Open since 1965, the Muscatine Art Center is many things to the community of Muscatine. Part historic house, part art gallery, and part history museum, the people of Muscatine have made 1314 Mulberry a gathering place for celebrating the area’s history and culture.
The Laura Musser Museum is a 1908 Colonial Revival built for Laura Musser, heiress to a Muscatine lumber industry fortune. Period rooms on the main floor feature artifacts, furnishings, painted portraits, photographs, tableware, and other items belonging to Laura Musser. Original architectural details include mantelpieces, stained glass windows, woodwork, light fixtures, and hardware that are distinctive examples of the period and architectural style.
The house has a variety of stories to tell. The home was designed and constructed by Muscatine native Henry W. Zeidler, who also completed Muscatine City Hall. Laura Musser’s father, Peter Musser, who briefly lived in the home with his daughter and son-in-law, was one of several men who formed the Musser & Co. Lumber Company. Laura’s husband, Edwin McColm, was the president and owner of McColm & Company, the leading dry goods store in Muscatine. Laura Musser McColm was an active participant in McColm & Company and was a community leader in local social, cultural, religious, and charitable organizations. Her home served as a venue for innumerable meetings and events. The collection contains Laura’s journals, correspondences, personal notes, photographs, clothing, and sheet music that provide great insight into the day-to-day life an upper-class woman in Iowa. The collection also includes oral histories and photographs of the domestic servant staff. Although attention can be paid to Laura’s story, the stories of her father, her husband, her staff, and the architect of the house are also told, representing a variety of Iowa experiences.
Displayed in the period rooms are several collections. The first, the Laura Musser Collection, includes some important pieces of art. George Grey Barnard, who spent a portion of his adolescence in Muscatine and became a prominent sculpture and collector, created a bust of Laura Musser as a child. This bust (on view in the front parlor) provided Barnard funding to study art in Paris. A second work of art, a portrait of Laura Musser painted by Thomas Riss, is on view in the reception room. Riss exhibited and received the gold medal at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.
The second collection on view is the Mississippi River Collection which includes portraits of local steamboat captains (including a rare work by John Mix Stanley), bird’s eye views of Iowa river towns, and scenic paintings by Frederick Oakes Sylvester, Henry Lewis, and Joachim Ferdinand Richardt. All of these artists have Iowa stories and spent periods of time studying and recording the Mississippi River. The Mississippi River collection spans the entire length of the river and includes paintings, prints, maps, artifacts, sculpture, and ephemera.
The third collection is a gift made by one of Laura Musser’s heirs. The full collection includes 39 works by artists such as Edgar Degas, Auguste Renoir, Marc Chagall, Vincent van Gogh, Camille Pissarro, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse.
The Muscatine Art Center houses a wide and varied collection. Works by American Regionalists such as Grant Wood, Marvin Cone, and others associated with the Stone City Colony are actively acquired as are works made by artists associated with the University of Iowa such as Mauricio Lasansky and Virginia Meyers.
The Stanley Gallery includes two floors for hosting changing exhibitions and lower level designated for studio instruction space. Exhibitions rotate several times each year. Up-to-date information on exhibitions, classes, programs, and special events is available through www.muscatineartcenter.og.
The Muscatine Art Center sits on several acres of grounds. One highlight is the 1929 Japanese Garden installed by Laura Musser. The garden occupies approximately ½-acre on the southeast side of the house and features ponds, streams, hills, stones, tress, and paths. Ornamental yews, stone pagodas, shrines, and statuary are original features.