A tale of junk and art


On paper, this weekend held so much promise. It was the Des Moines Arts Festival, one of Iowa’s biggest summer events. And it was “Junkin’ in June,” a central Iowa “junk jaunt” through 19 vintage barns, sheds, and shops. What fun!

And then, of course, once the weekend gets closer and you can see the weather forecast, it becomes less fun.

It’s been raining pretty much all week. Heavy rain on Thursday. Heavy rain on Friday. Rain in the forecast for Saturday and Sunday. Sigh! What’s a shopper to do?

I got up yesterday morning and headed out anyway. It wasn’t actually raining, so I figured I’d go “junkin’” as long as the weather held out, and then go to the arts festival in the afternoon if I could.



That was a pretty good plan. I drove north to Gilbert to hit up a few spots. The first stop was JB Knacker, one of my favorite places. The shop itself was filled with all kinds of nifty vintage items, plus about a dozen vendors had set up their tables and tents and campers in the back and side yards, selling everything from old bicycles and vintage signs to handcrafted jewelry and coffee cups.



I love to see how these creative folks put together what would, indeed, appear to be junk – but with a whitewashed picture frame here and a string of Christmas lights there, they managed to turn trash into treasure. I gravitated to flower pots and hand-lettered signs but ended up buying a necklace made from an old Iowa road map.


My next stop was Pixi, the shop next door to JB Knacker on Main Street. There’s nothing junky about Pixi. The shop has hand-crafted items, jewelry, paper products, and scrapbooking supplies. Everything is super cute. Guys should probably stay away. I bought a small notebook with cats on it.


Another block up the street is Stellas’s on Main, a two-story house filled with gifts and home décor – some antiques, too, but the new items outnumber the old. I bought a birthday card for a friend. Out in the yard a “junk” vendor had a tent with a wide variety of things. My eye went directly to a display of catnip in small bags selling for 75 cents. I bought one and hoped I didn’t get picked up on the way home, because it looked exactly like a baggie of marijuana.

That’s pretty much it for Gilbert. By now it looked like rain but it wasn’t actually raining, so I figured I’d move on to the next town: Story City.

Is it my imagination, or has Story City gone through some really great changes? I can remember going up there for the Cottage on Broad restaurant (which now appears to be closed), the carousel, and the big antique mall near the highway but not finding much to do in the downtown area.

Now there’s The Bistro, a great place to stop for lunch (and pie), plus two fantastic vintage shops that make Story City an antiques-hunter’s destination.


I knew about Broad Street Market, but I’d never been inside because it’s often closed. (That’s the great thing about the Junkin’ event – everything is open.) This shop is in the former Norsemen Hardware store. Its collection of architectural salvage and vintage goodies reminds me of Found Things in Des Moines’ East Village, one of my favorite shops.



Dare I say that Broad Street Market is even more appealing? The furniture, repurposed cast-offs, doors, windows, picture frames, baskets, bins, signs, and what-not is creatively displayed and oh so tempting. This is the good stuff.


Just across the street is InVintg. When did this store open? Where has it been all my life? It’s AMAZING. Just chock full of wonderfulness. Lots of antiques and vintage items, plus pillows and hand-lettered signs and really fun things. I didn’t even know where to begin. I just walked through, smiling, thinking I need to learn more about this shop and I MUST come back here again.

You can find InVintg, Broad Street Market, JB Knacker, and Pixi all on Facebook, by the way.

Still not raining – just hot and humid – so I walked south a block or two to stop by Penn Station Antiques. This is more of a typical junk/antiques shop – OK but nothing too exciting. By this point I had hit 6 of the 19 Junkin’ locations and didn’t feel compelled to go to Boone or Jewell, although I’m sure they had good stuff.

I drove back home to Ames, regrouped a bit, and headed to Des Moines.


The Des Moines Arts Festival has been around for a long time. It started in 1958 as Art in the Park at the Des Moines Art Center. In 1998, just after I moved to Iowa, the event moved to the bridges just east of downtown. In 2006 it moved to its current location: the Western Gateway Park.

The Arts Festival is a huge deal. The three-day festival each June attracts around 250,000 people. It’s a juried art fair featuring 195 artists from all over the country, plus an emerging Iowa artists program, live music, food, art for kids, and Iowa craft beer. It’s been called the “best festival in the world” by the International Festivals & Events Association.


I like walking through the artist tents, feeling only slightly guilty for looking and never buying. I like the festival atmosphere surrounded by the downtown skyline and the sculpture park. I like the music.


I usually don’t like the crowds – but yesterday’s crowd wasn’t bad at all. And I don’t like the weather variables. It’s generally either too hot or humid or windy or rainy or something. It’s rarely perfect. Yesterday it was very warm and humid, but tolerable. Dave and I got there about 2 o’clock and walked through every tent that appealed to us, which was most of them. There was some really good stuff there, stuff I mostly couldn’t afford but some that was very affordable. I enjoyed talking to the artists. One guy had nothing but pictures of chickens, so he was fun to talk to. Another had chicken footstools, so it was a big year for chickens.


At about a quarter to four, we decided we would get a beer from the craft beer tent and settle down at the main stage to listen to music. David Zollo was just finishing up, and Pieta Brown would be coming up next. Dave went to the car to get our chairs. But before he could get back, an announcement came over the PA system: A storm was heading our way. The festival was temporarily shutting down. Better head for cover NOW.

And that was the end of our Arts Festival experience. I intercepted Dave and we put the chairs back in the car, just as it began to rain. We walked through the skywalks to the Hotel Fort Des Moines and its always-wonderful Django restaurant, hoping to have a beer and then go back to the main stage. But the sky darkened and the wind picked up; one beer turned into two, and then into dinner and more beer, and then we had to leave because we had tickets for the Des Moines Metro Opera performance of Dead Man Walking in Indianola at 7:30.


The Register reported that the festival was closed for three hours. No damage was reported.



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