Iowa City women with a synergistic ambition

Three Iowa City women, Sue Hettmansperger, Cheryl Jacobsen, and Kathy Edwards-Hayslett recently had their Synergy Exhibition open at ICON Gallery in Fairfield, Iowa. It features each artist’s collage and assemblage work.


Ayrton Breckenridge

Artists Cheryl Jacobsen, Kathy Edwards Hayslett and Sue Hettmansperger (L-R) pose for a portrait in Iowa City on Friday, Oct. 1, 2021. Their Synergy exhibition will be on display at the ICON Gallery in Fairfield, Iowa Oct. 1 through Nov. 27.

Olivia Augustine, Arts Reporter

The Synergy Exhibition opened at the ICON Gallery in Fairfield, Iowa, waiting a year to be displayed.

The exhibition, created by three University of Iowa-employed women, features works that incorporate nature, feminism, and sentimental objects, using collage and assemblage practices. It opened to the public on Oct. 1.

Sue Hettmansperger, a professor emerita at the UI, Cheryl Jacobsen, an adjunct assistant professor of calligraphy and letter arts, and Kathy Edwards-Hayslett, the former curator of the UI art museum, are the three women are responsible for the Synergy Exhibition, which is a collection of “collage and assemblage.”

“Collage and assemblage are perfect metaphors for the disjunctive and complex time we live in; pandemics, war, migration, and global climate change,” Hettmansperger wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan.

Hettmansperger’s pieces in the exhibition are primarily collage. She typically focuses on environmental issues, like nature and culture in a conflicting space. She wrote her art argues for humans not to look at nature as a commodity.

In order to create her collages, Hettmansperger uses scans of things in nature like leaves, and then manipulates them with other art materials like paint, drawing, and paper.

Jacobsen’s process is similar to Hettmansperger, but it differs. While Hettmansperger has a specific goal in mind for how her art affects its audience, Jacobsen said she hopes people find whatever they want to in her art, and that there is no specific statement she is trying to make.

Jacobsen uses small objects that she collects to create assemblages, sometimes even finding them on bike rides. She said once she starts designing, she doesn’t have much control over what happens next in her creative process.

“So, I have all these amazing things that just sort of want to go together, and pulling them together is just so satisfying and exciting for me,” Jacobsen said.

Edwards-Hayslett also uses objects to create assemblages and collages, much like Jacobsen. She finds her objects at flea markets and antique shops and incorporates images she finds on Ebay to pull her work together.

The images in Edwards-Hayslett’s work are primarily of women and allude to the challenges unique to female history. She gave an example of a woman holding a book — in real-time this doesn’t mean much, but in the nineteenth century, a woman holding a book was a big statement.

“I start with a photograph oftentimes, a 19th-century photograph, and imagine the stories that those photographs might tell,” Edwards-Hayslett said. “I create an abstract sort of narrative with objects and the paint and the pencil that I use, you know, sort of creating a mood or a potential scene.”

The title of the exhibition is significant as well. Hettmansperger wrote that because all of their work is created similarly, yet differently, they are connected through a synergistic energy and accretion, hence the exhibition name Synergy.

“Iterative processes use accretion — the slow juxtaposition of ‘like’ or ‘unlike’ forms — to posit new, arresting creative solutions,” Hettmansperger wrote. “This enactment of the creative process is at the heart of all new insights. Humanity, the world, currently needs artists to sound the alarm, and to be leaders that heal a world out of balance through synergistic creativity.”