A sweet homecoming for artist alum who makes sculptures out of candy wrappers

Luisa Caldwell, a UI grad and artist from New York, returned to Iowa City to display two of her newest pieces in Hancher Auditorium.


Katie Goodale

UI alumna and artist Luisa Caldwell hangs her art instillation for Whipped Cream in Hancher auditorium on April 3, 2019.

Josie Fischels, News Reporter

With splashes of white paint speckling her jeans and a floral bandana holding back her short brown hair, artist Luisa Caldwell looked like artwork herself as she posed for pictures with her two art installations hung in Hancher on Wednesday.

The University of Iowa alum, art-history graduate, and New York resident returned to her alma mater to display two of her pieces, Curtain Call and Folly, in conjunction with the American Ballet Theater’s performances of Whipped Cream at Hancher on Saturday.

Each sculpture is made entirely out of candy wrappers, thread, and satin ribbon — items that Hancher Executive Director Chuck Swanson said perfectly highlight the upcoming ballet’s theme of sugar and sweets.

The first of Caldwell’s pieces, Folly, greets visitors as they climb a short flight of stairs to the parterre floor of Hancher. The structure features several intertwined candy-wrapper pillars connected by multicolored streamers. In Stanley Café another floor up, a floor-to-ceiling wall of candy-wrapper butterflies named Curtain Call is installed directly into the existing architecture of the building and is made up of more than 170 individual strands of wrapper-adorned thread.

Swanson connected with Caldwell in November 2018 at an event for UI alums held at American Ballet Theater in New York City.

“About a month and a half later, I get a warm, heartfelt email from Luisa talking about how much she enjoyed that evening,” Swanson said.

When Whipped Cream was scheduled to perform at Hancher this season, he said he just knew they had to bring things full circle and invite Caldwell to display her work. 

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While she has worked with candy wrappers before for other pieces that have been displayed in art galleries all over the world, she made both structures specifically for Hancher. 

“I tailor each installation to fit the space,” she said.

Katie Goodale
UI alumna and artist Luisa Caldwell hangs her art instillation for Whipped Cream in Hancher auditorium on April 3, 2019. Caldwell said that she has people all over the world collect candy wrappers for her artwork. Her artwork is hanging in conjuncture with the American Ballet Theater production Whippped Cream coming to Hancher on Saturday.

Caldwell moved to Iowa City with her family when she was in second grade. However, she moved away, to Italy when she was 13 years old.

“At that time, I didn’t want to leave Iowa City,” she said. “I just promised myself that I was coming back here for school, and I did.”

At the UI, Caldwell studied art history and earned a bachelor’s in 1986. Although she began to work toward an M.F.A. in sculpture, she stopped to travel the world for a year with a man she met and ended up in New York to begin her career as an artist.

Thanks to all the help she received from her friends and volunteers in Iowa City, the pieces Caldwell brought to Hancher took only two days to install. One of the volunteers, Jan McDonald, was one of Caldwell’s roommates when the two attended the UI together.

A devout litter activist, McDonald feels a connection with the structures, as many of the candy wrappers Caldwell uses for them are found on the ground outside during her walks.

“These are just magical,” McDonald said. “I mean, who doesn’t like butterflies?”

Caldwell has been collecting wrappers for 20 years. While she picks up many from the streets, others are from her annual “hunts” around Brooklyn the day after Halloween, and several more are from friends who send her them in the mail.

“I have people who send me envelopes full of them,” Caldwell said. “It’s like Christmas when I get an envelope; I can’t wait.”