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Estherville Art Center finds a home

By Staff | Feb 3, 2010

Scott Griffith shows Byron Lindell the bowels of the former Estherville Creamery which Griffith envisions as the home for an Estherville Art Center. EDN photo by Michael Tidemann

When Scott Griffith heard that the Lincoln School was going to be torn down, he did everything he could to save it – even put $22,500 down on the table to buy the property.

However, when Griffith answered quite honestly to the Estherville Lincoln Central Community School District Board of Education that he could not guarantee a timetable as to when he would have the building renovated, the board decided to demolish the building.

But no one could demolish Griffith’s dream for an art center for Estherville.

Sunday night, Griffith convened the first meeting for the Estherville Art Center in the old creamery building on 508 First Ave. S. in Estherville, a sprawling, 15,000-square-foot industrial-era behemoth. Scattered throughout the building is the flotsam and jetsam of prior owners – windshields from the seventies or before, car parts, toys so old they’ve accumulated an antique value. There’s even a freon compressor. Griffith proudly turns the flywheel for every visitor who passes through, saying, “All I have to do is hook up a 20-horse motor and it will work.”

That’s a pretty wild idea, isn’t it? Turning an old factory into an art center? Who would ever think of such a thing?

Griffith explains the future plans to develop the art center to members of the Estherville Art Association. EDN photo by Michael Tidemann

If you asked that same question around Manhattan, the names Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Andy Warhol start to pop up, icons of the abstract expressionist movement. In the wake of their art, painters, sculptors and arts of all sorts commandeered similar industrial buildings throughout New York. A new art movement exploded, permanently moving the epicenter of the art world to New York City.

Griffith could very well be on to something.

He’s already designated a purpose for each area of the building. There’s a potter’s studio, a woodworking area and a gallery display area. There’s even two, 40-by-60 rooms with 30-foot ceilings Griffith envisions as performance halls. Music. Improvisational theater. Comedy. You name it. It’s all possible in Griffith’s vision.

“This old building doesn’t look like much but we have a lot of hopes for it,” said Griffith to a group gathered Sunday night, a propane heater whispering between his remarks. “It’s such an exciting atmosphere to be in and be part of the art community.”

Griffith talked about other artists that had taken on seemingly insurmountable challenges, both near and far – the Grotto of the Redemption at West Bend, Red Rock Theatre in Fairmont, Minn., Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments in South Dakota.

Then Griffith’s dreams met the start reality of questions from Byron Lindell, himself an accomplished artist and teacher at Iowa Lakes Community College.

“What do you see this thing becoming?” Lindell asked.

Griffith said his plans are to renovate one room at a time. He then offered up his dreams for everything from culinary arts to stained class to art classes.

“If you can get five or six or seven or eight people that want to get together and come and learn” is the concept at the heart of Griffith’s vision. “All you’ve got to do is get your building ready to go and people will come.”

When Lindell asked what the art center would entail, Griffith said he envisioned a cultural center that would offer not just art but also food and entertainment.

“So what’s the game plan,” Lindell said.

“We’re going to have fun,” said Griffith. “Just what we’ve done so far is an inspiration to people.”

Then Griffith’s dream caught fire with everyone else – including Lindell who remembered as a child seeing the creamery next to the Dairy Queen.

Yes, said Griffith, and the creamery sold ice cream cones even before the Dairy Queen.

Then Lindell asked about funding.

“I wish that we didn’t have to have any money,” said Griffith. He said he hopes to have volunteers first and apply for grants and have fundraisers.

“We have to have money to get things done but we still have to have grassroots people,” Griffith said. “When this gets done, every person is going to feel that it’s theirs.”

Griffith admitted it will take time.

“In my personal opinion we’re looking at a 20-year project,” Griffith said. “We’re just going to take one step at a time.”

For more information about the Estherville Art Center, go on-line to esthervvilleartcenter.com, call 712-209-1900 or write to 1416 470th Ave., Estherville, IA 51334.

The next meeting will be held at the creamery at 508 First Ave. S. at 6 p.m. Feb. 28.