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Visual arts director has no problem keeping busy
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More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
Quad City Arts visual arts director Dawn Wohlford-Metallo at the Quad City Arts Gallery in the District of Rock Island.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
Quad City Arts visual arts director Dawn Wohlford-Metallo at the Quad City Arts Gallery in the District of Rock Island.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
Quad City Arts visual arts director Dawn Wohlford-Metallo hangs an exhibit at the Quad City Arts Gallery in the District of Rock Island.
BETTENDORF -- On most nights, when the outside world slumbers, artist Dawn Wohlford-Metallo can be found awake and enveloped in the glow of her studio light.

Cabinets and shelves brimming with art supplies line the walls of her formal-living-room-turned-art-studio in Bettendorf, a massive work table in the center of the room. On its surface, handmade papers and sculptures are strewn about at any given time.

As the sky recedes into ebony, the artist dips the point of her paintbrush into the proper hue, smearing great sweeps of color onto her man-made canvas.

By now, she and 3 a.m. are steadfast old friends.

"I call my studio 'Up Till Dawn' because when I get going, I'll stay up all night," she said.

For more than 10 years, whether under the veil of nightfall or under the glowing lights of Quad City Arts galleries, Mrs. Wohlford-Metallo has made her mark in the area with her handmade paper artistry and her influence as Quad City Arts' visual arts director.

Mrs. Wohlford-Metallo trained as an apprentice under internationally-famed paper maker Raymond Tomasso while earning her MFA at the University of Colorado Boulder. In 2001, she was named gallery manager for Quad City Arts, becoming the visual arts director in 2008. Since then, her to-do list has burgeoned to include a gamut of responsibilities.

As visual arts director, she oversees the Quad City Arts Gallery in Rock Island and the Quad CIty International Airport's Art at the Airport gallery. She meets with a steady stream of local and regional artists, handling publicity and preparing for shows and receptions -- sometimes even personally painting gallery walls and buying food for events. She also facilitates the renting of public art sculptures and, when time allows, teaches paper-making at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport and in her home studio.

"I keep busy," she said, quite the understatement.

Despite her work schedule and family time with her husband, teenage son and two cats, Mrs. Wohlford-Metallo still makes time to work on her own creations -- even if she has to improvise. In the deep recesses of her basement, amid the family's washer and dryer, Mrs. Wohlford-Metallo has set up her "second studio" for the more slippery side of things.

In a process that can exhaust four to seven hours of her day, she feeds ragged pieces of recycled cotton clothing into a Hollander beater, a tub-shaped machine filled with water and a paddle wheel that macerates the cloth into a pulpy substance -- "a modern day mill," Ms. Wohlford-Metallo said. She must watch the machine continuously in case it becomes jammed, recalling a fellow paper-maker whose studio almost burned to the ground after leaving a Hollander beater unattended.

Once "pulped," the water-laden material -- resembling "oatmeal," she said -- is pressed with a sponge to soak up excess water and dried into handmade papers, which become the canvas for photography, watercolors, sewing techniques or drawings in her upstairs studio. Additional pulp is set aside for sculpting, to cast around whatever mold suits her -- which, for Ms. Wohlford-Metallo, could mean just about anything.

"I look for textures in things, anything from a manhole cover on the street ... I've literally cast a brick wall before (and) parts of sidewalks," she said. "You can make the piece of art have more meaning by what you make it out of," she added, citing an example of an early piece she created using bits of shredded money to make a statement about finance.

"It is refreshing in that it's totally unique. I have never seen anyone combine the art of making paper with showing off architectural elements," Quad City Arts executive director Carmen Darland said of Mrs. Wohlford-Metallo's work. "It's just a very fresh approach."

The visual arts director's qualms about societal standards of beauty can be found in a dress made out of measuring tapes called, "She Tried So Hard To Measure Up." The dress was featured in an August show, "Vanity," co-hosted by local artist Lisa Mahar at Davenport's Bucktown Center for the Arts. "(It's) things I've experienced, like the pressure of society to be thin or to look good at all times," she said of the piece. "People just immediately relate to it; they get it."

Her 12-squared grid piece, "Compartmentalized States of Being," tells 12 different stories and is made from cast paper and mixed media. One of the squares is called "Moving Out of My Comfort Zone" and features a rust-colored lizard and is about being comfortable with change and growth, she said. The creation was featured at the internationally-renowned art exhibit "Art Prize" in September, held in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Each piece borne from her labor is a testimony to Ms. Wohlford-Metallo's experiences and convictions. "I think a lot of people try to please other people. They do what they think other people want them to do, and they lose sight of who they are," she said.

But with dreams of one day getting her pieces published in a major art magazine, Ms. Wohlford-Metallo said she'll continue to do things her own way -- by following the age-old adage, "Be true to yourself," she said.





Living the dream

Who: Dawn Wohlford-Metallo, Quad City Arts' visual arts director

Quote: "I think a lot of people ... do what they think other people want them to do, and they lose sight of who they are."




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