Do your part for Jefferson: Think creatively
By ANDREW MCGINN
The creative process is typically a one-person undertaking.
It somehow means more knowing one guy alone cut off his ear.
If that one guy gets a group of people to help cut off his ear, it’s called performance art.
Even in songwriting, the best songs are rarely collaborations.
Every so often, a meme makes the rounds of Facebook comparing how many people it took to write the Beyonce song “Run the World (Girls)” (six writers) vs. Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” (one writer).
And while every Beatles song might be credited to Lennon/McCartney, the truth is, they actually wrote few songs together.
Jefferson’s own David Williamson, however, has made a career out of making great art by committee.
The sculptor, poet and creative consultant remains best known for his 43-year-old work of public art outside the Jefferson Public Library, which at the time marked his first major commission.
Even then, he didn’t just foist the work onto the community. He took pride in working with the community to create the right piece.
“I pursue the art of making the process public,” Williamson told the Herald a couple of years ago.
Who better, then, to essentially sit down with 9,336 or so people and craft a single poem to celebrate the iconic Mahanay Memorial Carillon Tower and its 50th anniversary in October?
The “Mahanay Tower Moments & Memories” boxes at Homestead Coffee and Bakery, the Jefferson Public Library and on the observation deck of the tower itself are in place to simply collect our favorite Bell Tower memories.
Using a grid found next to each box, participants will get up to 168 squares — the same number as the tower’s height in feet — to spell out their favorite Bell Tower moment or memory.
Maybe it was the night they dropped Super Balls off the top.
Maybe it was where your significant other popped the question.
Or go ahead and explain what the tower means to you.
Maybe it’s a welcome reminder of home as it emerges into view from the highway.
Williamson, who graduated from Jefferson Community High School the same year the tower was built (1966), remembers a pre-tower Jefferson and what its construction did for the community.
In high school, Williamson led a (still revered) rock ‘n’ roll band known as The Bushmen around the state.
“As we traveled around,” he recalled, “a lot of towns had a square.
“All of a sudden, coming back into Jefferson, there was a massive structure built. It made it very distinctive.”
At the end of summer, Williamson will take all those pieces of paper from the “Mahanay Tower Moments & Memories” boxes and construct a single poem.
“I say to people, ‘You’re the architect. I’m just the guy with the hammer and the nails,’ ” he said.
Williamson already has an impressive record of getting ordinary people to think outside the box.
He made three sculptures last decade for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources using trash pulled from the state’s rivers by volunteers through the DNR’s Project AWARE. Each was then fabricated in full view of the public, with the public’s help, at the Iowa State Fair.
Each sculpture also came with a collaborative poem.
“Art reflects the times in which we live,” Williamson explained, “and we live in a time of user-generated content.”
He’s currently at work at his studio near Ogden on a commissioned sculpture for Charles City using debris from a beloved and historic pedestrian bridge destroyed in 2008 when the Cedar River flooded.
A poem already written using memories of the bridge by residents of Charles City will appear on the finished sculpture, which is to be in place by Labor Day.
In this day and age, though, a community’s ability to get involved in the creative process isn’t just a neat recreational activity.
It’s a serious tool for economic development.
In the creative economy, Williamson said, people no longer ask themselves, “Is this a job I want?”
Rather, he said, they ask, “Is this a community where I want to live?”
Any community that can demonstrate creativity, Williamson said, “is a community that becomes a talent magnet.”