John Pemble

Arts and Culture Reporter

John Pemble is the Arts and Culture reporter at Iowa Public Radio. In 1989, John began his Iowa Public Radio career in Fort Dodge as a program host for jazz, classical, and contemporary instrumental music programs. He joined Iowa Public Radio’s news department in 2008 to produce arts and culture stories.

John spent ten years as an adjunct professor for Iowa Central Community College’s broadcasting department teaching production and operations classes.

John's favorite public radio program is Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

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Arts and Culture
4:43 pm
Thu November 20, 2014

Public Art Bus Exhibition

Images of Alex Brown’s paintings are wrapped around a Des Moines city bus. The Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation is funding four artists to have their art on a bus at six-month intervals.
Credit Photo by John Pemble

The Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation is using a city bus to display new art.  Painter Alex Brown is the first of four artists to have his work photographed then printed on a vinyl seal surrounding the bus.  Brown says his paintings are comprised of aircraft and faces that are hard to make out at close range, but they become clearer from a distance.

“I was playing with the registry of things sort of slipping and being out of focus,” he says. “Kind of a varied combination of things that my eye was attracted to.”

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Arts and Culture
2:00 am
Tue November 18, 2014

Training to be a 4-H Judge

Anna Lewandoski helps Cindy Arbogast learn how to be a judge during a 4-H training day in Fort Dodge.
Credit Photo by John Pemble

 

The school year is well underway and hundreds of 4-H kids are working on projects to take to county fairs later this summer.

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Arts and Culture
5:57 am
Mon October 13, 2014

Rare Civil War Prints of African American Union Soldiers

Judy Norrell visiting the African American History Museum of Iowa for a symposium held there and at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. Her photos of rare Civil War photos are part of the Museum of Art exhibit, “Shadows of History”.
Photo by John Pemble

Historians and collectors gathered in Cedar Rapids last weekend to mark the 150 anniversary of the Civil War’s end.

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Arts and Culture
11:15 pm
Thu August 28, 2014

Statue of Senator James Harlan Returns Home

The 8-foot tall, 25-hundred pound bronze statue of James Harlan on a rainy afternoon after being dedicated at its new home on the campus of Iowa Wesleyan College. Previously this sculpture was on display for 104 years at Statuary Hall in Washington D.C.
Photo by John Pemble

After spending 104 years in Washington D.C., a sculpture of James Harlan returns to his hometown Mount Pleasant, Iowa.  Harlan was a U.S. senator and a member of President Andrew Johnson’s cabinet, but he is most remembered in Iowa as an influential college president of what is now called Iowa Wesleyan College.

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Arts and Culture
1:30 am
Fri August 22, 2014

Lincoln’s Last Interview Drama in Iowa Capitol

Mary Bricker, Elizabeth Klinge, and Matt McIver respectively playing the roles Mary Lincoln, Eve Harper and Abraham Lincoln during a rehearsal for “Lincoln’s Last Interview” in the House of Representatives Chamber at the Iowa Capitol.
Photo by John Pemble

A new play about one the country’s most influential Presidents will take place in a space only used by politicians.  “Lincoln’s Last Interview” only engagement is on the floor of the Iowa House in the State Capitol.  It’s being used as a stand in for the US House of Representatives.  The play is set on April 14th, 1865 where President Lincoln and his wife Mary give an interview to a reporter before leaving to see a play at Ford’s Theater.  

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Iowa State Fair
11:30 am
Wed August 13, 2014

Iowa State Fair 2014

This 25-foot tall replica of the figures in Grant Wood's "American Gothic," are capturing the attention of fairgoer and amateur photographers.
John Pemble

In this special edition of Talk of Iowa, IPR Arts and Culture reporter John Pemble and Executive Producer Katherine Perkins report on the sights and sounds of the 2014 Iowa State Fair.  Listen as we attend the 75th annual photography salon and talk with the photographer who seeks to capture the spirit of the fair in his new book.  We visit a food stand that's been serving pie and beef burgers to hungry fairgoers for 65 years, and witness the awarding of a blue ribbon for mechanical innovation on the farm.  We'll milk a cow, learn about Herbert Hoover and listen to some bluegrass.  It's all

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Arts and Culture
12:14 am
Thu August 7, 2014

Color Removed from State Fair’s Photo Salon

This year’s Photo Solon at the Iowa State Fair has the theme “Salute to Ansel Adams”, where all pictures are in black and white. Of the 3,874 photos submitted, 841 were selected for display of which nearly a 25% received an award.
Photo by John Pemble

Some exhibits at the Iowa State Fair begin before the opening day like the photo salon in the cultural center building.

