expect that they’ve lived half of their life on this earth already. All of the subjects of my paintings are under the age of 30 and are good friends of mine. They are individuals that I see wrestle with these matters every day as their lives depend on what emotions they choose to show and how much strength they carry themselves with. So the way that I depict them represents how they embody the contradictions of their own manliness. The culture of Haiti embodies many contradictions of hetero-masculinity on a macro scale. Men are expected to be tough and defensive but they can also show signs of affection with other male friends that would been seen as taboo in other cultures. They have to confront the negative stereotypes of indulging in sex, alcohol, and rap music, while also demonstrating proof of their masculinity by indulging in those very things. My work weaves the influence of such a culture with the personal experiences of the actual subjects of the paintings. It is intended to reach beyond the stereotypes to portray a more nuanced understanding of what it means to be a young man in Haiti. It is an exploration of how these young men can become more than what they are perceived to be.

The title references a response to the question, “How’s it going?” that my friends depicted in the paintings frequently say. “Oh, you know, we’re just out here grilling ice.” It signifies the difficulties of life as a young Haitian male where one might feel like they are constantly working towards something, but are backtracking rather than making progress. After you’ve worked to freeze the water to turn it into ice, you just throw it on the grill and make it vaporize. That’s what life in Haiti as a young man can feel like. Nothing lasts long and all the hard work you do to advance in life often feels in vain. Much too often if feels like you’re just finding a way to pass the time until death comes and your life vaporizes in an instant as well.

The techniques used to create the pieces in this exhibit include a number of different cultural and spiritual influences that all contribute to the layered experience of young Haitian men. The sequined designs used in many of my pieces are inspired by the use of sequins in Haitian voudun traditions, specifically in the ritual flags that are used in ceremonies to bring individuals in trance-like experiences with the spirit world. I also integrate designs such as veve’s which are symbols representative of voudun lwas or spirits that focus on intersections, as well as mandalas which come from South Asian cultures such as Nepal, which maintains a complicated relationship to Haiti related to the devastating earthquake of 2010 and the cholera epidemic that followed. Traditional bogolan mud cloth textiles are also used in several pieces representing the complex history of slavery and ancestral roots of Haitian identity that lies in West Africa. All of these are combined with my own traditional training in figure painting and portraiture a nuanced story of identity connected to spirit and place.

Images: by McClanahan Studio


The Biennial Juried Photography Exhibit 2018

Theme: Community Sports

September 14 - November 21, 2018  

Main Gallery

We experience the world around us in flashes of action and emotion in the world of sports. From the youngest to the oldest members of our community, competitive games bring people together and spark movement and involvement. Photographers exercising their trigger finger are invited to submit their photographs highlighting athletes and athletic experiences in their lives. ENTER HERE>

Jurors: Alex & Dan McClanahan

McClanahan Studio is the creative collaboration of husband/wife duo Dan and Alex McClanahan. Their studio is headquartered in historic downtown Ames, Iowa – the town where Dan grew up and where he and Alex met as students at Iowa State University. The couple founded McClanahan Studio in March of 2009 and quickly established themselves as a fresh and innovative alternative to traditional photography in Iowa and beyond.

The couple has worked extensively in athletics, photographing pieces for the Iowa State University basketball and football programs and the Minnesota Vikings. The McClanahan’s distinctive style of imagery has become known around the world through success in international print competition.

In 2015, Alex won 1st place for best wedding album in the largest International Photographic Competition. In 2016, Dan took 1st and 2nd place for best senior portrait photography in the same competition. This year Dan took home three international first place awards in the Landscape, Commercial, and Artist categories. This year his landscape image was selected to represent Team USA for the World Photographic Cup in Japan.

Both Dan and Alex have received Master of Photography degrees from the Professional Photographers of America and have been heavily involved in the photography community as educators, teaching the craft at dozens photo conferences around the country.

Tales from a Ghost Town


August 17 - September 29, 2018


Virginia City is a ghost town—the skeleton of a booming Montana gold mining camp in the late 19th century. As a museum it is the record of one of hundreds of get-rich-quick dramas related to the search for gold in the American West. Some buildings in the city and in the area around it have been abandoned and qualify as “ghosts.” When I was a child my family visited Virginia City many times, a day long outing. Years later, returning to Montana to visit family, I revisited Virginia City with my camera in the fall of 2009, 2010, and 2011. By that time the tourists were gone, and the place did feel like a ghost town. The silence of this “dead” place gives the viewer time to examine the drama of decay. Empty rooms and broken doorways invite speculation about the lives of people long gone, but the decaying wood invited me to search out another story, the life of a living material that grew and developed, was cut and used by hands both skilled and unskilled, and finally left to dry and rot. Documenting the evidence of time through photography I was moved to capture some of these “tales” with hand dyed fabric, created by the ungoverned mixing of colors, which often resembles the growth patterns observed in cut and decaying wood. I have been creating these works over the past several years with various shades of the gray and rusty reds of decaying wood. Recently I visited an exhibition of works by Clifford Still, whose content and style reminded me very much of the decayed wood, but his use of bright colors encouraged me to expand my color choices.

