It wasn’t the promise of light hors-d'oeuvres. Nor was it, entirely, the mild late winter weather. It was a homecoming of sorts. At least forty-four people attended an early March Saturday artist’s talk in Fort Dodge.
If you are not familiar with art talks, that volume is a big deal. Often, you can get a handful of people to show up. But this exhibition was spectacular, as many at the Blanden Art Museum are; and the artist Kwok Pong “Bobby” Tso is a “native son.”
Tso was born in Hong Kong. In high school, he arrived in Iowa for one year and lived in Titonka, Kossuth County. He made his way to Fort Dodge and Iowa Central Community College. Tso eventually earned his MFA from the University of Iowa and now teaches at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, Missouri. Coming from an Asian capital city to a rural Iowa small town, Tso transitioned from living among 7.5 million to less than 500.
His exhibition at the Blanden consists of some drawings, a few paintings made of wood and metal, and many colorful and vibrant sculptures of imagined factory-scape settings composed of ceramic and wood. Called “Building Block,” Tso’s current work continues his exploration of “the spatial relationship between the development of objects and human interaction.”
Each sculpture follows a basic template. A fanciful factory floats on a creative wooden base, often in the form of scaffolding. Smokestacks, reminiscent of lollipops, rise from the structure. A dominant bubble -- sometimes of wood, sometimes of clay – floats above the sculpture.
On the surface, the bubble represents smoke, steam or some other kind of industrial emission. Tso explained, however, it also represents the speech or thought balloon one sees in cartoons. Thus, the bubble represents conversation, imagination, thoughts, and ideas. The most poetic part of these poetic sculptures, these bubbles push the sculptures into interaction and the viewer into contemplation.
The exhibition runs through May 19th, and it is definitely worth a trip to Fort Dodge if you are heading to that area this spring.
When you are done tripping out on this art, you might head over a few blocks to Shiny Top Brewery. It’s billed as “Fort Dodge’s finest brewery by Fort Dodge’s finest brothers:” Nate and Todd McKubbin. If you have a penchant for fermented grains, try Shiny Top’s Savage Stout.
The beer is named after Thomas Savage (1908-1987); a Fort Dodge native, painter, and farmer. Savage worked with Grant Wood at Stone City. Shiny Top donates a portion of Savage Stout sales to the Blanden Art Museum.
Have a Savage Stout and, with the spirit of Bobby Tso, contemplate the spatial relationships among yourself, others, astonishing sculpture, and the beautiful Iowa countryside.
Fun Fact: Fort Dodge is a Sister City with Gjakova, Kosovo. The Blanden Art Museum is part of a delegation that will travel to Kosovo to set up partnerships with Gjakova. Kinga Madro, in her solo traveler blog, Floating My Boat, she gives (albeit in a tongue-in-cheek way) “13 reasons to never visit Gjakova.” But all her reasons make me want to go there right away.