Thursday, September 9, 2010

Punching the time clock...

My Etsy story about the Bily Clock Museum went up today. Going to Spillville to do research and shoot photos for the story ended up being just one stop on a 36-hour getaway. It's kind of amazing how much you can do in such a short, in Iowa, no less. (And no, I'm not getting any kickbacks from the Iowa Tourism Bureau. But as a former Californian, I do like to let people know that there is more to Iowa than corn and pigs.)

There are trips that you take where you're in a hurry to get somewhere—most of them, to be honest—and then there are those trips where you enjoy the journey and stop to see whatever might interest you along the way. Ironic to throw adherence to a schedule to the wind when we were going to a museum dedicated to timepieces...

Cedar Rock
We stopped first at Cedar Rock, the Frank Lloyd Wright house in Quasqueton (known as Quaskie to the natives). I loved it. A very peaceful and private location with a view of the Wapsipinicon River. Wright took perfect advantage of the site and the views. This house seemed much more livable to me than many of his I've seen.

We stayed the night in Decorah, a lovely Norwegian town, at the Hotel Winneshiek and had a great dinner out-of-doors at a place our friend Sonya told us about, McCaffrey's Dolce Vita.

Parade of Nations Clock
The next morning we headed for Spillville and the clocks. The museum is small and run on a shoestring, but well worth seeing. The clocks are truly are so varied and it's wonderful to hear the chimes and music boxes and see the figures animate.

Each docent has a slightly different spin on the Bily's story—one told me that they created the clocks for the pleasure of their disabled brother and that's why so many of them sat on the floor, so that he could enjoy them from his wheelchair. Another docent told me their love of their sister was their motivation.

Bily Brothers tools and carvings
Whatever the reason, they were so committed to their work. (These are some of their tools, many of which were handmade, that are displayed in the center of the clock room at the museum.)

Pioneer History Clock
Galileo: a detail on the Parade of Nations clock

I especially loved that they put so many hours into the research for their clocks: upstairs in the museum is a quirky collection of Bily memorabilia, including their books. They had quite a wide-ranging library for men whose education ended in the fifth grade, and they used those books and daily newspapers to research the background for their clocks.

Down the street from the museum, Spillville's Catholic church has an incredible graveyard—instead of headstones, the graves are marked by metal crosses. I'm assuming this is a Czech tradition. During the 1800s, most of Spillville's residents spoke Czech, which is part of why Dvorak chose to spend a summer there. The church itself has the pipe organ that Dvorak played when he lived there.

In addition to clocks, the Bily Brothers carved two "models" which were each about four feet by two feet carvings of churches. One of them was the Little Brown Church in Nashua, Iowa, which is 40 miles away from Spillville. Because the brothers never traveled farther than 35 miles from home, they carved it from the image on a postcard! The other model was "The Smallest Church in the World," and on our way home we passed a sign for it and couldn't resist turning off to visit. The church and the clocks were such interesting examples of what (quirky) people with a passion choose to do with their time and/or money.

Interior of Smallest Church: Note the star-painted ceiling.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am an Iowa native and I think this state has so much to offer. Thanks for sharing this trip.

Karen L.