By Trent Matthew England / for The NSP
Artistic talent may or may not be genetic, but it definitely runs deep in the Marolf family.
There was an open house at the Scott County Library System headquarters in Eldridge on Saturday, April 23, to unveil the artwork of three artists, all of whom are related to each other: Leo Marolf, his brother, Arn Marolf, and Arn’s daughter, Rachel Marolf-Chouteau. The works will be exhibited through June.
“We’ve been doing this for about eight or nine years,” said employee Helen Edwards of the library’s display of works by local artists. “Don Heggen, who lives in Long Grove, is my community contact, and he gets out to the local shows and then recommends artists for display in the library here in Eldridge.”
Heggen is both a teacher and a practitioner of the arts, participating in a lot of art shows, including Beaux Arts in downtown Davenport.
He taught art at Davenport West High School for 28 years, and has also taught at St. Ambrose
University, Marycrest College and Black Hawk College.
“Rachel was a student of mine at Davenport West … and we had her set up for a show, and she decided she didn’t want to do it by herself, so she asked if she could have her dad and her uncle do it too, and I said that would be great,” said Heggen. “I thought they were going to just bring two-dimensional stuff, but then there were all of these carvings and models on display, too. It’s the biggest show we’ve ever had.”
There are more than 25 Marolf pieces displayed all around the library. The bookshelves have scale model horse-drawn wagons sitting atop them that were created by Leo. Intricately carved ducks, a pheasant and an owl, made by Arn, perch on the shelf tops. There are also acrylic paintings by Rachel.
“I am especially glad to see my father’s work on display. Its minute detail and realism is astonishing to me,” said Rachel. “I am also pleased to see my uncle’s amazing creations for the first time. They are both such perfectionists,
while I’m a bit more ‘loosely woven.’”
Rachel said that she began drawing when she was old enough to hold a pencil. Down in the basement, where she had a little drawing table … across the back room from where her dad was working on his artwork, or drawings for his contracting business.
“As I grew a bit older, I always loved the fact that my Uncle Leo would drop off his architecture
magazines for me to “study,” says Rachel. “I spent hours and hours going through floor plan after floor plan…page after page.”
She studied three years of high school drafting, and took drawing and painting classes from Heggen at West, graduating in 1979. She earned a scholarship to the University of Northern Iowa, where she spent a year. She then went to Chicago, spent some time at the American Academy of Art, and finally came home to finish college at St. Ambrose University.
“I have done a bit of work for area businesses, churches and museums … and have enjoyed doing artwork for family and friends, along with having small ‘sales’ out of my home from time to time,” said Rachel.
The exhibit includes a sampling of her works — portraiture sketches of Iowa State University landmarks of the campus where her children attended school, some simple quilt designs, paintings of garden flowers, calligraphy
and a couple of abstract paintings.
“I’m not much of a talker … I prefer working things out on paper or canvas or writing about what’s on my mind, she said. “There is a special painting/collage that I did as a tribute to all who have served in the military in any capacity. I was especially thinking of my dad and my uncle when I put it together. It is my rather simplistic attempt to show my heartfelt thanks to so many brave men and women.”
Arn Marolf started drawing at an early age, but he never imagined at the time that his career —
and entire life — would revolve around art.
“When I got into high school I took art, of course, and did pretty well, but I always had it in my mind that I’d be in construction because my dad was an architect,” said Arn.
He graduated from Davenport High School in 1946, and worked for his father, W.J. Marolf, as a carpenter until he entered the Army in 1950. He was sent to Korea, where he was wounded.
“I didn’t think much about going into the art field until after the service. I got shot up pretty good in the service and was told not to do any construction,” said Arn.
While recovering at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Denver, Colo., he volunteered to do some artwork for the Red Cross. He was then assigned to limited duty at Camp Carson, Colo. and was able to work with the post training aides in the art department until his enlistment was up.
“After the service I went to the American Academy of Art in Chicago … I wanted to do commercial art. So I ended up going to school up there,” said Arn.
After graduating from art school, Arn got a job in Chicago, and worked there for a short time, eventually deciding to move back to Davenport. He then worked at the art studio of Robert Boudinot for a time, but eventually
joined his father and brother, Waldo, in forming W.J. Marolf and Sons, Ltd. Masonry Contractors in Davenport. He retired in 1994.
Arn has sold some of his carvings and has worked as a freelance artist on many occasions, but he has also donated pieces for benefits that have brought in generous donations of as much as $250.
His hobbies are painting, drawing, and carving decorative wildlife. He finds it very satisfying to spend time changing a solid block of wood into a creature of beauty, and he spends as many hours of his time carving as his wife, Shirley, will allow.
Leo Marolf graduated from Davenport High School in 1944. He served in the U.S. Army from 1944 to 1946 during the occupation of the South Pacific, Philippine Islands, and Japan.
“I started out in art and went to the University
of Iowa, and I graduated from there. Then I went to the University of Illinois and got my degree in architecture,” said Leo, who practiced architecture in the Quad Cities with Appier Marolf and Associates and SGGM Architects and Interior Designers. He retired in 1996.
“My son lives in Arizona, so I would go to visit and I like to go to museums, so I got interested in antique wagons,” he explained.Fascinated by the details of the different brake systems, he began making his own models.
Leo and his wife, Mel, have traveled all over the United States with the Airstream Caravan Club, and his sketches of buildings and objects from all across the country are a testament to his love of art. He has always enjoyed sketching, painting, and drawing, as well as building models of all kinds.