Town is Convenient, Inspiring

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Artist and author Arthur Geisert is shown with is copper press in his newly renovated studio and living space in Elkader.

 

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor

Elkader’s newest resident is an award-winning artist and writer with a unique claim to fame.

 “I can read one of my books in four languages, simultaneously,” says Arthur Geisert, a mischievous smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “No other author in the world can say that.”

The book is the one-word “Oink.” Told in clever and appealing pink, black and white etchings, it’s the story of eight piglets that go in search of adventures while their mama naps. The book has been translated into six languages and in four of them—English, Spanish, French and German—the word “oink” is the same, giving Geisert his unique claim.

 “Oink,” released in 1991, is one of more than two dozen children’s books that Geisert, a wiry septuagenarian, has completed over his 30-year career. He favors pastoral themes, which is ironic when you consider that Geisert grew up in Los Angeles, has never lived on a farm, and didn’t see pigs or anything rural until he was 21.

“All these years later and I still remember my reaction to the first gravel road I ever saw,” he said. “I thought it wasn’t finished. I didn’t realize they were left that way—on purpose.”

Geisert studied sculpting and printmaking at the Otis Art Institute in LA before moving to the Midwest. He taught at Concordia University near Chicago then moved to Galena, where he lived for 35 years. His former wife and collaborator, Bonnie, had family in South Dakota. Trips to visit them provided the inspiration for Geisert’s intricate rural scenes. 

When the couple divorced, Geisert decided to stay in the Dubuque area. He lived for six years in tiny Brandon, just off Highway 151, where his home and studio were housed in a former bank building. Because the space was small, Geisert slept in the vault.

A few years ago, Geisert decided he wanted to move to a larger community.

“Brandon had only three or four businesses,” Geisert said, “a bar, Pearl’s Café where I had coffee every morning at 5 and an auto repair shop. I wanted (access to) more services within walking distance but still live in a small place.”

He was already familiar with Elkader but made trips to other Clayton County towns to determine where he should settle. Only Elkader met his primary criteria.

“This is a walking town; everything I need is right here within a few blocks of my studio,” he added.

A central location helps. Geisert purchased the building that most recently housed Elkader Dry Cleaners. The space has had a top-to-bottom renovation (see related article on this page). His copper press, which he uses to prepare his glorious hand-colored etching for publication, takes up much of the first-level space. He has a small living area at the rear.

“I’m used to living where I work and working where I live, so this is a good arrangement for me,” Geisert added.

The second story functions as Geisert’s “clean” studio, a space to hang his drawings during their various stages of development. He needs the room: The continuous picture of his most recent work, “Thunderstorm,” a blow-by-blow account of a developing storm, measures more than 40 feet in length.

Geisert endured a decade of rejection before his first book, “Pa’s Balloon and Other Pig Tails,” was published in 1984. Since then, his books have become best-sellers and his etchings, which are truly works of fine art, have hung in the Chicago Art Institute, the Figge Art Museum (Davenport), the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art and the Dubuque Museum of Art. He’s also well known for his cartoons; three have been published in the New Yorker magazine.

“Oink” is Geisert’s favorite book, though it will face stiff competition once his next project is completed. He’s getting ready to do a panorama of the upper Mississippi.

“It’s a major project that will take two years to finish, if I’m lucky,” Geisert said. “At least I’m in the perfect place to work on it.”

The Elkader Public Library had a couple of Geisert’s books in their collection at the time he moved to town. He has since donated all of his other works. 

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