Art in Fairfield, Iowa
A Not So Hidden Gem
Be honest — you probably wouldn’t imagine a cultural, artistic hub could take root outside a major metropolitan city, much less Southeast Iowa. But as the old saying goes, there’s inspiration everywhere. So, when artists flock to Fairfield, they don’t just see another small town as some outsiders might. Instead, they see a town bustling with opportunity and inspiration.
“Fairfield is seriously unique for a small town in Iowa,” said local artist Bill Teeple, who founded Fairfield’s ICON Gallery 20 years ago. At that time, Teeple said, he had been teaching art in one of the buildings downtown and rented some of the empty rooms to hang art in. Eventually, artists gathered on the third floor for makeshift openings.
According to Teeple, the gallery grew beyond its humble origins and relocated to its current location at 58 N. Main St. in 2007. The founding of the ICON Gallery provided a much-needed creative outlet for artists longing for the art scenes of larger cities.
“All these people would come here, and they were missing the culture of the big city and the culture of the East Coast and West Coast,” Teeple said. “So, when I opened the gallery and these music venues started happening, everyone felt this relief that the things they’d been missing were now starting to happen in Fairfield. Now, it’s been going on in Fairfield so long that people are now moving here just to be part of the art scene.”
A growing arts community
Of course, Teeple said, there have been other initiatives that have been instrumental in the growth of Fairfield’s art scene. The Fairfield Art Association, founded in 1966, began offering classes and workshops to local artists of all ages based in the old Carnegie Library building. Today, the association is headquartered in the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center, which opened in 2007 and is home to the Stephen Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts. In 2002, Stacey Hurlin founded the First Fridays Art Walk, an event that attracts thousands to soak in the local art and music of Fairfield.
Thanks to such initiatives, Teeple expressed, that Fairfield’s art scene has grown wildly to establish the city as a Midwestern art hub. “Today, we must have 300 or 400 artists here,” Teeple said. “And there are a ton of musicians; we have three or four significant musical venues. It’s a very cool scene here. It’s become an art center. … Fairfield has a certain flavor that sort of seeps into your bloodstream once you get here. There’s a lot going on here in little nooks and crannies that people can discover. It’s an interesting place.”
Teeple continues to teach art students and organizes new exhibits and openings in the ICON Gallery, in addition to an up-and-coming monthly art party event. “I not only do consultations with my students, but once a month, I do Party & Paint, which is an outgrowth of the Wine & Canvas movement,” Teeple said, adding the online iteration of the event has attracted artists from Tucson, Baltimore, Seattle, and even Germany. “I’ll have 20-25 people every month doing this with me online.”
Tuning into the vibe
The founding of Maharishi International University and the establishment of Fairfield as a center for Transcendental Meditation in the ‘70s had great influence on the city’s art scene. To have a spiritual movement set up in what was then a very homogenous area was a bit unexpected, Teeple said, as many expected the movement to headquarters in Santa Barbara, CA.
“That kind of dominated the flavor of Fairfield, but it’s been a very interesting community going way back,” Teeple said. “That was the first change in making Fairfield kind of a new-age center in the country. People were coming to this community from all over the country — even from all over the world. A lot of artists and musicians came because a lot of them were involved with practicing transcendental meditation. … Creativity is drawn to those environments, so Fairfield is a pretty creative place.”
Teeple himself was one of those who came to Fairfield to be a part of that movement in the ‘60s. A Los Angeles native, Teeple eventually grew to love — and even prefer — the small-town vibe and burgeoning art scene to that of the big city.
“I love the beauty of the sky, the earth, the rolling hills, the trees, the patterns, and everything about our environment here,” Teeple said, adding that while he was initially reluctant to come to Iowa. However, the small-town practicality and common sense eventually eclipsed what he missed about Los Angeles. “I missed the culture, the museums, the galleries, and all the stuff happening in the big city, but over the years since I’ve brought that here, I don’t miss that LA much anymore and I’ve grown to love the small-town ways.” It’s those humble, laid-back ways combined with the big-city curiosity brought in by artists from around the world that makes for a truly one-of-a-kind environment that continues to draw creative minds in just as it did nearly 50 years ago, Teeple said.
“The mixture of that small-town, practical intelligence with this creative intelligence and bringing the culture of the big city, the inquiries and the self-search for more from life… when put together makes for a very interesting cultural environment,” Teeple said. “I don’t want to be anywhere else.”
The Icon Art Gallery is located at 58 N Main St, Fairfield, IA 52556. Call (641) 469-6252 or learn more at https://www.icon-art.org.