By Jim Elias
The Merrill Hotel opens next week after a flurry of last-minute activity by newly hired staff and management, as well as by some local artists being showcased throughout the guestrooms, corridors, and lobbies of this sparkling new luxury hotel.

Located in downtown Muscatine and overlooking the Mississippi River, everything in and about The Merrill, including the art, is designed to give hotel guests a taste of what Muscatine is all about.

“We’re trying to tell a story about Muscatine, and the art we’ve selected helps us tell that story,” says Rebecca Howe, who, along with her husband, Jim Howe, are the principal developers of The Merrill Hotel & Conference Center. “Our guests will see buttons, the bridge, the clam digger, and the river. It all ties back into Muscatine and our story.”

Special commissions and other pieces of art from local artists were chosen to represent Muscatine heritage, history, and landmarks.

Last summer, Sunrise River Gallery owner/artist Jim Elias connected with Rebecca Howe and Andy McClellan of the Merrill Hotel to discuss how art by local artists might be featured in the new hotel. Elias recalls, “When Rebecca was leaving that first meeting, she said, ‘Oh, Andy, remember to ask Jim about the bathrooms’.”

McClellan said The Merrill needed a piece of art for each guestroom bathroom that depicts the pearl button history of Muscatine.

Artist Jane Doty was commissioned to create a piece “not too literal, not too abstract” of pearl buttons to hang in the bathrooms. Doty and Elias visited the Pearl Button Museum in Muscatine to collaborate on a design concept for the piece. Then, following a number of studies, Doty created an original oil painting of about a dozen buttons showing close up the pearlescent luster and colors for which Muscatine pearl buttons are known.

Once creation of the bathroom button art was well underway, Howe and Elias further explored art options to help the new hotel tell the Muscatine story.  “Rebecca really wanted to use artists from our gallery for a couple of reasons,” said Elias. “Much of the art itself is of local nature and created by Muscatine area artists, and it’s important for the hotel to do business locally.  She and Andy have often talked about how their mission with the hotel is to help stimulate the local economy.”

Cold Clam Harvest, Elias’s black and white photo of the Mississippi Harveststatue, and another work of Doty’s, Harbor Bridge, were selected to decorate hotel guestrooms.

The Merrill’s public spaces will also highlight the work of local artists and ties to the community. The hotel is working with the Muscatine Art Center on possibly displaying some of its collection. Local sculptors Joe Bernard and Jeff Weikert are working on pieces to adorn the hotel’s corridors and the Green Space, a park-like setting located between The Merrill and the old Hotel Muscatine.
In addition, the hotel sundries shop is being curated by local business owner/jewelry artist Melissa Osborne of Creations by Oz. Osborne plans to feature jewelry and gifts created by area artisans, advancing the community connection with the hotel. Art from Sunrise River Gallery will also be on display and for sale in the sundries shop at The Merrill.

Both Creations by Oz and Sunrise River Gallery are located on 2nd Street, a short walk from The Merrill.