Thursday, September 20, 2012

Of Masters, Volunteers, Potlucks and a Noble Chief

On vacation to Massachusetts a few years ago, my wife and daughter opted for a day by the pool and I was left to my own devices, which led me to a sparse bedroom, in an old house, in Concord.  I was accompanied by an attractive woman close to my age whom I had never met before and soon found we shared a common interest—Nathaniel Hawthorne. The house was the Old Manse, built by the Rev. William Emerson, father of Ralph Waldo Emerson, in 1770. The woman was the docent.

The bedroom was also Hawthorne’s study while he and his wife, Sophia, lived in the Old Manse, the place where he wrote Mosses from an Old Manse, a collection of short stories which features some of his most famous works. Since I was—and am—a student of Hawthorne, it goes without saying I was a bit overwhelmed by the sense of place, and intimidated knowing that anything I wrote would pale in comparison.

Hawthorne wasn’t the only draw the Old Manse offered. Looking out the window I could see the site where the Battle of Lexington and Concord was fought on April 19, 1775. It is said William Emerson stood in the same room and observed the battle.

I had a similar experience last Saturday when I visited Grant Wood’s studio, No. 5 Turner Alley, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Like the Old Manse, I was accompanied by a well-informed docent who filled in the details and answered questions. However, he was quite unlike my docent at The Old Manse, who was enamored with Hawthorne to the point that if she could master the time-space continuum, would have married him that very afternoon.

It is one thing to read or view the work of masters such as Hawthorne and Wood, but to stand in the place where they scratched out texts or sketches, throwing away draft after draft until just the right mix was found to create a masterpiece, is quite another.

Closer to home, the Center is gearing up for the annual Volunteer Recognition Night. Since the American Gothic House Center draws visitors from across the United States and around the world, it could not operate without a network of volunteers willing to share their time and expertise to greet and educate visitors on the house, Grant Wood and his life.

Over this past year 49 volunteers have devoted over 1,600 hours to greeting visitors, providing tours and taking pictures of folks in costume in front of the American Gothic House. In appreciation, one evening is set aside to honor these volunteers and their service with a potluck dinner. This year the event will be held on Saturday, Sept. 29 from 5-6:30 pm. at the American Gothic House Center. The theme of this year’s event is “Volunteers are the Seeds to our Success.”

The evening will be normal potluck fare—everybody brings something to share with the others. This year an invitation has been extended to anyone that might be interested in volunteering, as this would be an excellent time to learn about what volunteers do and how much fun it can be. If any of you readers are interested in lending a hand at the Center, cook up your favorite dish and stop by for the evening, or please contact Holly Berg at 641-652-3352 or email

One last note. Just prior to the event, from 3 to 5 pm, the statue of Chief Wapello will be on display in the parking lot. For those of you who are not familiar with the Chief Wapello statue, it held a place of honor atop the Wapello County Courthouse for 118 years until a storm toppled him last summer. The statue is scheduled to be restored this winter, but in the meantime Wapello County Supervisor Jerry Parker is taking the statue on tour around the county allowing an up-close look at the county’s namesake.

Brian Chambers
Media Coordinator
The American Gothic House

The American Gothic House Center strives to become financially independent through gift shop revenue, sponsorships, and by establishing an endowment fund. Funds raised in this campaign will be used to match the Iowa Cultural Trust Endowment Challenge Grant and will become endowment funds to support the Center's annual operations. As a subscriber to the weekly newsletter, you have already shown support for the American Gothic House Center. I invite you to strengthen your role in the valuable experience we provide the community by making a contribution to our fund drive. Click here to give your tax deductible gift, or head to our website for more information. Thank you to all who have donated so far!
        Our Mission: Integrating the puzzle pieces of American Gothic
300 American Gothic St | Eldon, IA 52554 | 641-652-3352 |

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