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Arts and Culture
1:09 am
Fri July 18, 2014

Amateur Radio Contests Encourage Emergency Preparedness

Jason Skretta, KC0EJT, scans frequencies in the “shortwave” band to find voices of other amateur radio operators in North America during the annual summer contest “Field Day”.
Photo by John Pemble

100 years ago, amateur radio operators were in the early years of making wireless communication with people around the world.  Professional radio operators started calling them “ham” as a pejorative, because the amateur’s equipment often caused interference, but operators embraced it and the negative connotation disappeared.  There are 800-thousand licensed ham radio operators in North America with 6,619 of them in Iowa. One of the reasons this hobby continues to move forward is because of regular competitions.  

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Arts and Culture
1:07 am
Fri June 27, 2014

Dead Man Walking: Intimate View of Death Row through Opera

Sister Helen Prejean speaks during a lecture at Drake University, May 2014. Her work with death row inmates is the basis for the opera “Dead Man Walking”, which is being presented by the Des Moines Metro Opera's summer 2014 season.
Photo by John Pemble

The Des Moines Metro Opera's summer 2014 season includes “Dead Man Walking”, the company’s first work from the 21st century.  It’s an adaptation of Sister Helen Prejean’s 1994 book about her experiences of ministering to death row inmates.  The story is based on Prejean’s early prison ministry work when she became the spiritual advisor for death row inmate, Patrick Sonnier until his execution in 1984 at the Louisiana State Penitentiary.  While the opera is based on Sonnier’s case, the story uses a fictious character, Joseph De Rocher.

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Politics
4:44 pm
Thu June 26, 2014

Sister Activism: An Opera and Reflections from a Nun on a Bus

Sister Simone Campbell
Wikimedia Commons

When Sister Simone Campbell first heard about Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget deal, she was less than impressed. “America was not founded on individualism, you can’t have a quilting bee alone. We need to encourage solidarity. He made it seem like it’s the responsibility of the poor to pull themselves up by the bootstrap, that’s not right.”

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Arts and Culture
6:12 am
Sun May 11, 2014

David Byrne Speaks During Grand Opening of Des Moines Social Club

David Byrne is the keynote speaker during Des Moines Social Club’s grand opening at a former fire house built in 1937. He is speaking from a music stage in a courtyard to around 500 people.
Credit Photo by Clay Masters

Musician David Byrne was a mainstay on MTV in the early 1980s as the lead singer for Talking Heads. The group disbanded in the 90s, but Byrne’s still an influential artist and he used that influence this weekend during the grand opening of Des Moines Social Club.  This nonprofit organization started seven years ago as a center for the arts.  For most of those years it existed in small rented spaces, but now it has its own building, a downtown fire station built in 1937, that’s been under renovation for about a year. 

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Arts and Culture
10:24 am
Fri May 2, 2014

Sculptor Visits His Work's New Home for the First Tine

"panoramic awareness pavilion" by Olafur Eliasson in the Pappajohn Sculture park, downtown Des Moines.
Photo by John Pemble

Late last year Olafur Eliasson finished the sculpture “panoramic awareness pavilion” in his Berlin studio and in December members of his crew installed it at the Pappajohn Sculpture Park in downtown Des Moines.  The work is a series of 23, 9-foot tall glass panels arranged in a circle around a light beam.  Each slab of glass is semi-reflective in color gradients from yellow, blue, to orange.  Thursday afternoon Eliasson saw his work for the first time in its permanent Iowa home during a brief ceremony conducted by the Des Moines Art Center.

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Arts and Culture
10:39 pm
Tue April 29, 2014

Des Moines Ties to Tony Awards

The first Tony Award winners were given a scroll to commemorate their achievement, but in 1949 the medallion became the symbol of achieving the best from Broadway. The 68th Tony Awards will be held on June 8th, 2014 at Radio City Music Hall.
Photo by John Pemble

This week in New York City, nominations for the 68th Annual Tony Awards were announced.  In a few days around 870 voters across the country will receive ballots to determine this year’s winners, but only one will be sent to Iowa. 

Jeff Chelesvig is the CEO of Des Moines Performing Arts, which includes the Civic Center of Greater Des Moines, where touring versions of Broadway musicals are presented.  Chelesvig has been a Tony voter for 18 years and says for a musical to be eligible for a Tony award, the producers must formally invite voters to come see the shows in New York.

