UI emeritus professor’s collage displayed at derecho exhibit

Sue Hettmansperger, emeritus professor of painting and drawing, has a collage at the Derecho Remembrance Exhibit at CSPS Hall in Cedar Rapids.


Grace Smith

University of Iowa professor Sue Hettmansperger’s artwork titled “Impacted” is seen at the “One Year After” derecho remembrance exhibit at the CSPS Hall in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Friday. Aug. 27, 2021. “Impacted,” along with many of the artwork in the exhibit, is made from found or recycled material from the derecho in 2020.

Delaney Orewiler, Arts Reporter

On Aug 10, 2020, Iowa experienced hurricane-level winds, damage to trees and homes, debris flying through the air, and city-wide power outages. The derecho, or inland hurricane, impacted the entire state that day. A year later, a Derecho Remembrance Exhibit is on display at CSPS Hall in Cedar Rapids.

The exhibit contains photographs from the Cedar Rapids Gazette, other newspaper clippings, paintings, and the Englert Theatre’s Ghost Creek.

Even before the derecho, Hettmansperger was interested in using her art to stress the importance of stewardship of the Earth.

“It’s all about understanding who we are on Earth and in the context of the incredible diversity and beauty that we see around us. And arguing for the intrinsic worth of nature, not as a commodity to exploit, but something to be revered in a deep ecological way,” she said. “This is the idea of deeper intrinsic worth, as though you would value the spirit of a tree in a similar way to humans. It’s not valuing humans on a higher plane than things that grow in nature. It’s acknowledging that we’re all a part of this together.”

Hettmansperger submitted one piece to the derecho exhibit — aptly titled “Derecho” and part of her Iterations series. The piece is a collage including painted and drawn elements, as well as photographed pieces of natural objects like grass and leaves.

She said her art is inspired by observing the natural world.

“I paint, draw, and put photos on the collages. Sometimes I take pieces of grass and leaves that I’ve painted and stick those in there as well, as a nod to the notion of the artist walking through the world and noticing things,” Hettmansperger said. “It’s looking at the overlooked in nature and having an appreciation of the natural world.”

At the time of the derecho, Hettmansperger was living in Iowa City, so she didn’t experience the worst of the damage. However, she had a friend in Cedar Rapids who was supposed to visit her that Monday. Hettmansperger was on the phone with her friend when trees started to fall. Eventually, Hettmansperger realized that it would be unsafe to make the normally short, 30-minute drive.

After telling her friend to stay home and stay safe, Hettmansperger sat in her house and watched the storm rip down a tree in her yard. Before the derecho, she had read an article by a Japanese researcher who studied the aftermath of atomic bombs on the natural world, who noticed that, often natural elements, such as trees and plants, would take on a splayed pattern.

Hettmansperger noted seeing this splayed pattern in her tree during the derecho.

“For me, seeing the trees splayed was a shock of recognition, when you see something that you’ve been reading about actually taking place,” Hettmansperger said. “It harkened back to [that] research of the physical impact that wind and forces in nature can have on a living thing like a tree or a plant.”

After the storm stopped, Hettmansperger went to Cedar Rapids to help her friend clean up. When she arrived, she said everything in the city was devastated and it was impossible to drive down the street through all the downed trees.

Even before the derecho, Hettmansperger was conscious of the environment and human impact on the Earth. She stated that, since taking ecology classes in the 1970s, the goal of her art has been to try to spur viewers to take positive action.

“I hope the viewers of my art look at nature with a sense of awe and reverence and take responsibility for that going forward,” Hettmansperger said. “That’s the hidden lesson in the work — that if you feel awe in front of the image, and it gives you a new way to look at the world, that it transforms people and they become stewards of their future.”

The Derecho Remembrance Exhibit, and Hettmansperger’s collage piece, will be on display at CSPS Hall in Cedar Rapids until Oct. 31.