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Artists in Action (Muscatine, Iowa) records

Identifier: IWA0414

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Scope and Contents

The Artists in Action records date from 1974 to 1998 and measure 7.5 linear feet. The records are arranged in nine series: Administrative, Activities, Board of Directors, Shop materials, Member works, Related organizations, Photographs, Scrapbooks, and Artifacts.

The Administrative series (1974-1998) contains the group's articles of incorporation, its mission statements, and organization histories. The bulk of this series consists of the monthly newsletters from Artists in Action's board of directors to its members. In addition, the series includes two folders of newspaper clippings reporting the group's major events, including its opening, anniversaries, its move to a new building, and an incident in which a car crashed through the shop's front window. Lists of member artists, newspaper articles describing their artistic pursuits, and artist questionnaires complete the series.

The Activities series (1974-1997) consists primarily of materials from the group's annual "Belle of the Bend Art Fair," including posters, registration forms, and mailing lists. In addition, the series contains registration forms and publicity from classes and exhibits in which the member artists participated.

The Board of Directors series (1974-1997) contains monthly minutes, budgets, correspondence between the board of directors and member artists or outside parties, and financial reports of shop sales by artist.

The Shop Materials series (1975-1997) documents the daily operations of the Artists in Action store. In includes the store's hours sign, display cards, guest books signed by customers, charge books, and layaway files. Finally, the series contains handwritten worker memos and journals in which shop workers described the day's activities at the shop, including how good business was, any repairs or cleaning performed, and noteworthy incidents.

The Member Works series (1976-1993) contains materials created by members. Nature and Nostalgia in Eastern Iowa, published in 1980, includes illustrations and narratives from a number of member artists; the artists' original drawings are located in the Artifacts series. Also included are illustrated booklets, cards and coloring books designed by member artists and sold in the shop. Finally, the series a short story, "The Remake of Heaven," by Writers on the Avenue member Aldeen Davis. (For further works by Artists in Action members, researchers should consult the Aldeen Davis papers, the National League of American Pen Women, Quad Cities records, and the Sally Stiles papers.)

The Related Organizations series (1976-1997) includes materials from two groups that grew out of Artists in Action: Writers on the Avenue and Tellers in Action. Information about their meetings and compilations of work from the early 1990s documents the gatherings of writers on the Avenue, whose members gathered to help each other hone their writing skills. There is similar information and publicity about Tellers in Action, a subgroup of artists who enjoyed the art of storytelling. Also included in the series are newsletters and publicity pertaining to AIA's involvement with the Greater Downtown Muscatine Association and the Muscatine County Arts Council.

The Photograph series (1974-1995) includes slides and photographs of demonstrations and displays from the AIA store; photographs of member artists and the classes that they taught in the 1970s and 1980s; and photographs from Belle of the Bend art fair activities and the organization's anniversary parties.

The Scrapbooks (1974-1997) document the each year's activities with written commentary by the scrapbooks' creators. Many of the scrapbooks in this series have been disbound from their original three-ring binders to minimize strain on the materials and placed into folders in their original order.

The Artifacts series (1974-1994) includes the group's original stamp used for shop materials and group newsletters, a worker name badge from the 1990s, and the organization's framed first checks. The series also includes the original proofs for the group's brochure, the original drawings for the book,Nature and Nostalgia in Eastern Iowa, and a framed photograph of a display of dolls from the shop. Finally, the series holds a "Shop Downtown Muscatine" poster mapping Muscatine businesses with member notations about which businesses had moved or closed since the poster was created.


  • Creation: 1976-1995


Conditions Governing Access

The papers are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to the University of Iowa.

However, copyright status for some collection materials may be unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owner. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility and potential liability based on copyright infringement for any use rests exclusively and solely with the user. Users must properly acknowledge the Iowa Women’s Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, as the source of the material. For further information, visit

Biographical / Historical

Artists in Action was incorporated in February of 1974 as an outlet to support the creative pursuits of area artists. That year, the group transformed a former tavern at 204 West Second Street in Muscatine into a gallery for the works of member artists. In exchange for yearly dues, which paid for rent and utilities of the shop, members were allotted display space in the gallery in which they exhibited works of art including paintings, sculpture, china, woodwork, prints, stained glass, macramé, and weaving.

To ensure the quality and originality of work, the organization juried artists' works to determine which were suitable for display. In addition, the group strictly enforced its rule that none of its works were reproductions of other artists' works. The organization also limited the length of time works could be displayed. Members voluntarily staffed the shop for allotted time slots, and the business was open to the public every day in the morning and afternoon. For every sale, the artist received eighty percent of the sale price, and the remaining money went to the shop. An elected board of approximately ten people met each month to make decisions regarding the shop, including judging of new artists' works, determining shop window displays, and organizing worker schedules.

In addition to its shop, the group developed a number of community activities. In the mid-to-late 1970s, the group organized classes and craft demonstrations and the "Belle of the Bend Art Fair," which was the main event of Muscatine's "Great River Days." Each August, the fair brought artists from throughout the Midwest to Muscatine, and over 100 artists participated each year. By the 1990s, the group expanded into two subgroups: a writers' society called "Writers on the Avenue" which published compilations of its members' works, and "Tellers in Action," a group of artists who told stories at community events and libraries.

Despite the group's diversification, it was consistently plagued by financial difficulty. By the mid-1980s, the group concluded that many of its financial problems stemmed from its location. In 1987 the group moved into a building in the main district of Muscatine and enjoyed a brief increase in business. By the early 1990s, the shop's monthly statements rarely showed a profit, and despite many attempts to continue operating, the group closed the shop in 1997. Following the settlement of its debts and assets, the group officially disbanded at its last board meeting, October 8, 1998.


7.50 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Muscatine organization of area artists who opened a shop and organized an annual craft fair, classes, and craft demonstrations.

Method of Acquisition

The records (donor no. 603) were donated by Sally Stiles in 1999.

Related Materials

Aldeen Davis papers (IWA)

Sally Stiles papers (IWA)

National League of American Pen Women, Quad Cities Branch, records (IWA)

Heather Stecklein, 2002.
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Repository Details

Part of the Iowa Women's Archives Repository

100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242 IaU
319-335-5900 (Fax)