Sculpted, woven, and crafted for 25 years: Eastside Artists return to Masonic Building with holiday art show and sale

Celebrating 25 years, Eastside Artists’ annual holiday show and sale shows that bringing together different artistic skills, crafts, and concepts creates a uniqueness that has kept the show going.


Gwen Elling (right) and Holly Hotsckiss of Iowa City look through a rack of textiles during the annual Eastside Artists show on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019. The show runs through the weekend and features works of all kinds from local artists. (Emily Wangen/The Daily Iowan)

Kyler Johnson, Arts Reporter

Whether weaving, sculpting, or painting the holidays into the lives of Iowa City residents, the city’s artistically attuned Eastside Artists group is celebrating their 25th anniversary holiday art sale and show this season.

Stretching back to 1994, the group of local artists have seen a vast number of changes to their members and work presented over the years. Coordinator of this year’s show, Jo Myers-Walker, however, said the holiday seasonal show has always been decked with an overwhelming sense of companionship.

“There’s quite a following for this show,” Myers-Walker said. “People come back, year after year.”

Long-standing member Jan Friedeman has been able to see this progression and recurrence for around 19 years. A weaver by trade and a full-time artist, the holiday show in Iowa City is one of several shows Friedeman exhibits in every year.

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“Most shows I do are 100 to 200 exhibitors, and this has 21,” Friedeman said. “The fact that it’s run by artists, we’re trying to make it what we’d like it to be — with enough publicity, with enough diversity in the group.”

According to Friedeman, around 15 to 16 artists make up the Eastside Artists each year. The organization counts on them to fill a wide range of artistic practices — from weaving, paper crafts, painting, collage-making, and printmaking. The remaining artists in the show, capping at 21, are those who apply to be a part of the show as guest artists.

Necklaces hang on display during the annual Eastside Artists show on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019. The show runs through the weekend and features works of all kinds from local artists. (Emily Wangen/The Daily Iowan)

Amy Dobrian, a native printmaker and paper crafts artist of Iowa City, was newly instated as a permanent member of the group after starting out as a guest artist at the show. Having friends in the group is what has kept her involved; she also said those connections determine what a show’s typical turnout will reach.

“A lot of it depends on who knows the people in the group,” Dobrian said. “With our range of artists, we try to appeal to people of all ages and have a wide variety of media.”

The show running up close to the winter holidays also leads the group to produce a lot more gift items than what would be presented at a normal show, Dobrian added. There is also a tendency for attendees to seek unique pieces, and the artists set to meet the demand — producing tapestries, furniture items, or in Dobrian’s case, personally crafted monotype prints.

Myers-Walker’s work also adds a unique element to the show — giving back. She produces a particular set of work featured at the show to support the Lila Mae House, an organization in Sioux City dedicated to helping victims of human-trafficking.

“I just discovered that I could use my heart to promote my cause,” Myers-Walker said. “I think we can do a lot with art; that’s why I started using my gift.”

While 25 years might seem like the occasion to make a deal out of commemoration, the aspect was not the group’s primary focus.

“We almost didn’t even realize it,” Dobrian said with a laugh.

 Dobrian, Myers-Walker, and Friedeman all said how the group’s nature is what gives the show it’s unique look every year. Having stuck to the natural uniqueness of what its artists bring to make the show great rather than focusing so heavily on the anniversary.

“It’s a group of people who have a real cooperative spirit and a real affinity for each other,” Dobrien said. “We run the show cooperatively, and everyone’s investment pays off in the show’s success.”