Archive for the ‘ISU Heating Plant (Iowa State Power)’ Category

ISU Heating Plant Vantage Point, Simplified

June 11, 2010

ISU Heating Plant, Ames, Iowa, watercolor by Marion Gunderson, 1951. (Click on image to enlarge.)

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In case the first “Vantage Point” post about Mother’s (Marion Gunderson) ISU Heating Plant watercolor was just a little too detailed for you, here’s the cut-to-the-chase version. At left is the image of her watercolor (same image as in the first post).

I’m also including a photo-with-explanation indicating her most likely vantage point for the watercolor.

At the end of this post are links that provide more information about Iowa State University’s heating/power plant.


Iowa State University Power Plant, March 2010. (Click photo to enlarge.)


At the links below, more information is available about the history of Iowa State University’s heating/power plant, or current information.

At this link scroll down to the “Power and Heating Plant” heading.

ISU power plant floor plans, etc., are available here.

Additional background information is available here.

This Iowa State University link (¬†provides a map of campus. To easily see the location of the current power plant, in the upper right at this ISU web site you’ll get a pop-up menu if you click on “select building.” In that pop-up menu, select “power plant.” OR, at the left side of the same web page where it says “Layers,” put a check mark in front of “building names.” Then enlarge the map (i.e., click on the “+” sign) a little and you’ll be able to see the names of buildings on campus.

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(Click here to go to Louise Shimon’s blog’s home page.)


Vantage Point for “ISU Heating Plant” Watercolor by Marion Gunderson

June 7, 2010

In the previous post I explained how I learned the identity of the building in Mother’s (Marion Gunderson) watercolor of Iowa State University’s heating plant.

Mother’s notes indicate she painted the 1951 watercolor “From charcoal sketch done while at ISU.” She was a student at Iowa State during the period of 1937-1941. In other words, there was at least a ten-year span between when she created the charcoal sketch and when she painted the watercolor.

I wondered what Mother’s vantage point might have been as she created her sketch (later used as the reference for her watercolor). In an effort to learn more about the vantage point, I contacted Jeffrey Witt, Iowa State’s Assistant Director of Utilities.


ISU Heating Plant, Ames, Iowa, watercolor by Marion Gunderson, 1951. Medium limited edition: 13.25″ W x 17.5″ H (approximate size of the original), $35. Large: 15″ W x ~20″ H, $45. (Click on image to enlarge. To order, see * below.)



Vantage-Point Explanation and Photos from ISU’s Jeffrey Witt March 2010

This painting [immediately above] appears to have been done looking south and east towards the power plant from the north side. We do not have any photographs of the plant from this perspective but there may be some in the Special Collections section at Parks Library. I was able to find two views of the plant from that general timeframe and one a few years later. These [below] are scans from a historical account of the power plant put together by one of our staff.



“The first picture.” (Click on photo to enlarge.)

The first picture [immediately above] is looking at the plant from the east looking west. This photograph was before the large concrete smokestack was constructed. The concrete smokestack shows in the background of the painting.



“The second picture.” (Click on photo to enlarge.)

The second picture [immediately above] is looking at the plant from the south looking north and a bit west. We believe this picture was taken in the 1930s about the time the sketch was done.



The third picture [immediately below] is an aerial view of the plant from the north and west looking southeast and was taken in 1954. The plant had a major addition in 1948-49 so it looks different than the previous pictures. It looks to me like the artist may have done the sketch while standing in the vicinity of the 4 white oil tanks that show in the foreground of this picture.

“The third picture.” (Click on photo to enlarge.)

The power plant depicted in the sketch and painting was built in 1906 and includes an addition in 1914. The facility would have looked similar until 1948-49 when it was modified to look like the 1954 picture [immediately above]. Another major addition was added to the south in 1968 and a 3rd major addition to the north in 1986-87. Over the years we have built on all four sides and on top of the original 1906 power plant. The original power plant supplied steam for heating and electricity for the campus. Today’s power plant still provides heating steam and electricity and we started providing all the cooling for campus with the addition in 1968.

The power plant is in the same location. I included a photograph for your reference [immediately below]. The photograph is looking east and north at the plant from the west and south. The area where the artist likely stood is still there as well. It is a green metal shed** located north of the power plant that is used by the facilities department for equipment storage. You can locate the power plant if you go to ISU’s website and look at the campus maps.***

“Photograph for your reference” of current power plant.

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*To check on availability of prints at various locations, please email me at You may also order online. (The ISU Heating Plant prints are online in the “Potpourri” category.)

**In the photo at this link, the “green” storage shed looks more yellow/tan. In reality, it is green.

***In the next post I’ll include web sites providing more information about the heating/power plant.

(Click here to go to Louise Shimon’s blog’s home page.)

Iowa State University Heating Plant + Marion Gunderson = Georgia O’Keeffe-like Watercolor

June 2, 2010

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Mother (Marion Gunderson) used to store her watercolors in two ways at Gunderland. She had approximately seventy of her watercolors stored loose in portfolios under the basement steps. Another fifteen-or-so of her paintings were framed and displayed around the perimeter of the basement.

A portion of Marion Gunderson’s ISU Heating Plant watercolor, 1951. (Click photo to enlarge.)

It must have been after Mother passed away in 2004 that one of those paintings hanging in the basement caught my attention. I had no idea what building/location was in the painting. I just knew that the Georgia O’Keeffe-like gentle-curvy lines and rich colors that Mother used prompted me to ask to have this particular painting.

Not realizing that the painting included mounds of black coal, I thought that perhaps the painting was of another ag-related building. My dad (Deane Gunderson) and my husband (Bill Shimon) didn’t know the exact location of the building in the painting; because of the coal in the painting, they believed the painting might have been of something factory-related.

Mother’s, Clara’s (my oldest sister) and Marti’s (one of my middle siblings) work helped with my investigation. Several years ago at Mother’s request, Marti took inventory snapshots of as many of Mother’s watercolors as could be located. Mother then put those snapshots in an album. Along with the snapshots, Mother provided corresponding documentary notes for most of her paintings that were in those snapshots. Since before Mother passed away in 2004, Clara has been our family’s keeper and continuing recorder of documentation about Mother’s watercolors.

Back to the above-mentioned painting…I hung on to the painting for another couple of years before asking Clara if she had any idea of the identity of the building in the painting. Clara looked in Mother’s notes and found that about this particular painting, Mother had noted, “ISU Heat Plant, Ames, Iowa. From charcoal sketch done while at ISU.”

Bingo! Identity known!

Alongside Mother’s signature on the painting she included the year “1951.” Mother attended Iowa State College (now Iowa State University) from 1937-1941. We assume that she created a charcoal sketch of the heating plant sometime between 1937 and 1941, and later, with the charcoal sketch as her reference, in 1951 painted her watercolor of the same heating plant.

Because the heating plant in the watercolor looks nothing like the present Iowa State University power plant, I was confused about what Mother’s vantage point might have been when she painted the heating plant. I recently contacted Jeffrey Witt, ISU’s Assistant Director of Utilities, to learn more about the history of Iowa State’s heating plant. More specifically, I wondered if he could shed some light on where Mother’s vantage point as she painted might have been, in relation to the current power plant at Iowa State.

In the next post I’ll include the connect-the-dots information Jeff provided in regard to history of Iowa State’s heating/power plant and Mother’s 1951 watercolor of the older plant.

(Click here to go to Louise Shimon’s blog’s home page.)