My mother-in-law is a fan of the artist Isabel Bloom and as a result, we have several of her cheerful concrete sculptures around our home. But I didn’t fully appreciate her work until I had the opportunity to tour the Isabel Bloom Factory in Davenport, Iowa.
Isabel Bloom, an Iowa native, attended the Chicago Art Institute. But she also studied under a more well-known Iowa artist — Grant Wood — at his Stone City Art Colony. That’s where she learned to sculpt in clay. Slowly she developed the technique and style that would become molds for these adorable concrete statues.
This post contains affiliate links, which means we may receive a small commission if you make a purchase through a link. There is no additional cost to you.
Sculpting in Concrete
Concrete doesn’t immediately invoke a warm, fuzzy feeling as a medium for art. But that’s part of what makes Isabel Bloom’s sculptures so amazing. Yes, they are extremely heavy. I know. I’ve helped my mother-in-law move them from time to time.
But they can sit outside in your garden and not be damaged by the elements, however, you should bring them in in the winter. Small ones are great paper weights for your desk. Larger ones can be used as a door stop.
The casting process takes two days and then each piece is individually whitewashed and polished, creating a truly unique piece. Recycled beer bottles are used for the green and brown eyes found in the frogs, turtles and other creatures. Isabel was a Pisces, born in late February, and therefore included fish in many designs.
Hugs — Best Selling Figurine by Isabel Bloom
The images are simple reflecting four concepts: love, joy, friendship and support. The piece entitled “Hugs” was one of her first and remains the most popular of more than 300 Isabel Bloom creations.
She began her little company in 1981 with just five employees. Now, the Isabel Bloom factory in Davenport creates jobs for 70 people year-round, more during the holiday season.
Isabel Bloom died in 2001 at age 93. Donna Young is now the sculptor behind the figurines. Each year, the company retires 20-25 original Blooms while Donna creates another 20-25 pieces.
Where to Find Isabel Blooms in Iowa
The public library in Ames, Iowa includes a specially-commissioned Isabel Bloom in the library’s heritage room. Don’t you love the colorful glass tiles in the little girl’s dress?
You can also find a life-size Isabel Bloom at the Bettendorf Iowa Public Library. It’s a mother reading to a child and the two figures weigh a total of 650 pounds.
Reading is a common theme for Isabel Bloom figurines. I love this little one that my mother-in-law gave us. It sits on a shelf in my office.
In addition to the factory store and showroom in Davenport, you’ll find another Isabel Bloom store in historic Valley Junction in West Des Moines. Another 100 or so shops around the Midwest carry the product. But a handful of the collection is sold only at the factory in Davenport.
Road trip anyone?