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Arts and Culture
5:00 am
Fri February 14, 2014

Modern Folk in a Classical Music Environment

The OK Factor’s Karla Dietmeyer and Olivia Hahn demonstrate techniques used to create their modern folk music at Luther College’s Dorian Orchestra Festival workshop. They graduated from there last spring and just released their first album “Water Street”.
Photo by John Pemble

Last May when violinist Karla Dietmeyer and cellist Olivia Hahn graduated from Luther College’s music program, they had already formed the modern folk duo The OK Factor.  But to move their musical goals forward, they decided to move to Minneapolis where they developed their songs and made recordings at a friend’s studio.  Some of their concerts dates brought them back to Olivia’s home town Cedar Falls as well as the Iowa State Fair.  By the autumn, Olivia moved to Memphis where she took a day job in an office and Karla to the Atlanta area living with her parents and teaching music lessons.

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Arts and Culture
5:00 am
Thu January 30, 2014

Nontraditional Collection of Traditional Music

Max Wellman records jazz standards in a Des Moines venue for his 2014 monthly subscription service of music titled “The Songbook Project”.
Photo by John Pemble

Most albums are a group of songs acquired as a single body of music on a vinyl record, CD, or download, but musicians like Max Wellman from Des Moines are challenging this decades old system.  Wellman is a 22-year old jazz singer who has been working full time in the business for three years after dropping out of Butler University in 2011.  Last November he released the CD “You Must Believe in Spring”, a collection of songs by artists like Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and Frank Sinatra.  The instrumentation is mostly a string quartet to blend his love of classical music with jazz.

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Year in Review
2:24 pm
Mon December 30, 2013

Top IPR Reporter Picks of 2013

2013 has been a busy year for Iowa Public Radio's news team. Today on River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with reporters and correspondents about some of the most meaningful and challenging stories they covered. It's a "reporter's notebook" edition of the show.

Here is a list of the full features heard on today's show:

January 10 - Undocumented Immigrants at University

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Arts and Culture
12:12 am
Thu December 19, 2013

Adapting a Christmas Classic to a Comic Book

Jonathan and Sean Eike compare sketches during the monthly drink and draw at the bar Goodsons. This month they published their first comic “The Night Before Christmas at the Comic Book Shop”, an adaption of the 1823 poem “The Night Before Christmas”.
Photo by John Pemble

Classic stories are often updated to fit modern times and this year a Des Moines family has adapted an old holiday tale to a digital comic book.  

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Arts and Culture
3:55 am
Sat November 2, 2013

Returning home to say thank you with Wicked

Tim Baudler visiting his home state to see Wicked for the 30th time at the Civic Center. He celebrated his annual “life day” with friends & family that helped him in the 80s and 90s overcome his life struggles by sharing this musical with them.
Photo by John Pemble

This week the musical Wicked is celebrating ten years.  Former Iowan Tim Baudler returned to Des Moines to see this show at the Civic Center with close friends and family to thank them for helping him overcome struggles in his life. 

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Arts and Culture
8:08 pm
Mon September 2, 2013

Iowa / Hungary Percussion Project Debuts in the United States

Gabor Palotas and Matthew Andreini commissioned 3 Iowan and 3 Hungarian composers to write music for the “Iowa / Hungary Percussion Project”. In June they completed a Hungarian tour and for one week in September they are performing the new music in Iowa.
Photo by John Pemble

Last week a performance combining the musical culture of Hungary and Iowa made its American debut in Cedar Falls.  It was organized by two recent music school graduates specializing in the performance of contemporary percussion music. Today they will share these new works with more Iowans as their short tour across the state resumes.


 

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Talk of Iowa
3:00 pm
Thu August 15, 2013

2013 Iowa State Fair

The Iowa State Fair averages more than one million visitors each year.
Photo by John Pemble

Guest hosts Katherine Perkins and John Pemble go to the 2013 Iowa State Fair.  They introduce us to a legally blind painter and a famous quilter.  They watch fairgoers shear sheep and clean fish.  They attend an Ecumenical church service for fair attendees and visit a memorial to honor fallen Iowa soldiers.

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Arts and Culture
2:22 am
Wed August 14, 2013

Portable Memorial Honors Iowan Veterans

Bill Williams started the veteran memorial project “Remembering our Fallen” with his wife in 2011 to honor soldiers killed in action since September 11th, 2001. They plan to create an exhibit for every state by the year 2015.
Photo by John Pemble

Two years ago a memorial honoring Iowa’s fallen veterans began traveling around the state. This week it’s getting its biggest audience yet while on display at the Iowa State Fair.  This new memorial is part of an effort by two Nebraskans who want to make exhibits like this for every state. 

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Arts and Culture
3:07 am
Sat August 10, 2013

The OK Factor’s Classical Ties to Folk Music

Violinist Karla Deitmeyer and cellist Olivia Hahn perform a combination of folk, alternative rock, and modern classical music as “The OK Factor” at the Iowa State Fair in 2013.
Photo by John Pemble

One of the musical performances this weekend from the Iowa State Fair is the new band “The OK Factor".  Violinist Karla Dietmeyer and cellist Olivia Hahn combine folk, alternative rock, and modern classical music. 



