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Our Town: Wheatpaste murals around Cedar Falls offer a glimpse into Iowa’s past, inspire togetherness

Published: Jun. 23, 2021 at 7:38 AM CDT
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CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (KCRG) - As you walk around Cedar Falls, you’ll likely see at least one of several wheatpaste murals. If they bring a smile to your face, they’re doing their job.

Isaac Campell, a grad student at the University of Northern Iowa is the artist behind these murals. They’re part of his master’s thesis which looks at how pictures you may have never seen before could actually make you remember something from your past.

But he hopes also they inspire people to feel a sense of togetherness.

“All of them in some way, I think, express some kind of joy or excitement or feeling or something that we should be striving for, coming out of the pandemic,” he said.

The images come from the Fortepan Iowa archive at the University of Northern Iowa. It has thousands of pictures dating back to the 1800s, many of them taken in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area.

“All the images are built on this theme of getting back together,” he said. “All of them in some way, I think, express some kind of joy or excitement or feeling or something that we should be striving for, coming out of the pandemic. “I think it’s kinda been a social reset for a lot of us to remember what’s important.”

Isaac hopes a look at the past can help the future and encourage change in behavior.

“[W]e don’t have a lot of time with each other and I think this period has shown us that,” he said. “When we think about getting back together and, coming together in a post-COVID, we need to think about how can we look to the past that could maybe tell us some important things that we need to look for in what we do. So, maybe that’s keeping our cell phones away. maybe that’s looking for more excuses to have dinner parties or go on picnics.”

There are nine of these murals up around Cedar Falls, and the process to make them is rather simple. He a group of volunteers help him.

“It’s just normal copy machine paper and then I make a mix of flour and some water and some sugar,” he said. “All you do is put the paste on the wall, you put some paste on the back of the paper, you slap it up there and then you paste on top.”

He says these murals are meant to offer moments of reflection.

“Everybody is so busy. I think we just need to take a step back,” he said. “Think about what getting back together looks like.”

A grant from the Iowa Arts Council and the Cedar Falls Community Betterment Grant helped fund the project.

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