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Concrete Memories, Living Sculptures: Donna Young ’81

Donnay Young

 
Donna Young '81 in her sculpting studio.

December 2011 | by Ted Stephens III ’01, ’04


When Quad City arts icon Isabel Bloom passed away at the age of 93, Donna Young '81 sculpted a grasshopper in her memory.

"I'm sure there were many people wondering why on earth I thought a garden pest was a fitting tribute for Isabel," Young said on a brisk fall morning as she stared at her backyard from the sun-drenched studio that occupies the second floor of her Davenport home. The answer, she said, was simple, just like the figures Bloom first molded from Mississippi River clay more than 60 years ago.

"Isabel was interested in everything," said Young. "Years before she passed, we were sitting on her porch and a grasshopper landed on her hand. Most people would have probably shooed it away, but not Isabel. She took time to notice it, to study it, to appreciate it. There really is beauty in everything."

It's a philosophy for living that Young said will guide her and her business partners Bill Barrett and Cathy Nevins. They purchased Isabel Bloom LLC in October. Together, the three long-time Bloom employees bring more than 50 years of experience with the company. And they plan to honor the great history and legacy of those signature concrete sculptures-packaged in their trademark navy blue bag and tied with a colorful ribbon.

While she will continue as the lead sculptor for the company, a position she's had for more than 20 years, she will also explore new ways to grow the business while always staying true to its local, Midwestern roots. In addition to stores in the Village of East Davenport, NorthPark Mall and on the John Deere Commons in Moline, Ill., a new store recently opened at Valley West Mall in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Young was an art and art education major at St. Ambrose and studied under well-known Ambrose "giants" like Rev. Edward Catich '34, John Schmits '57 and Tom Chouteau '51. She was hired to work in the mold-making department at Isabel Bloom the summer after she graduated, a job that often required her to walk from the company's studio in the East Village to Bloom's home just a few blocks up the road.

"I'd go to Isabel and her husband John's home to pick up a finished piece, and every so often she'd take time to show me what she was working on," Young recalls.

As the years passed, their relationship strengthened. Bloom began asking Young to finish a piece from time to time, trusting that she would both honor and respect the figure that was given life from the clay. "Less was more" in Bloom's mind, a lesson also echoed by the late Fr. Catich.

"Fr. Catich used to shout, ‘Just say it and shut up,'" Young said. "I think about that often, when I find myself getting caught up in the details of a piece-like making sure the laces on a little boy's shoes are perfect. But if you're paying attention to the laces, you're probably missing the point.

"You have to know when to stop-when to stand back and realize, ‘It's finished,'" she said.

What is never finished, however, is the art of creating. And the art of learning. Every summer, Young spends a week sculpting at the Brookgreen Sculpture Park just outside of Myrtle Beach, S.C., a place that challenges her to explore new techniques and hone tried-and-true methods.

"At 93 years old, Isabel was still thinking about the next sculpture-still discovering new ideas. In her mind there would always be another sculpture, and another one and another one," Young said. And that, she notes, not only allows room for growth, but also brings forth the true value of art in the world today.

"Art informs us. We learn about history through a painting. We learn about science by listening to music. We begin to understand the world. And in the process, we understand a little more about ourselves."

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