Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, a library of beauty

 Sean Ulmer, Executive Director of the museum shared that the museum located in downtown Cedar Rapids is housed in an old Carnegie Library
Sean Ulmer, Executive Director of the museum shared that the museum located in downtown Cedar Rapids is housed in an old Carnegie Library

Kenny Chesney has a new song out called “Noise”. The premise of the song is everywhere he goes there is noise until he can’t even hear his own voice -or make his own voice heard. In these times when we are so busy and surrounded by so much “noise” taking a day and going to an art museum or sitting at a bench in a library to just enjoy the silence and let the beauty of the art and books speak to you is a wonderful thing.

I love it even more when beautiful art is found in a lovely building. That is the story of the Cedar Rapids Art Museum (CRMA).  Sean Ulmer, Executive Director of the museum shared that the museum located in downtown Cedar Rapids is housed in an old Carnegie Library. The library came about Sean explained because the women in town wanted a library for the public to have access to.  When the women voted the library in by a mere five votes, Sean said, “The men got on board and asked Carnegie to match funds.”

The art portion of the story enters in after Cedar Rapids citizens were inspired by the World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago. Community leaders formed an art club in 1895, and then ten years later, in 1905, when members were offered a specially designed gallery in the new Carnegie Library’s 2nd floor. The club incorporated as the Cedar Rapids Art Association and began exhibiting art in a gallery in the newly built Carnegie Library.

The history section of the museum website explains, “The first painting was acquired for the collection in 1906.  Local artists were often important members, helping arrange exhibitions, lectures, and special events.  Among the most active members in the early 1920s were artists Grant Wood and his close friend Marvin Cone.  Receiving Federal support from 1930 to 1935, the Association also ran the highly regarded Little Gallery, directed by Ed Rowan, who later helped run th ePublic Works of Art Project.”


The library and art museum worked in tandem until the early 1960s, when the Art Association acquired and renovated a building in a nearby downtown location—the Torch Press Building. They remained there until the Cedar Rapids Public Library moved to a new building in the mid 1980s, vacating the Carnegie building where the Art Association was first established.  When the City of Cedar Rapids offered the original Carnegie building and some adjacent land to the Art Center the deal was too good to pass up.

Citizens of Cedar Rapids raised$10 million for the renovation of the Carnegie building and the construction of a 42,000 square foot addition designed by Charles W. Mooreand Centerbrook Architects.  The new Cedar Rapids Museum of Art was formally opened in December 1989.

The library got an upgrade once more Sean said after the devastating 2008 flood. In 2014 other upgrades were made as well.

The original portion of the Carnegie library now serves as the entry way and the gift shop. The reproduction glass ceiling is one of the riveting items inside the original space as well as the Melvina Hoffman series of dancers in plaster that line the walls. “She was Rodin’s last student,” Sean Ulmer said. “This is a very early piece. She was interested in dance.”

Visitors to the museum will enjoy the fact that there is free admission until Labor Day and abundant parking in the rear of the building. “We are also open the first Thursday evening of the month,” Sean said. “There are 16 galleries.”

The mission of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art is to excite, engage, and educate through the arts. There are so many things, so many lovely pieces of art in the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art to be excited about. .

Everywhere in Cedar Rapids, Grant Wood has been a part of the art scene and it is no different at the Cedar Art Museum, he and his good friend Marvin Cone after graduating from high school headed to Europe and painted side by side. Art from both artists are on display. Wood’s display is a culling of their extensive collection that they change out every so often.

Currently there is a lovely Rodin sculpture collection, a Ladies of the Club Female Portraiture from the Collection, and the amazing Diego Lasansky: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Mom and I were blown away by this display created by Diego Lasansky, grandson of famed printmaker Mauricio Lasansky. Sean said, “He just graduated and the exhibit is dedicated to a single print of Martin Luther.”

At the end of his exhibit is a wonderful short film explaining a bit about Diego Lasansky and his history.

The display, The Restless Spirit: American Art from the Collection offers a different look at the CRMA’s diverse holdings of American art. Two other exhibits Maurico Lasansky: Master Printmaker and Art in Roman Life are current permanent exhibits. “Maurice Lasanky taught at the University of Iowa. He transformed print making putting techniques together,” Sean said.


When in Cedar Rapids take time to visit the galleries. Sit among the over 7,000 works on display and listen in the quiet to the sound of art!


The museum is located at 410 3rd Ave SE Cedar Rapids. Call (319) 366-7503 for more information or log onto http://www.crma.org/.

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