In this exhibition I have included a few images of the town and area as it exists today, some digitally manipulated images of decaying wood, and textile works that were inspired and nourished by the images of wet and decaying wood.


August 17 - October 27, 2018


This year is the 15th Annual Artisans Road Trip. Artisans Road Trip invites you to travel Iowa's scenic byways and back roads looking for one-of-a-kind treasures.  Artisans will offer a rare glimpse into creative processes as they demonstrate their craft in personal and unique work spaces. Our mission is to promote a venue for established artisans to demonstrate their skills, exhibit and sell their original fine art via a self-guided studio tour through scenic Northwest Iowa, thereby encouraging education, diversity, tourism, economic growth, and art appreciation. 

The official Artisans Road Trip weekend will be held from 9am - 5pm on Saturday, October 13th and from Noon - 5pm on Sunday, October 14th. Professional artists welcome guests into their studios/local galleries to discover and purchase quality original works. Artists participating in the Roadtrip weekend will also have an artwork on display at the Octagon Center for the Arts.

Worlds Apart


October 4 - November 10, 2018


My current body of work explores the concepts of struggle, place, and belonging. I immigrated to America at the age of nine; initially, no one told me that my family was permanently moving here. I boarded that international flight thinking that my family and I were coming for a vacation. It was devastating. I never said goodbye to many of my family and friends. I left behind everything that was familiar and came to a completely new environment, and since I was moving from a small town in Poland to Chicago, one of the most populated cities, the change was drastic. I had to navigate through this new, strange, yet exciting world without knowing the language or the customs of my new land. The process was scary, and many things did not make sense when I first arrived. It was similar to an alien being beamed down to a new planet; I had to learn a total new way of life.

My paintings reflect my personal experiences in that the viewer has to work to solve and make visual sense of each image. I play with the sense of space and depth, and my painting do not always make formal sense, much like America did not make sense to me when I first arrived here. Sometimes the image balances coming together as a whole, while other times it threatens to disintegrate into the separateness of the elements that compose it. My paintings are alien landscapes, confusing, exciting and intriguing.


Smithsonian Institution's Museum on Main Street Exhibit

Hometown Teams

October 4 - November 10


Our love of sports begins in our hometowns. We play them on ball fields and sandlots, on courts and on ice, in parks and playgrounds, even in the street. From pick-up games to organized leagues, millions of Americans of all ages play sports. Win or lose, we yearn to compete and play another day.

If we’re not playing sports, we’re watching them. We sit in the stands and root for the local high school team, or gather on the sideline and cheer on our sons and daughters as they take their first swing or score their first goal.

Hometown sports are more than just games—they shape our lives and unite us and celebrate who we are as Americans.


Cairo, Illinois: Photographs & Enamels


November 2 - December 21, 2018


This work is a collaboration, of sorts, by Gwen Walstrand, photographer, and Sarah Perkins, metalsmith and enamelist. The works themselves are not collaborations, but instead are designed to be viewed together in order to have an impact and a narrative that neither could possess on its own. We are artists working in different media but with the same subject matter -- the town of Cairo, Illinois. Cairo is a unique place with both rich and tragic histories, a visual showcase of all that is best and worst in our American

Driving through what remains of Cairo it appears to an outsider that most of the town, along with its historic buildings and extensive business district, was abandoned within the same year, as nearly all the structures are in the same state of decay. In actuality, many
events and circumstances caused the precipitous decline of Cairo. The town’s history includes booming success as a shipping town at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, elegant hotels and mansions, and an impressive business district. The more recent history is one of race riots, appalling violence, multiple lynchings, domination by white supremacist groups, and eventual boycotts of local businesses by African Americans. The 1920s city of over 15,000 people now is home to under 3,000 people, hundreds of strangely patched up, decaying buildings, and a handful of struggling businesses.

The enameled bowls are a response to not only the reality of present day Cairo, but also to the images of it that were chosen by the photographer. The work seen together offers insight into the working processes of the artists and the choices made by different viewers. The photographer gathers and selects visual material, the metalsmith/enamelist edits the material again and transforms the flat images into three dimensions, but on a functional form that speaks to basic human requirements. The photographs, as both independent images and references for the bowls, are aesthetic explorations of Cairo but with an attempt to consider more deeply the complexity of human histories that form such places.

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