Etchings tell a story within a story

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Author and illustrator Arthur Geisert points out the witch who makes five appearances throughout the course of his book “River Town” during the opening reception of the McGregor-Marquette Center for the Arts’ (MMCA) first special exhibit of the season May 15. Etchings from the book, donated by Geisert to the MMCA, are featured in the exhibit, which will run through June 29. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

The McGregor-Marquette Center for the Arts (MMCA) opened for the season May 15 and unveiled its first special exhibit of the year, “Arthur’s Gift,” which features the 22 hand-colored etchings donated to the MMCA by children’s book author and illustrator Arthur Geisert, who created the etchings for his book “River Town.” One in a series of “Town” books created by Geisert that reflect the activities in small towns, “River Town” shows the day-to-day life, over one year, of a community situated along a major river. 

Geisert was on-hand at the opening, signing copies of his books. He also took time to discuss the book and the etchings with those in attendance. 

“I like the graphic quality of etching,” Geisert said of his medium of choice. “There’s a certain dimension and physicality.” 

Geisert said his detailed etchings for “River Town” don’t reflect one specific location, but are based on research and photos from many places. 

“I try to tell stories within stories,” he said of the depictions, explaining that there are some re-occurring features readers may have missed. “For instance, there’s a witch in ‘River Town.’ She’s shown five times. You have to look long and hard to find her.”

Geisert showed the witch’s journey throughout the book, walking around the gallery and pointing out each time she reappeared. Another feature that changes throughout the book is a barn.

“That barn burns down on page 15,” he pointed out, then headed to a later etching, where it was being rebuilt. “It shows that life goes on.”

In another etching, said Geisert, a large rock sits atop a bluff. Later in the book, it rolls down the bluff, into the middle of the road on the bridge. “That happens around here,” he noted.

“To get on top of all of this, you have to be obsessive compulsive,” Geisert said.

If you’d like to check out all the unique features hidden within the “River Town” etchings, they will be on display through Monday, June 29. The MMCA is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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