On Display: Meet the Iowa Food & Family Project Artists

By Joe Hopper, Iowa Soybean Association

Watch out, Grant Wood! The beauty of life and agriculture in Iowa will be on full display at the 2022 Iowa State Fair as the Iowa Food & Family Project hosts eight Iowa artists to bring these scenes to life.

The Iowa Food & Family Project (Iowa FFP) is celebrating Iowa’s rich history of arts and leadership in agriculture at the 2022 Iowa State Fair. This year, Iowa FFP’s larger-than-life display – Agriculture is Iowa’s Masterpiece – boasts the talents of eight Iowa artists, each bringing their own unique and creative style to the delight of fairgoers. Visitors to the Southeast Atrium of the Varied Industries Building can watch each artist’s mural come to life at the exhibit. Plus, kids can pick up a mini canvas to take home to try their hand at a masterpiece of their own.

Learn more about the artists and get a sneak peek at their artistic vision below.

Please note, by clicking the following links, you’ll be leaving a partially funded checkoff site.


Lauren Dahl 

It didn’t take long for Lauren Dahl’s artistic career to take off. Originally from Orange City, Dahl has maintained a passion for the arts since childhood. After graduating from college with a graphic design degree, she soon decided to make her way as a Des Moines-based freelance artist.

“I started doing graphic design work for little boutiques in town, and that spread to different organizations and businesses across Iowa and even to New York,” Dahl says. “It’s a great time.”

Recently doing considerable work with murals, Dahl says a comment from a former classmate gave way to her next big mural project with Iowa FFP. 

“I haven’t been to the Iowa State Fair since I was probably three or four years old, so I thought what better way to go back to the fair and experience it in a way that’s so exciting,” Dahl says. “This is different, this is fun, and I can represent Iowa through my art.”

She says another exciting element of this project is, unlike most commercial murals, she’ll be working alongside other Iowa artists completing their own murals. Dahl’s mural theme will be farming in agriculture.

“I will have some corn, farmers, their work, grain bins, kind of your typical Iowa farming icons,” Dahl says. “I think this will be a little different in a way; it’s very graphically done in a way that still represents Iowa – there are a few patterns in there. I’m excited about it.”

Follow Lauren Dahl on Instagram at @laurendahlcreative and laurendahlcreative.com.


Kathleen Roling 

Creating unique art comes easy for Kathleen Roling, an accomplished Des Moines-based professional fine artist who has traveled worldwide displaying her skills.

Roling is known for her award-winning and mind-bending 3D anamorphic chalk illusion performances at public festivals across the country. She is also a muralist, fine art painter and botanical sculptor, using elements of nature and preserved moss to create biophilic compositions. Roling is also a passionate teacher, using fine art to spark young minds and engage with learning new subjects.

Her mission is to cultivate joy, peace and love with her work to bring more light into this world. 

Keep up with Kathleen Roling on Facebook and Instagram at @kathleenroling/@kathleenjoyart and online at kathleenrolingart.com/kathleenjoy.com.


Amy Thomas 

Amy Thomas is an Iowa artist and has been doing murals, door hangers and fine art for 25 years. Thomas’ unique door hanger creations can also be spotted in neighborhoods across the U.S.  and Canada. She and her family live in Urbandale and sell their door hangers at the Des Moines’ Downtown Farmers’ Market and other local shows.

Find Amy Thomas and her work on Facebook or Instagram at @ChalkboardLoveDoorhangers and chalkboardlovedoorhangers.com.

Ally Frame

Ally Frame is an Iowa artist on an incredible mission: to spread joy and spark smiles with her art. After earning her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Nebraska in 2016, she returned home to the Hawkeye State to start her art studio, Later Gator, and began painting murals and creating whimsical illustrations. She says she fell in love with the medium after completing her first mural.

“I’ve pursued mural painting ever since because it’s so therapeutic and connecting with the community is really nice – seeing how people react has been fun,” Frame says.


The key to Frame’s artistic style is a sense of joy, light-heartedness and fun.

“I have a lot of anxiety, and I like to create things that make me smile and laugh,” Frame says. “I hope when other people see these things, they laugh or smile too. I try not to take art too seriously.”

What will Frame’s art look like at the Iowa State Fair? Here’s a hint: cute and cuddly.

