Creating New Art During the Iowa State Fair

Aug 20, 2015

Des Moines artist Ben Schuh was commissioned by the Iowa State Fair to create a mural on site during the 11-day event.  He is elevated 10 feet in the air by a motorized scaffolding, so he can work on the details of his drawing of the State Capitol and landscapes filled with wind turbines.  These are a few of the Iowa scenes on a 14-by-12 foot painting.  


Last spring, Schuh was one of many artists to submit a sketch for a mural and board officials selected his to be brought to life during the fair, for a stipend of 25-hundred dollars. "The stipend spells out that I will provide a high quality mural, that I'll work on it a minimum of two hours a day," he says. "That's pretty much all the contract spells out."

Schuh's average number of hours a day is well past the two-hour minimum.  In the first weekend of the fair, most of the thousands of people coming through the building were surprised to see this work in progress. Schuh says he likes painting in a public space because it tends to inspire creativity in others, especially those who don't think of themselves as an artist.

"Art was never something I actually thought about until I started at Grandview and transferred over from and went into graphic design. So, accessibility to something that I have a passion for is important for me because there's a lot of people who may not have realized their potential to do something similarly."

Alan Drees from Council Bluffs sits on a bench few feet away from the canvas and watches Schuh paint. "There's just something everywhere you look in that mural that just draws you into different parts of it," says Drees. 

Alan Drees from Council Bluffs can't see all of the colors Ben Schuh adds to the mural, but since the artist paints with color blindness in mind so it also is accessible in greyscale.
Credit Photo by John Pemble

He notices the state flower and the High Trestle Trail Bridge, but says he isn't able to see these objects the same way the artist does. "I'm partly color-impaired, but looking at all of the art together and the different scenes the way that they blend and fold together to me is fascinating," says Drees.

Drees doesn't know this, but Schuh deliberately blends colors to make all of his paintings colorblind friendly. "If you have identifiable contrast from one plane to another, then people can decipher the change in planes and that then that will actually help them recognize the subject matter," says Schuh.

"If you have some harsh black line placement to identify an edge, and then from there you actually tone it down a little bit, but then you have a definitive change in color whether it goes from green to purple or something, if it's a strong enough contrast then there's gonna be a grayscale change."

To make a living Schuh depends on people buying his artwork, but he doesn't want to sell this mural.  He says it should permanently stay on the grounds of the State Fair.

"Just because I think it...it's one of those things that, people I've interacted with, even the people who who don't have no knowledge of who I am personally, just to hear their response and how it means something to them tells me that it's doing exactly what I designed it to do and that's create interaction and hopefully drive conversation."

While the painting looks like it is almost done, Schuh says he could keep working on the details of the barns, hills, skylines, and cattle for weeks, but on Sunday he'll have to walk away and say goodbye to his newest work of art.