What you can be sure of is that people will have their opinions and they'll let them fly. Downtown Des Moines is about to get a new--and permanent--resident, this goofy monstrosity, a giant pumpkin. Won't be long and pumpkin growers across the state will be trying their best to create a clone, but on Tuesday this one--a nicely proportioned five-footer (eight foot tall on its pedastal)--will take up residence at the John and Mary Poppajohn Sculpture Park.
Cute is an unlikely word for a fat old pumpkin, but this one, somehow, is. Maybe it's polka-dot clown hat that sits jauntily up top. The thing doesn't look old really, but its saggy bottom suggests a sweet disposition, the kind of a pumpkin someone might hope to be a friend.
On the other hand, the vertical stripes of its spots give the thing a bit of a high-rise look, don't you think? This is a pumpkin that'll fit better in downtown Des Moines than downtown Doon. It's an urban pumpkin, as Doon residents will be happy to point out.
The Poppajohns, whose finances are central to the place, have some choice in what sculptures reside in the park, more than I do anyway or George and Jenny Des Moines. The Poppajohns like it, they say, in part because it's the work of a master sculptor. While you might gather that it's goofiness has to be the vision of some kid, you're wrong. The sculptor claims pumpkins are a source of great comfort to her, as they were when she was a child in pre-war Japan. You read that right--this great pumpkin is the work of an 88-year-old woman who has, for decades, held a secure place among the world's foremost sculptors.
Don't believe that? Think on some rainy afternoon your granddaughter could have done this?
That's okay. That's just fine. Think what you'd like.
A century ago, some muck-a-mucks in Woodbury County, Iowa, presented a building plan for a brand new courthouse. The commissioners weren't taken. After all, where were the pillars? This was going to be a courthouse, after all, didn't it have to look classical? Slack-jawed, they stared down at a building that looked like nothing else they'd ever seen--and they didn't like it.
Not at all. And they let it be known. This "prairie-style" courthouse was a monstrosity that looking nothing like the glory that was Greece or the grandeur that was Rome. It looked like a stack of flat bread. What would people say?
The Woodbury County Board of Supervisors said no, until a single powerful member talked them out of it and into the building that will, this year, celebrate its hundredth birthday, a magnificent structure that would likely be far better known if it were somewhere other than fly-over country.
Art can be tricky. Who would have guessed American Gothic would ever become American Gothic? You own a art shop in downtown Chicago, and some skinny man comes in with a portrait of two hicks, two skittish farm people, one of them wielding a pitchfork. They're standing in front of a boxy little house somewhere in the middle of nowhere. That painting is going to sell? you say. Sure.
Art only toys with reason. It's serious about mystery and rather likes being misunderstood because it really treasures ideas, even strange ones, even some ideas you haven't thought of.
Who knows? A hundred years from now that great Des Moines pumpkin may be little more than a loo for starlings. On the other hand, the city may slowly wake up to a new nice guy downtown, a portly old friend right there on the street, the very first one to pull on the slouchy polka dot toque that everyone's wearing.