News Flash Home
The original item was published from 5/1/2015 9:50:46 AM to 6/1/2015 12:05:01 AM.

News Flash

Historic Preservation

Posted on: May 1, 2015

[ARCHIVED] Grotto on Mount Mercy University campus placed on National Register of Historic Places

William Lightner’s Our Mother of Sorrows Grotto on Mount Mercy University’s campus has recently been placed on the distinguished National Register of Historic Places. In honor of this recognition, Mount Mercy and the Linn County Historic Preservation Commission will co-sponsor a public presentation about the National Register and history of Lightner’s Grotto and provide a tour of the historic Grotto on Saturday, May 2 from 2-3:30 p.m. in Betty Cherry Heritage Hall as part of National Historic Preservation Month.

A cherished landmark on Mount Mercy’s campus for over 90 years, Lightner, a professional builder, was inspired to create the Grotto to express his personal artistic vision and religious faith. Over a period of 12 years between 1929 and 1941, Lightner’s artistic vision grew to include two arched entryways, a bridge surrounded by a pond, a ten-column structure representing the Ten Commandments and a canopy structure enclosing an Italian marble statue of the Virgin Mary. Lightner traveled over 40,000 miles and used 12 tons of stone and 300 varieties of Italian mosaic glass.

In 2001, Lightner’s Grotto was awarded a Save Outdoor Sculpture Grant from the Smithsonian Institution’s American Heritage Millennium Project. Further restoration was supported by a 2011 Iowa Arts Council’s Major Organizations Grant and a 2012-2014 National Endowment for the Arts ARTWORKS Grant. In 2015 the Grotto was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Jane Gilmor, professor emerita, will present images showing the history of the Grotto and discuss why it is important as one of the few remaining Grottos in the Midwest.

“Grottos are uniquely Midwestern and considered a form of vernacular architecture—created by self-trained artists and builders,” Gilmor said. “I will connect our Grotto to the other three important Midwestern Grottos and talk about the Grotto tradition in relation to international visionary architecture.”
Maura Pilcher, Director of the Grant Wood Art Colony at the University of Iowa and member of the Linn County Historic Preservation Commission, will also speak.
“Everything that is old is not historic,” explained Pilcher. “During my short presentation, I will point out the distinct criteria for listing in the National Register. The National Register provides a framework by which historic places can be distinguished from old places.”

A tour of the Grotto will follow the presentations, giving attendees the opportunity to view the Italian mosaics and semi-precious minerals used by Lightner. Visitors will also get the chance to enjoy the performance of the Isadora Duncan Scarf Dance performed at the annual May Day Celebration from the 1930s through the 1960s.
In case of heavy rain, the event will be held on Sunday, May 3 at 2 p.m.

Facebook Twitter Email