 

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Arts and Culture
2:29 am
Fri August 9, 2013

Disabled Painter Demonstrates Work at Iowa State Fair

Because Elsie Monthei is legally blind, she gets as close as possible to her color palette while mixing oil paints at the Iowa State Fair. She is part of Very Special Arts (VSA).
Photo by John Pemble

Elsie Monthei is a blind painter who for more than thirty years has painted landscapes.  This week she spent a day at the Iowa State Fair demonstrating her talent for Very Special Arts (VSA), a group with the mission of highlighting the artistic abilities of people with disabilities.

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Arts and Culture
1:02 am
Fri June 21, 2013

"Scree Stage" Premiers at Des Moines Art Center

“Scree Stage” is a new sculpture by British artist Phyllida Barlow. It’s assembled for the first time in the Des Moines Art Center’s I.M. Pei Gallery for a summer exhibition featuring many of Barlow’s large works and her paintings.
Photo by John Pemble

A new sculpture weighing more than twelve tons has been under construction at the Des Moines Art Center for two weeks.  It’s titled “Scree Stage”, named after the debris of fallen rocks found at the base of a mountain. It’s the center of an exhibit opening this weekend. Iowa Public Radio’s John Pemble visited the Art Center as this massive new work of art began to take its final shape.



 

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News
10:30 am
Thu May 30, 2013

Spring 2013 Iowa Floods

Water gushes out of the Coralville Reservoir and into the Iowa River which is now at a moderate flood stage 24.74 feet. Major flood stage is at 25 feet. The record flood level for the Iowa River in Iowa City was set in 2008 at 31.53 feet.
Credit Photo by Dean Borg


 



 

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Arts and Culture
4:45 pm
Tue April 30, 2013

H.D. Harmsen’s first release on vinyl “Papoose”

Dustin Harmsen has been in bands since he was a teenager but now this 25 year old Des Moines musician works under the name H.D. Harmsen. Harmsen says he relied on his musician friends to record his new album “Papoose”.
Photo by John Pemble

One of the biggest changes for the music industry is the shift from publishing music on CDs, to downloadable music files.  There are still artists who prefer their music be available on a tangible medium, even one as old as vinyl.  In Iowa the two year old label Maximum Ames Records, publishes all of its titles on vinyl, including H.D.

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Arts and Culture
1:00 am
Sat March 30, 2013

Sculpture of Norman Borlaug Nears Completion

Benjamin Victor stands next to his clay sculpture of Norman Borlaug at the Iowa Historical Building. Soon it will be cast in bronze and in 2014 installed in the United States Capitol as part of the National Statuary Hall collection.
Photo by John Pemble

In the second half of the 20th century, native Iowan Norman Borlaug developed wheat seeds that increased crop yields in third world countries.  His work in agriculture led him to a Nobel Peace Prize, a Congressional Gold Medal, and next year he’ll be remembered with a statue in the National Statuary Hall Collection housed in the United States Capitol.  South Dakota artist Benjamin Victor is commissioned to create this sculpture and brought his work in progress to the Iowa Historical Building for a two week artist in residency to get the final details right.



 

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Arts & Culture
5:52 am
Mon October 29, 2012

Inaugural Tuk Tuk Goose Race

Matthew Smith is the organizer of the first “Tuk Tuk Goose” in Des Moines, Iowa and gives teams instructions for their race challenge.
John Pemble

In India, motorized rickshaws serve as taxis for short trips. In America, these vehicles are rare but over the weekend you could see them in Iowa albeit for a different purpose. A Des Moines businessman organized a rickshaw race, called “Tuk Tuk Goose”.

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Arts & Culture
6:25 am
Fri October 19, 2012

Ballet Des Moines Adds Full Time Dancers

The six full time dancers hired to perform for the entire Ballet Des Moines 2012-2013 season
John Pemble

Ballet Des Moines is trying something new this year: hiring dancers for a six month residency.  It’s the first time Ballet Des Moines has six full time professional dancers to perform modern and classic productions for an entire season.
 

Arts & Culture
10:17 pm
Sun October 7, 2012

Audio Description for Blind People

Iowa Radio Reading Information Service (IRIS) volunteers Bobby Bailey and Dorothy Hockenbery read audio description for Les Miserables backstage at the Civic Center.
John Pemble

An assistive service began this weekend in Des Moines allowing blind people to hear descriptions of what’s happening on the stage of a theatrical production. The Iowa Radio Reading Information Service, or IRIS, is providing audio description for blind patrons attending shows during the Civic Center’s Broadway series.

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