Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.

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  • Huge Charleston Mural Appears in a Month

    • Posted on Jul 08, 2014 by Scott Cawelti
    July 8, 2014 

    Was walking Charleston on Monday, June 2 when I came up Queen Street, just a few feet off Meeting Street, and couldn't help but gape at this sketch on the wall of the Mira Winery building:  



    Hard to not gape, right?  The artist, David Boatwright, was sketching a painting-to-be of 14 figures, and was just beginning, either that day or possibly the week before.  I didn't actually measure it, but it's probably 15 by 15 feet and fills most of the wall.  Hard to miss, and right across a small parking lot from the well-known Poogan's Porch restaurant.  Everyone stops and stares.  

    So I began taking photos, this one just three days later: 



    That's Thursday of the first week.  Not bad for two guys working four days, I thought.  
    I did ask one of them how long it would take, and he said "weeks."  

    So I made it a point to walk by the wall every few days, and took these photos, in order: 


    Took this on Saturday, June 7, shocked at how much Boatwright had completed: 



    Then this, on Friday June 13:  

    Again, these guys work fast, I thought.  

    Then this, taken on June 19, just 17 days after that first sketch above:  


    And on June 23, a week before completion:  




    And here is the completed mural without scaffolding, taken Monday,  June 30:  



    So David Boatwright and his assistant completed that mural, sketch to full figures in living color, in one month to the day.  

    Here's a detail, just to show what you could see with good light walking up to it: 




    Now:  in case the mural looks familiar, you're right:  it's more or less a copy of Renoir's famous 1881 painting, "Luncheon of the Boating Party"--here: 



    The Mira Winery hired Boatwright to paint an homage to Renoir's painting, only with a difference:  each of the figures, instead of being Renoir's friends--that's who Renoir painted, after all, would be the faces of fourteen of Charleston's well-known restaurant owners or chefs.  

    Of course, foodies around Charleston will certainly recognize at least a few of the faces, just as Renoir's friends must have recognized themselves in his painting.  One difference would be size--Renoir's painting measured just 51 by 68 inches, whereas Boatwright's as mentioned, covers a large outdoor wall.  

    A few thoughts on this whole process: 
    ---an "homage" if done by a writer might be called "plagiarism." 
    --Renoir's is a work of art, worth hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Boatwright's is worth whatever the Mira winery paid him.  But it certainly adds 
    a dimension of interest to the Charleston food scene, not to mention making that wall a thousand times more interesting and attractive. 
    --how well will it hold up to the weather?  --high heat, sun, humidity, rains, hurricanes? Will be curious to photograph it again in a year and see if it has faded. 
    --was great fun watching it emerge, and a pleasant surprise that it took only a month. 

    A note of congratulations to the muralist, David Boatwright, his assistant, and the Mira winery for having the imagination and vision to create an engaging image that flatters and reveals some of the people that make Charleston's restaurant and food scene such a memorable part of contemporary Charleston.  
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  • True Story: How Bonnie Koloc Got Her Start

    • Posted on Apr 20, 2014 by Scott Cawelti
    I was giving  beginning guitar lessons regularly in the summer of 1963  in my family's living room In Cedar Falls to anyone who signed up. One day, a young woman showed up who could strum, knew a few chords, and wanted to learn finger picking and chord patterns.   Nothing too unusual there. 

    Then she sang.  I had never heard such a perfectly modulated, on-pitch,  pure female high alto voice.  Bonnie Koloc in her late teens was singing better than most professionals, and with virtually no vocal training.   

    By 1978, when I wrote this, Bonnie Koloc was in fact a well-established professional singer in Chicago.  

    This is how she bagan.   

    04/14/78

    America, as we all know  is a land of humble origins. And Iowa is certainly the heart of that story. . The Everly Brothers began quietly in Shenandoah, Johnny Carson started lowly in Corning, John Wayne commenced meagerly in Winterset, Cloris Leachman awoke slowly in Des Moines, and Bonnie Koloc arose humbly in Waterloo and Cedar Falls.

    For those of you who don't notice such things, Bonnie Koloc is just finishing her sixth album; she has sung to rave reviews in Chicago and New York, she has appeared on Dick Cavett, in concert with Gordon Lightfoot, John Prine, Steve Good­man, Tom Rush and others. The audience for her music (and her wonderful performances) has grown steadily. And Bonnie deserves it all; she knows and believes in quality work.

    Anyway, Bonnie Koloc has been a friend for years, and she was in town for a visit last week. Seeing her reminded me of her own lowly musical origins. I know, because I helped give Bonnie her start, right in my own humble living room. 

    I'M SITTING in my living room waiting for my next guitar student. It's a hot summer day, 1963, and I'm tired and grouchy from watching 10- year-old boys named Ronald or Gerald or Jamie try to finger the D chord while their proud  mothers look on.

    I look at my list and see that the next student is Bonnie Koloc. I remember the name because she has been singing off and on for parties and variety shows in the area. I've never heard her sing, though. She is late, but finally tumbles in, out of breath, and takes out a big Harmony Sovereign guitar.

    She smiles sweetly and strums a chord, slightly out of tune. She says, "I can play a little, but my rhythms are off, and I want to play more with my fingers and less with my thumb."

    I GROAN quietly inside and think:  A long lesson. Oh well, at least she knows some chords.

    I suggest that she play the D progression and she looks at me like I'd just suggested she play "Malaguena." Yup, it's going to be a long lesson. 

    I say, "You know—D to G to A7—those three chords?"

    She says, "Well, I know D and G, but does A7 go with them?"

    She smiles sweetly, and I suggest that she forget the D progression and just play a song—any song she knows well.

    She begins to play and sing the first verse to "John Riley"—a beautiful old English ballad. Suddenly I look up, wide awake. This voice, where is it coming from? I literally look around the room, for it is absolutely a stun­ning sound—clear, liquid, right on pitch with a perfect natural vibrato. Then I see Bonnie looking at her hand, trying to figure out a way to use her thumb less. But the voice is hers.

    I stop her. "Good God," I say, "Where'd you get that voice? Let me play behind you." I begin, and she sings all of "John Riley." It is so beautiful I want to cry. She has a natural sense of phrasing, and her voice does everything she wants it to. I'm sick with envy, but overjoyed to hear this all-but-perfect voice.

    "Bonnie, have you ever made any money with your singing?" She says no, and I suggest that she call Clair Bruce, who runs the Cypress Lounge downtown where I played with Waller last summer. 

    She says, "Do you think I'm ready? I'll have to use my thumb an awful lot when I play."

    "Just sing. Play your guitar with your elbow, but sing. Don't let that voice go unheard any longer."

    She calls Clair Bruce, who hears her sing, and gives her her first singing job for money, at the Cypress Lounge..  [Now the Stuffed Olive in the Black Hawk Hotel]
    The rest, as they say, is history, or rather herstory. 

    It was nice to be there, humble though it was.


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