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Prairie Homestead Antique Power and Country Craft Show draws crowd to art museum and farm

By Jean Caspers-Simmet
simmet@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 08/21/2013 7:54 AM

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BELMOND, Iowa — Preparations are shifting into high gear at the Belmond Area Arts Council's Jenison-Meacham Memorial Art Museum and Farm.

The arts council's Prairie Homestead Antique Power and Country Craft Show is Aug. 16 to 18 on the farm just north of Belmond. Admission is $7 with children 5 and younger free.

The Prairie Homestead show started as a way to get more people to come to the art museum, said Dave Nelson, a Belmond farmer, president of the Belmond Area Arts Council and longtime show chairman.

The arts council was formed in 1976, and Cloe Jenison, a country school teacher, farmer and self-taught artist and poet, was a big benefactor. She willed the arts council her 120-acre farm plus some cash in 1983. She died shortly after that.

"She lived her whole life on the farm, and she was into poetry and folk art," Nelson said. "She painted lots of murals about the history of the area."

An art museum was built at the farm and the farm was restored to what it would have been like in the 1930s. It was a time when farmers transitioned from horses to tractors and electricity. A barn from the 1890s and a center school were moved to the farm, which is now known as the Jenison-Meacham Memorial Art Museum and Farm.

The art museum featured exhibits by area artists, but it was difficult to draw people. Nelson participated in a leadership program through Iowa State University and the University of Minnesota in 1989 and he needed a project. He, Jerry Holmes and a couple others suggested they organize a power show to bring more visitors.

"So much of art is culturally driven," Nelson said. "Theater and the visual arts often depict things from the past. I thought why don't we do a power show, recreate some of the old scenes and provide inspiration for our artists. We came up with the Prairie Homestead Antique Power and Country Craft Show, and 24 years later we're going real strong."

The interior of Jenison's home has been restored and Nelson hopes to see the outside completed in the coming year. This summer the barn is getting a new cedar shingle roof. Carpenter Simon Yoder of Kalona hopes to have it finished for the show.

"We've collected a lot of old farm machinery," Nelson said. "The arts council owns three steam engines, a Reeves, a Russell and a Wood Brothers, the only steam engine made in Iowa. We also have a Crab Sawmill, and gobs of gas engines, corn shellers, threshing machines and corn pickers."

The Prairie Homestead show includes oat and wheat threshing and wheat grinding. Volunteers harvest the crop. The Iowa Plowing Contest will be Friday and Saturday and a big tractor pull is set for Saturday.

Country musicians Tom Wurth and John Fountain will perform all three days with a big show at Friday night's hamburger and sweet corn feed. Tractor games, a spark show with steam engines and fire works are planned.

Border collies herding sheep, ducks and calves and draft horse demonstrations and pony rides are planned along with a petting zoo. Potato digging is popular with the children. After the mechanical digger lifts the potatoes, children collect them in small burlap bags made by a volunteer.

"It's a great place for families," Nelson said. "Grandpa can tell the kids what it used to be like and the kids can play and pet stuff."

Homemade pie and ice cream churned with a gas engine will be available. A country breakfast is served each day by the Rowan Lions Club.

"We have a great craft show with demonstrations of quilting, butter churning, black smithing, tin smithing and rope making," he said.

The show is featuring Custom Manufacturing Company tractors and Associated gas engines. The Custom Club International Show is set for Prairie Homestead.

"Custom, Big Lehr, Rockol and Simpson are some of the tractors the company made," Nelson said. "They also made the Wards tractor, which was sold in the Montgomery Wards catalog."

Nelson said the show attacts 4,000 people per year but still sees room for growth.

"We have great volunteers," he said. "There are about 100 who help put this on each year."

Nelson and some of the other volunteers "like to mess around out here on Saturday and Sunday afternoons." His wife, Sue, and her friend run the bookstore and registration booth, and she spends time at the art farm.

The North Iowa Tractor Club provides a lot of help plus antique machinery. The group will raffle off a C Farmall. The Prairie Quilters, who meet at the farm each Monday, will raffle a quilt.

Tractor enthusiasts will ride into Belmond to show their machines to the elderly homebound on Friday afternoon. The air-conditioned art museum will be open throughout the weekend with a display by Cedar Rapids photographer Jim Jacobmeyer. Campsites have electrical hookups and modern bathrooms with showers.

Many young people grew up helping at the power show and are now taking on leadership roles.

"We have six young guys and gals under 30 who have gone to steam school and are our steam operators," Nelson said.

Tractor was the first word Nelson ever said, and he convinced his parents to take him to steam engine shows. He started collecting old tractors at 22 when he bought an F-20. He now has more than 100 antique tractors. His son, Nick, has 30 tractors and he also helps with the show.

Working with the old equipment makes Nelson grateful for his modern machines.

"It really makes you appreciate what your ancestors had to do," he said.

Nelson likes to think that Cloe Jenison would be pleased.

"I'm sure there are things that she'd shake her head at, too," he said with a smile. "Every now and then we'll see a light come on in her bedroom, and we think maybe she's still around."