Local artist’s public display spruces up Iowa City Farmers Market location

Installed Feb. 7, a new public art piece, crafted by local artist Sara Montgomery, is now on display at the Chauncey Swan Parking Ramp.


Hannah Kinson

The Iowa City Farmers Market sign is seen above the entrance of Chauncey Swan Parking Ramp on Monday, Feb. 17, 2020.

Kyler Johnson, Arts Reporter

The plain concrete of the Chauncey Swan Parking Ramp — summertime home to the Iowa City Farmers Market — now has vibrant splashes of color at its entrance to commemorate the local event.

In conjunction with the Public Art Committee, the Iowa City Farmers Market revealed the final result of its project for new signage celebrating the market, crafted by local artist Sara Montgomery.

Installed Feb. 7, the piece — or rather, pieces — consist of seven individual signs arching over the parking-ramp entrance, where a variety of vendors sit during the market’s summer season. The pieces depict objects: a cup of coffee, a paint brush, a music note, and a fork and knife.

“I’ve always wanted to do a mural or an art project for the city,” Montgomery said. “Especially because there are so many cool things popping up right now.”

Montgomery said the project was largely collaborative, referencing Iowa City Director of Parks and Recreation Juli Seydell Johnson, Parks and Recreation Neighborhood Outreach Coordinator Marcia Bollinger, and Parks and Recreation Administrative Secretary Tammy Neumann, among others.

The 40-year-old artist, also a resident of Iowa City, said she’s happy with her involvement in the project.

“I asked [Johnson] if they would want to do a traditional design, and they picked more modern elements like a coffee cup or a paint brush,” Montgomery said. “They wanted it to be colorful.”

Managing life as a mom of three children, Montgomery said it is hard to find time to express herself creatively. Montgomery claims a home in many artistic houses such as photography, illustration, and sewing, though she is a graphic designer by trade. She said she is happy that her artistic endeavors are able to support something she enjoys taking her kids to, such as the Farmers Market.

“It’s exciting,” Seydell Johnson said. “It’s exciting to have it go up in midwinter as we’re talking with people for this upcoming season of the market. It makes it feel like summer isn’t so far away.”

RELATED: Iowa City poet and musician shares pain through ‘sweet’ stories

Seydell Johnson is also a member of the Public Arts committee, a position that allowed her to allocate and request funding to help make this project happen, she said. Calling for public art proposals to engage local artists, Seydell Johnson said the goal for the project was to “dress up” the market.

“The Farmers Market has been operating for the last three years with a construction project nearby,” Seydell Johnson said. “The project really was just to celebrate the market and the reopening of its location, making it more vibrant and more visible.”

Alongside the permanent display pasted to the parking garage, Montgomery said there is also a mobile display she has crafted in the shape of a picture frame. Equally as bright and colorful as the permanent pieces, the frame will function as a way to invite attendees to take photos at the market — for themselves or to post and share on their social media.

Wendy Zimmermann, who has been a vendor at the market since 2012, said the piece does a great job of defining the space.

“The Farmers Market is over 40 years old, and we’re still asked, ‘Where is the Farmers Market?’ ” Zimmermann said. “With the sign, people can identify that as an important space for community building.”

Montgomery said she hopes the public enjoys it when summer rolls around. The market swings into open session in May.

“I hope it adds to the atmosphere, and I hope it makes the amazing thing that is the Iowa City Farmers Market even better,” she said.