Imagine Northeast Iowa

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Make Time Stand Still at the Bily Clocks Museum in Spillville
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Make Time Stand Still at the Bily Clocks Museum in Spillville

Recently, I made my weekend summertime destination the Bily Clocks Museum and Antonin Dvorak Exhibit in Spillville.  It’s in a lovely brick building right on Main Street.  As I stepped through the door, I was taken aback by the astounding intricacy and artisanship on display in the many clocks featured that had been hand-carved by the Bily brothers, Frank and Joseph, as well as the collection of artifacts and correspondence from the Czech composer, Antonin Dvorak, who spent the summer of 1893 in the upper quarters of the same building that is the museum.

Frank and Joseph Bily were native sons of Iowa who lived on a farm between Spillville and Ridgeway.  Their journey into hand-carved clocks is said to have started in 1913.  When I stopped by the museum, I was lucky enough to join a guided tour that was just about to begin.  If you do make time to visit this museum largely dedicated to beautiful, ornate works of art that keep time, I would highly recommend joining one of the guided tours as it gives a much fuller history of the clocks and the lives of Frank and Joseph than you will be able to glean by just looking at the informational materials posted next to the clocks. 

When I heard that both men had but a fifth-grade education, I became even more absorbed not just by the artisan skill displayed in the clocks by but the broad array of themes that they depicted in their clocks.  From religious themes in clocks featuring the Apostles to secular themes honoring the life of Charles Lindbergh and a grand clock creation paying homage to the pioneer spirit, it was truly inspirational to see what some wood, tools, time-keeping accessories and a profound commitment to craft can do.  Perhaps the clock with the most striking message was The Struggle for Time Clock completed during 1931-1932.  If the Bily brothers were concerned about the fast pace of life back in the 1930s, it seems that this theme is an enduring one not just brought about by being able to hold a mini computer and timepiece in our hands in the form of a smartphone.

Heading upstairs, you’ll learn plenty about Antonin Dvorak and his summer spent in Iowa in the late 1800s.  While this level is not included in the guided tour, there is a great wealth of information to read and absorb, including correspondence and musical composition.  So, it’s best to allow ample time for this floor as well.

On my visit, there were several children who seemed really taken by the painstakingly carved clocks.  So, it’s definitely a place the entire family can enjoy.  If you decide you want to stay a spell in Spillville and try to make time stand still, there is the Taylor Made Bed and Breakfast just across the street that would be happy to have you. 

So, why not try to make some time for the Bily Clocks Museum and Spillville this summer?  If you do, moments might just pass by a little slower with a bit more to savor.

Image credit: Jenny Kuderer

More about Spillville, Museum

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