Hometown Hawkeye: David Williamson

Hometown Hawkeye: David Williamson

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Artist transforms river trash into treasured sculpture
A man wearing blue overalls and a red hard hat posing with a smile in a room filled with metalworking equipment.David Williamson poses in his metal fabrication shop on June 26, 2013. Photos by Bill Adams.

Hometown Hawkeye At-A-Glance
: David Williamson
Degree: B.F.A. ‘71 and MA ’72 (both in Art)
Occupation: Sculptor
Residence: Ogden, Iowa

Iowa map with Boone county highlighted
Ogden is in Boone County, which includes:

300 UI alumni
35 UI-educated teachers and administrations
10 UI-educated physicians
7 UI-educated pharmacists
5 UI-educated dentists

Discover how the UI impacts the lives ofIowansborder to border, river to river, at outreach.uiowa.edu.

If you had one thousand pounds of river trash, what would you build?

To anyone but David Williamson, the question posed by an Iowa Department of Natural Resources employee might have sounded absurd. But for the sculptor and recycling enthusiast, it sounded like a promising opportunity.

The UI arts graduate had been incorporating recycled materials into his work since the early 1970s, and jumped at the chance to partner with the DNR on its latest initiative: A Watershed Awareness River Expedition (Project AWARE).

Founded in 2003, Project AWARE invites volunteers from across the state to canoe 100 miles of Iowa rivers and collect discarded materials from bicycles to barrels. But when the river cleanup expedition first began, organizers were faced with a large problem. No one knew what the volunteers had accomplished.

Making meaningful metalwork

That’s where Williamson came in. For the past decade, Williamson has been telling the story of Project AWARE and honoring its participants through interactive metal working at the Iowa State Fair. Fairgoers of all ages, as well as those who took part in the river cleanup, partnered with Williamson to create castings, smelt recycled metal and hammer together sculptures that represent the spirit of Iowa and its waterways.

That first year, Williamson and his approximately 450 collaborators produced a 12-foot tall, half-ton sculpture resembling a canoe paddle. Since then, he and enthusiastic volunteers have created several more metal works and 5 sets of decorative security gates that adorn the west side of the Iowa State Fair DNR building.

Although Williamson won’t be back at the fair this year, having satisfied his joint goal with the DNR in creating a visible name for Project AWARE, his work continues to engage citizens.

“People are drawn to his art,” says Project AWARE director Lynette Seigley. “They’re amazed at how trash has been transformed into these beautiful sculptures.”


Amy Mattson, University Communication and Marketing, 319-384-0070
Bill Adams, Communication & Marketing, 319-384-0052


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