Right now I'm writing a story about a group of women from the Forest City area who have been gathering together twice a week for about 30 years to paint porcelain. Porcelain painting is a nearly lost art and I discovered these women through a distant cousin of mine, Carolyn, who runs a bed and breakfast in Forest City, Iowa. I actually met Carolyn when I was in Forest City for a Sons of Norway meeting where my mom was a guest speaker and, well, it gets to be a long story. Suffice it to say this is my third trip back to Forest City since late summer and the second time I have been a guest at Carolyn's lovely inn, The Elderberry Inn B&B.
My suite at the Elderberry Inn - The Berrymore Suite
I wanted to watch the porcelain painting ladies in action so Carolyn invited me to join the group for one of their Tuesday painting sessions. I decided to head down a day early to spend some time checking out nearby Clear Lake, Iowa, so drove down Monday morning.
Clear Lake, I'd heard, is a cute lake town, somewhat touristy in the summer months and still a good place to visit during the off season. It's home to the Color the Wind Kite Festival in mid-February, the largest winter kite festival in the Midwest. It's also home of the Surf Ballroom & Museum where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, played their last concert before dying in a plane crash in the wee hours of February 3, 1959.
I arrived in Clear Lake without much of an agenda. I was hungry so found a place called Sevens on Main Avenue for lunch. I ordered a salad, soup and 1/2 sandwich lunch special for $7.77. I visited several cute boutique-type shops and antique stores and walked along Clear Lake a bit. Then I decided to visit the Surf Ballroom - I'm glad I did.
Walking into the Surf is like stepping back into time. I love ballrooms and this one is a gem even without the history attached to it. It's been beautifully kept up and most of it, I understand, is original and looks like it did back on the night when Holly, Valens and Richardson played their last concert. I definitely want to go back and visit again with my kids - I think Rose and Ryan would enjoy this glimpse of rock and roll history.
After the visit to the Surf I decided to drive out to the site where the ill-fated charter flight crashed and Holly, Valens, Richardson and pilot Roger Peterson lost their lives. As a pilot, I tend to stay away from crash sites. As a music and history lover, though, I wanted to see the site and the memorial and pay my respects.
The site is on private farm land and the directions to it are kind of funny in a way - where else but in farm country would directions have you follow the first fence row just past the grain bins? There's a huge pair of Buddy Holly type glasses marking the spot to start walking the fence row out to the site. I parked my van and started walking. It was less than a half mile out there. The sun was setting, the air crisp, and I was glad for my scarf and gloves.
Roadside marker at the fence row that leads you out to the crash site & memorialVisiting the site was kind of eerie but I'm glad I walked out there and would visit again.
Memorial marker for Holly, Valens & Richardson, aka The Big Bopper
After my day in Clear Lake and my mini rock and roll history pilgrimage it was time to drive to Forest City for a stay at the Elderberry Inn and some time visiting with Carolyn. I arrived at 6:00 on the dot and we had dinner together and homemade pie (sweet potato pie for me!). After dinner we were invited to the home of one of the painting ladies who is also a quilter. She knows I'm also a quilter so wanted to share her quilt collection with me. What fun! She showed us over 50 quilts and served us coffee and treats before Carolyn and I headed back to the Inn for the evening.
I must confess I slept in on Tuesday morning - and it felt good to do so. Come one o'clock the painting ladies came over and set up their things at the dining room table and began to paint. Carolyn is one of the youngest of the group of six. The oldest is 92, I think, and looks and acts much younger. It was a treat for me to see the ladies paint, to watch them help each other with their projects and to see white china turn into beautifully painted pieces of art work. These ladies are lovely and full of positive energy and enthusiasm for life - and for painting. I'm honored that they invited me to join them and made me feel so welcome.
A plate painted by one of the porcelain painting ladies, Dolores, age 92
I'll keep you posted as to when my porcelain painting story runs in Womeninc Magazine - it's scheduled for either May or June 2012.
I plan to head back to Clear Lake, Forest City and other points in Northern Iowa soon. There's so much to see and do there!