This is the fourth and final post about the 2014 Iowa State Fair, but this one wouldn’t have been written at all if John and I had followed our original intentions, which were to take in the sights, sounds and tastes at the fair, but not to go shopping. Well, you know that old phrase about the “best laid plans of mice and men?” Our plans evaporated when we entered the Walnut Center Crafts building because that’s where you’ll find many of the handmade products that are for sale. And we handcrafters have to stick together, you know. We support each other not only with words of admiration, but also with our wallets. So, here we go with a show-and-tell!

What captured our eyes immediately was a display of hand-hammered plates made from recycled aluminum by American Forging, a company owned by Dan and Nick Davenport, with locations in Des Moines, Iowa and Millington, Michigan. Their process involves hand engraving a design in reverse into a block of steel with a hammer and chisel, then placing the recycled aluminum onto the block and forcing the metal into the engraving. This creates a “forward image.” The piece is then cut to size, edged and colored, and polished. This process is actually based on an art form called repoussé, a French word related to the Latin verb pulsare, which means to push up, and describes exactly what happens when you hammer a design from the back into a piece of metal. The process takes advantage of the elasticity of metal. Because we have a nautical theme in our guest bathroom, we thought the plate below would fit in nicely.

DSCN8348John fell in love with a carved wooden hedgehog made by Jan Dwyer of Bridgewater, Iowa. Jan and her husband, Dean, have been carving from catalpa wood for more than 30 years. The wood itself comes from catalpa trees that need to be cut down for one reason or another.  Catalpa wood is apparently very soft, and when it is dried, the bark shrinks with the wood and doesn’t come off. The Dwyers work with the bark side of the wood, with Jan drawing the designs and Dean cutting them out with a band saw. Jan then does final shaping with a palm sander, spindle sander and Dremel tools. The wood is stained to bring out its beautiful grain, and then finish coats are applied. Melissa of Mulberry Creek blogs in more detail about the Dwyers in her post, Jan Dwyer Collectibles, so please visit her post to learn more about this crafting couple. The Dwyers do not have a Web site, but you can e-mail Jan at, or call her at 641-369-2791.


We have been buying pottery pieces for a number of years from Connie Braunschweig of Alta, Iowa, who has been running Braunschweig Pottery since the 1980s. Her work is distinctive in that her inspiration from nature is always evident. You’ll often see, for example, leaf-shaped dishes, or leaf-inscribed trays. And her work is just as clean on the back as it is on the front; you don’t have to worry about the bottoms of her pieces scratching the surface on which they rest. Connie’s decorative-but-functional pottery is hand-built from rolled-out clay slabs, and she uses leaves and grasses for texturing. The photos below show not only the wall vase and leaf tray (which I am using as a spoon rest) that we purchased this year, but also a cracker tray we bought previously. You can wash Connie’s lead-free pottery by hand or in the dishwasher, and you can heat it up in the oven. You can bet we will be purchasing future pieces!

Connie Braunschweig

Our final purchase at the Iowa State Fair was found not at the Walnut Center, but instead in the Varied Industries Building at the Kalona tourism booth. If you’re unfamiliar with Kalona, it is a charming rural community located in eastern Iowa. Known for its rich quilting history, the Amish, cheese curds, and the Kalona Historical Village, the town offers visitors numerous ways to take a trip back in time and learn about life in the mid 1800s. This is one of those places John and I have been wishing to visit during the entire time we’ve lived in Iowa, and this fall may prove to be the time when we finally do so. At the state fair booth, however, we supported Kalona’s tourist industry by purchasing some caramel corn for John, some beverage coasters we can use when we do our annual cabin retreat at Backbone State Park in northeastern Iowa, and a wooden bookmark for me. The bookmark is handcrafted from an assortment of laminated hardwoods by JK Creative Wood in Kalona, and reminds me of a quilted border pattern. “JK” stands for Joel Brokaw and his wife, Karma, master craftsman and design artist, respectively, who own the six-generation family business. The kiln-dried wood that goes into their products uses woods I have never heard of, plus others that are familiar: cherry, maple, walnut, elm, mahogany, cedar, purpleheart (South America), padauk (Africa), jatoba (South America), ziricote (Central America), chakte coc (Central America), and wenge (Africa). The wood is never stained, so what you see is what you are truly getting. If you want to see what these woods look like, a great visual resource is the World Timber Corporation Web site. Or, you can visit the JK Creative Wood page on Facebook to see some of their products.


One of the wonderful things about any state fair you attend is that you grow your appreciation for all that your state has to offer. Wherever you live, I hope you take advantage of your local, county or state fair’s offerings.

© 2014 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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3 thoughts on “The lure of shopping at the Iowa State Fair”

  1. Paige @ Little Nostalgia

    The bookmark is definitely my favorite, though all of them are cool. I’m glad you did some shopping after all!

  2. I really enjoyed reading about the process for the plate and hedgehog! I hadn’t thought about catalpa wood in years, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it carved. The other woods you mentioned, though…some of them I’m too familiar with! Wenge splinters so badly (and the splinters turn septic!) and there are huge chunks of it sitting around our tiny apartment because of a half-finished table my husband hasn’t had time to complete. I love purple heart and paduk, though – they’re two of my favorites.

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