Governor’s Art Award to Tower View Team

From Tower, Jefferson is a Giant Canvas

The Mahanay Bell Tower overlooks a rooftop mural on the Jefferson square. (Photo: Daubendiek Photography)

You can see a lot of things from the top of the bell tower that rises 168 feet over the Jefferson square. You can see the Greene County Courthouse, the surrounding neighborhoods, the water towers and grain silos that spike the horizon in every direction.

But it takes a certain kind of vision to create the kind of public artwork that earned a 2018 Governor’s Arts Award during the recent Iowa Arts Summit. A team of Jefferson artists and volunteers used the Mahanay Bell Tower as a centerpiece for an ambitious project that transformed the town square into an outdoor art gallery, complete with rooftop murals that can be seen from the tower’s observation deck.

“That was the driving point for developing new public art and community development,” said Peg Raney, executive director of the Jefferson Matters: Main Street program. “We thought, ‘What can you see from the tower?’”

Plenty, actually — and even more now, thanks to some creativity and hard work.

Local artists and volunteers installed sculptures around the courthouse. They added artwork to an alley they renamed “Sally’s Alley,” which recently was featured on National Public Radio. To welcome the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, they set up a public piano painted with portraits of RAGBRAI founders John Karras and Donald Kaul and former RAGBRAI host Chuck Offenburger, who lives nearby.

Local artists also painted murals on the rooftops of three downtown businesses, along with sidewalk art that is visible only when it rains. The projects give visitors another good reason to ride the elevator to the top of the Mahanay Bell Tower, which was built in the 1960s with about $350,000 that a local man named Floyd Mahanay left in his will. A plaque dedicates the tower “to the glory of God and as a gift to the people of Greene County.”

The gift keeps on giving. Locals used the lofty perch to see their town’s potential as a cultural destination.

Members of the Jefferson Matters: Main Street Tower View Team and Jefferson Mayor Craig Berry, with Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Acting Director Chris Kramer (third from left) and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg (right) at the Iowa Arts Summit Friday in Ankeny.

“We appreciate that these projects in rural communities are being recognized,” Raney said of the Governor’s Arts Award. “(It) empowers small communities who view art as economic development to move forward and draw people to their community.”

Next up? The group is developing another art project called “Arch Alley,” which will add artwork to some of downtown’s historic arches.

— Jeff Morgan, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

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Calendar

September 2021

Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
1
  • Greene County Historical Museum Open
2
  • Community Conversations
3
  • "Rural Churches of Greene County" by Chuck Offenburger
4
5
  • Mahanay Carillon Bell Tower & Thomas Jefferson Gardens Tours
6
7
8
  • Greene County Historical Museum Open
9
  • Fall Open House
10
  • Fall Open House
11
  • Fall Open House
  • Greene County Historical Museum Open
12
  • Mahanay Carillon Bell Tower & Thomas Jefferson Gardens Tours
13
14
15
  • Greene County Historical Museum Open
16
17
  • Jefferson Public Library Book Sale
18
  • Jefferson Public Library Book Sale
  • Greene County Historical Museum Open
  • Highway 30 Junkathon
  • Red Barn Home & Craft Show
19
  • Jefferson Public Library Book Sale
  • Cemetery Walk
20
  • Jefferson Public Library Book Sale
21
  • Jefferson Public Library Book Sale
22
  • Jefferson Public Library Book Sale
  • Greene County Historical Museum Open
23
  • Jefferson Public Library Book Sale
  • VFW Fundraiser Meal
24
  • Jefferson Public Library Book Sale
25
  • Jefferson Public Library Book Sale
  • Greene County Historical Museum Open
26
27
28
29
  • Greene County Historical Museum Open
30
  • Tree Walk