BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON -She’s a doctor, an entrepreneur, an artist and some would say a visionary. But it’s somewhat of an understatement to call her focused.
Just a few minutes listening to Dr. B. Marie Brady-Whitcanak, or “Marie” as she likes to be called can be exhausting. Eye contact is at a premium with her because as she talks her she pulls at plans in her mind centered on a vision she is sharing for an Art/Cultural District for downtown Fort Madison.
Whitcanak recently opened the Victorian Art Gallery on the corner of 8th and Avenue G in Fort Madison’s Main Street district and showcases her own work and some of others she encountered in her travels. She is an adjunct professor of philosophy, psychology and political science at Kaplan University, Carl Sandburg University and Spoon River College.
She said she opened the art gallery because the Bed and Breakfast she owns at 422 Avenue F was becoming more of a B&B than her original intention of a home for artists in residence who want to work in Fort Madison.
“I’ve had the B&B, the Victoria Bed and Breakfast and fine arts studio for 15 years but I was so busy with the B&B that it got too far away from its original intent to host artists to stay there and paint locally,” she said Tuesday. “From my experience traveling overseas, artists want to stay where they are painting.”
“But the B&B was getting too far from the art, so I thought a a main street gallery would not only provide more visibility because it’s also up the street from my Painter’s Garden at 421 Avenue G, where I have large public murals and the rose garden, and Painter’s Patio for painters to paint with a pretty good view of the river.”
Whitcanak also serves on just about every preservation commission in Fort Madison including the North Lee County Historical Society, the Fort Madison Preservation Commission, the Old Fort Commission and the Historic ISP Corporation. She said with all the districts in Fort Madison that are on the National Register of Historic District, a cohesive plan could tie everything together.
“The downtown district seems to lend itself to an art and cultural district. I thought I could be one step closer to that opening up here.” she said.
With the gallery now open, Whitcanak runs that, the B&B and teaches “on the ground” at Carl Sandburg, while the other teaching is through the online universities.
When coupled with her art venues, Fort Madison has the Fort Madison Area Arts Association, Artist Trax Studio on Avenue H, Artisan Next Door, the Old Fort Players, Top Hatter’s Dance Studio and Frame ‘N Art, the historic district downtown has many businesses that are arts and culture related.
“The goal is we’re trying to develop an arts and cultural district in the historic district and that’s more than just visual arts,” Whitcanak said.
She’s currently helping coordinate and sponsor an open house and Music Festival on Oct. 7.
‘I’m going to sponsor an open house with wine and cheese reception at this gallery from 3 to 5 p.m. We’re trying to develop an October Music festival as a fundraiser for area school music boosters, but there are some conflicts with the high school being in Ottumwa that night, But hopefully we can get some students from the middle school and maybe Illinois to help put that on.”
“Right after that, the tourism group is trying to organize the first of ghost tours or haunted tours at the Old Fort. Not sure if they will call that a haunted tour or haunted house, but they’ll bring those plans to the Old Fort Commission.”
Whitcanak said she’s trying help create an identity for the district.
“It’s like a bucket list thing,” she said. “You have a certain amount of time left in a lifetime and what do you want to do with it. This is what I want to do with it. People haven’t even begun to identify the potential here yet.”
Her visions and conversations have even included focusing a hotel or convention center type facility on the east end of town, possibly in the former Sheaffer Pen building, coupled with a major state or even national museum.
“If we an get a major museum or unearth the fort and take down those single story buildings to have parking on the other side of Sheaffer Pen and then develop a major museum there,” she said. “The state is certainly interested, but I think it could be a national museum because of this being the beginning of the history of Iowa…we’ve got the 1812 battlefield. There’s enough here to build on,” she said.
As far as her retail outlet, Whitcanak says she holds tutoring sessions and sells paintings out of the gallery. She also will be bringing in different specialists to hold sessions.
The first of which is on Oct. 14 which is a session by Shirley J. Sanders. Whitcanak is scheduling two 3-hour workshop, one from 9 to 12 that is almost full and the second from 1 to 4 p.m.
Whitcanak can be reached at the gallery at 372-6842 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.