“My topic is animals in agriculture, so there’s going to be ridiculously cute animals everywhere, kind of chaotic and super colorful,” Frame says.

She’s also excited to see how her peers take on their projects at the Iowa State Fair.

“I’m excited to see how other people approach their work as well as learn and make some friendships,” Frame says.

Check out Ally Frame’s latest work on Facebook and Instagram at @latergatorart and her website at latergatorart.com.


Nicole K. James

Nicole James isn’t just an incredible artist, but she is an art educator too. The Drake University grad, longtime figure of the Des Moines Art Center and Roosevelt High School teacher, says she learned the medium of mosaic in a serendipitous moment.

“When I was student teaching through my education degree, the teacher I was working with was about to retire, and she said, ‘You get to teach mosaics next week,’” James says. “This was before YouTube, so I couldn’t look it up online. I had to go to the library and learn how to mosaic. It became my main focus of art.”

She adds, “Mosaics continue to be what I always go back to; I also do some painting, printmaking and clay. I have four boys, so this slowed down my art production for a while. Mosaics are nice because I jokingly tell people I can run upstairs, break up a fight among the kids, and come back down and pick up right where I left off.”

Even though the Fair is close to the start of Iowa educators’ school year, James says she signed on to this exhibit because she enjoys working on big projects and loves the Iowa State Fair. Her work will focus on generations of farming in Iowa, reaching out through social media for authentic images to inspire her work.

“Someone posted a photo of a grandma; I love it because it reminds me of my grandma, kind of that old-school farmer lady,” James says.

Follow Nicole James on Instagram at @nicole_k_jamesart and her website at nicolekjamesart.com.


Jenna Brownlee

Jenna Brownlee is a Des Moines native, multi-medium painter and muralist. After studying multiple art mediums at the Des Moines Art Center, she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design and Entrepreneurship Certificate from the University of Iowa. She worked as a graphic designer focusing on branding, creative direction and design production for 10 years.

Brownlee’s watercolor work can be found on Etsy and at local markets and festivals. She is represented by Liz Lidgett Gallery + Design (Des Moines), offers commissions and freelance work, and has painted more than 30 murals throughout Iowa. Jenna’s designs are often found on well-known brands like Better Homes & Gardens, Allrecipes and Papyrus.

Brownlee creates concepts that enliven spaces and serve community needs. She aims to show how women can have an impact and gain success through expressive art while demonstrating that art is an integral, powerful and experiential tool that unifies, energizes and beautifies communities.

With a mission to enhance communities and make people happy through art, her work is often inspired by collages of organic shapes found in nature with uplifting themes using vibrant colors, florals, botanicals and lettering.

Keep up with Jenna Brownlee and her work on Instagram at @jenna_brownlee and jennabrownlee.com.


Kiki Curtis

Originally from Colorado, Kiki Curtis moved to Des Moines in 1989 to work as an art director for Meredith Corporation. After leaving the company to focus on raising and caring for her family, she has created numerous art projects, from murals and room designs to 3D paper mâché sculptures.

Curtis says she’s recently enjoyed painting in the Live-Art format, where observers can take part in watching the painting “come alive” from a blank canvas to the final piece.

Love for color is a consistent theme in all of Curtis’ work.

“I find inspiration just about everywhere,” she says.

Find Kiki Curtis online at kiki-curtis.pixels.com.


Sarah Stott

The Midwest is home to Sarah Stott — she lives in her hometown of Jefferson. Stott says her fondest childhood memories are those made at her grandparents’ farm just outside of the town.

“I loved helping my grandpa with the chores, spending countless hours exploring the outdoors and enjoying the nostalgic family holidays with my siblings and cousins,” Stott says. “I can still smell the front porch and remember walking into the kitchen that was filled with the aroma of baking bread and a roast in the oven.”

After graduating from Iowa State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, she continued her education at Drake University and earned a Master’s Degree in Teaching.

“I have been an art teacher in the Iowa Public School system for the past 17 years and am currently teaching at Greene County High School in Jefferson,” Stott says. “Over the years, I have painted many murals with students in schools and the community and been commissioned to paint many artworks and murals on my own. When I am not teaching, I am a busy mom of four and also help my military husband with his family-owned aerial spraying business.”

Contact Sarah Stott via email at sarahgnr02@gmail.com.