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University of Iowa News Release

June 6, 2003

Women's Archives Holds Iowa Women Artists' Oral Histories

The Iowa Women's Archives at the UI Libraries is home of one of the most comprehensive oral histories of Iowa artists ever assembled.

The Iowa Women Artists Oral History Project includes tapes and transcripts of interviews with 77 women artists in the state compiled by Urbandale artist Jane Robinette. The interviews outline the artists' earliest memories of their interest in art, how they came to be working artists and their lives before that. Robinette said her mission was to record the stories of women who weren't always taken seriously as artists.

"For years, women artists were ignored and their work devalued, so I wanted to do something to preserve their stories, their struggles and their accomplishments-to place their art in the context of their lives," she said.

Karen Mason, curator of the Iowa Women's Archives, said the project is an important part of the archives' mission of preserving the history of Iowa women.

"This collection goes a long way in telling us about what up until now had been mostly an untold story, the experiences of women artists in Iowa," said Mason.

Robinette said the idea for the oral history project came when she was a staff attorney in the U.S. District Court in Des Moines (she earned her law degree from the UI College of Law in 1990). Robinette, who had always enjoyed art and creative writing, said the law left her frustrated.

"I wanted to be more creative and do more creative work," said Robinette, who tried writing and creating art in her spare time, but found that she was more interested in her artistic work than in her legal career. So in 1998, she quit the law to focus on art and writing. Since she'd had a long-term interest in oral history, she decided to begin a series of oral histories with women visual artists in Iowa. Her legal background helped her draft interview releases and artwork permission forms during the project.

Her first interviews were with her mother, Laurayne, and aunt, Vicki Adams, both of whom are working artists in the Des Moines area. She then spent about 18 months traveling across Iowa with her tape recorder, preserving the stories of women artists. Other artists interviewed include Jane Gilmor of Cedar Rapids, Jo Siddens of Waterloo, Laurie Elizabeth Talbot Hall of Iowa City and longtime UI art professor Virginia Myers. Among the more significant artists in the collection is Davenport native Isabel Bloom, whose small concrete sculptures are known worldwide. Unfortunately, Robinette said, Bloom was very old by the time she interviewed her in 1999 and her memory was shaky. Bloom died not long after the interview.

"I found while doing these interviews that everyone has a story," Robinette said. "Even in the interviews that didn't quite click or go as well as I expected, something came out that made it worthwhile." Robinette noted that the interviews show many different ways of becoming an artist and making art, which served as inspiration for her in continuing to pursue her own creative work.

The Iowa Women Artists Oral History Project is available in the Iowa Women's Archives on the third floor of the UI main library. Robinette also has a web site with more information about the project, as well as artwork images and MP3 recordings of portions of many of the interviews, at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, 319-384-0010,