The Ottumwa Courier

September 1, 2013

Artists new and old enliven downtown

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Saturday was not the kind of weather organizers hope for when planning an outdoor street fair. So it's a measure of success that the annual Walk on Art Street managed to draw a solid crowd despite coming at the end of the summer's most intense heat wave.

A little heat wasn't going to keep Ernie and Claudia Koch away, though.

“I think this is our third or fourth year,” said Ernie. “The people are friendly, it's well run.”

The Kochs' form of art isn't painting or sketching. Ernie turns wood into functional bowls and decorations. He favors stains that bring out the wood's natural grain over attempts to change its color.

The pieces started as stress relief in about 2001, then picked up steam after retirement.

“Its been a learning experience,” he said.

Mark McWhorter's stall was down just a couple dozen feet. Where the Kochs have just over a decade of experience, McWhorter has closer to 30 years under his belt.

McWhorter is an instructor at Indian Hills Community College and put on his first ceramics shows “in the early 80s.” He missed last year's walk and was happy to be back.

McWhorter agrees with the Kochs on one very important point. The environment and the people make the day.

“Even if I didn't sell anything, I would still do it,” he said.

The backgrounds of the artists are as varied as their creations. Natalia Butler had a steady stream of customers at her stall full of hand-knit items. It's not hard to believe her story is unique.

Butler was trained as a scientist in a family of scientists, with a doctorate in analytical chemistry from Kiev State University. She points visitors to her website, which details a career that included 15 years working to solve problems stemming from the Chernobyl disaster.

A self-described “European girl,” Butler prefers to work with yarn imported from Turkey, Italy, Spain, France and Germany. While she understands patterns, she'd rather work without them. She's another artist who found more time to explore with retirement, which she spends in Missouri with her husband.

Butler began knitting decades ago, but Joan Fall is much newer to her craft. She began taking photographs seven or eight years ago. A niece loved a flower she had, but it only blooms for a short time each year. Taking a good photo became a way of giving the flower to her niece.

“I love flowers and I have flower gardens all around my house,” Fall said.

A Nikon camera and a macro lens keeps the flowers coming. Fall's area was covered in large, close-up photos of her flowers.

Being a new artist can be stressful. It's a leap of faith. For Fall, it still comes down to how she started.

“My family,” she said, “helped me get there.”