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The snowy terrain beyond Grinnell’s city limits may seem bland and lifeless, but Sandy Moffett, Professor Emeritus of Theatre, does not see it that way. He collects inspiration from the landscape, using photography to shed light on the much forgotten natural beauty of the state he lovingly refers to as “The American Heartland.”

On Thursday, Feb. 6, the Grinnell Arts Center Gallery held the opening reception for Moffett’s exhibit: “Blossoms, Birds, and Beasts: Images from Central Iowa’s Natural World.” As the name of the exhibit suggests, the photographs feature simplistic, pastoral beauty of the flowers and animals found in Central Iowa.

“I guess I would describe these things as what you see if you took a walk in the prairie around here or what I would call ‘wild places’,” Moffett said. “I take photos when I see something interesting or beautiful. There’s nothing really exotic about it.”

Inside the gallery, there are photographs—all of various sizes—hanging up on each of the three walls. Each of the pictures is branded with Moffett’s initials and the year the photo was taken. In the middle of the gallery is a projector that plays a slideshow of more photographs Moffett has taken throughout the years.

According to Moffett, all of his pieces have a backstory. For example, one particular photo, titled, “Careful Sunny” depicts Moffett’s cat curiously glancing at a nearby snake.

“[My] cat was just teasing the snake. He was really harassing the snake and the snake was trying to strike at my cat. So, finally, I had to take the snake [away], so my cat wouldn’t kill it.”

Moffett’s rich history with photography began at the young age of twelve when he started to shine shoes in order to earn enough money to buy his own camera. Moffett’s attraction to photography centered around the ability to reflect what he saw and develop it into something tangible—something physical both he and others could enjoy, as well. He also took pictures in Korea during the Korean War, when he was enlisted in the army. Technological advancements have shortened time spent in the darkroom, but nevertheless, Moffett continues to avidly pursue digital photography.

After retiring from teaching Theatre at Grinnell in 2000, Moffett has been able to dedicate even more time to photography. Having started his career as a Theatre professor at the College in 1971, Moffett believes that his time at Grinnell has influenced his philosophy towards the arts.

“What any artist is trying to do is to take what he or she sees and give it to people, whether they [people] like it or not. Some people will like it. Some people won’t … but I think anyone who takes a photograph wants to show it to someone,” Moffett said.

Moffett currently lives on a small farm near town, which allows him to remain deeply involved in the community and the school. As an advisor for the Center for Prairie Studies, Moffett purchases local land and restores the prairie environment by planting native plants, so that it can eventually regenerate on its own.

“I do a lot of prairie restoration and I spend a lot of my time doing that. I restored a lot of prairie [sites] and where I took these pictures are places where I’ve worked on,” Moffett explained.

Through his most recent exhibit, Moffett has been able to effectively combine both his passion for photography and his efforts to preserve the beautiful prairie of Iowa. With his work, Moffett hopes to spread awareness of the beauty and conservation of prairies.

“In my love for the landscape around here and my desire to do a little something, if I can, to save what is disappearing, through the photographs, I hope I can alert people or sensitize people to the beauty of the Iowa landscape,” Moffett said.

Moffett’s work will be featured throughout the month of February in the Grinnell Arts Center Gallery, located on 926 Broad Street. He encourages students and faculty alike to visit the gallery and discover a newfound appreciation for the authentic nature of a place close to our hearts, a place close to home.

Art Gallery - Emma Sinai-Yunker
Sandy Moffett’s exhibit is currently featured in the Grinnell Arts Center Gallery, located on 926 Broad St.