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Meet the Artists of the Northeast Iowa Artists' Studio Tour: Darla Ellickson
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Meet the Artists of the Northeast Iowa Artists' Studio Tour: Darla Ellickson

In honor of the 20th Annual Northeast Artists' Studio Tour, we've interviewed our super talented artists to share how they got where they are and why they make the work that they do.

Up next, artist and jeweler Darla Ellickson. Darla's studio is location #17 at 3175 Middle Sattre Road about 10 miles northeast of Decorah, IA just a couple of miles off of Locust Road. This year's tour is Friday through Sunday, October 13th to the 15th, with all locations on the tour open from 10am to 5pm each day.

Who are you and what kind of art do you make?

I design and fabricate contemporary jewelry from sterling silver and 14 karat yellow gold sheet and wire, many designs featuring one-of-a-kind gemstones, many pieces “re”created utilizing customers heirloom gems into my contemporary designs. My most fun-to-share (and sell) creation is my Earloops©, an innovative “ear”gonomic nonpierced comfortable earring, which I created when pregnant with my daughter and I developed an allergic reaction in my pierced ears. 22 years later they are still one of my most popular items sold nationwide, which she reminds me of on a regular basis. My husband Glen and I are also the founders of the Northeast Iowa Artists’ Studio Tour and continue to be the primary organizers.

What’s your background? How did you become an artist?

As early as I can remember I was the kid that read the ads in back of magazines saying draw this and you could win an art scholarship – and so I did – draw. I do remember receiving something back once about an art school… somewhere. My parents were very supportive of my creative talents as I remember never running out of supplies to create something, anything, whatever moved me. My mother was involved in the then popular “ceramics” classes plus any kind of crafty whim that moved her. It would be quite interesting to me now to know how much they spent in paints, especially when I was going through my large palette painting period. Perhaps that is why I never failed to surprise my mother with new jewelry when my metal career started. Somehow I ended up with a BA from Luther College, the first college graduate in my family, with an emphasis in commercial design, photography, art history, and the beginnings of metalsmithing. 38 years later, with 65+ awards, exhibiting at 12-27 juried fine art fairs annually throughout the US, I still professionally, full-time, design, fabricate and sell my contemporary wearable art/jewelry creations.

Why art?

Limitless. Ever changing.

What do you enjoy most about being an artist? What part of your process do you most enjoying doing?

New challenges, places, people, projects, techniques, beaches, etc, there is always another way to create the wheel! I most enjoy the freedom to try something new. That new technique leads to a new batch of designs. That new tool opens more doors. That new show brings me to a different part of the country and people to share creativity with. I don’t think I would do very well in a 9-5 job, and my husband says I could only be in Management as I do not take direction well.

What jobs have you done other than being an artist?

Some retail, mowed lawns at Luther for 1 month, organize the NE IA Studio Tour (ongoing), a touch of graphic design and photography, managed (managing) a farm, website maintenance, current administrative “management” technical advisor for my husband in his organic inspecting, most effective “mom” in chief to my two wonderful children.

Is creativity important to learning?

Always! The constant search makes each day fresh.

What is the impact on the arts on community and society?

Art is the color in our lives.

What inspires you?

Mostly new tools, allowing different techniques, resulting in pieces I have never seen before. My go to are books on design, to see what has been done, so I can be different. I like balance without being “symmetric”. I like to say I am a bit off and so is my jewelry… My latest series of “fold-forms” are the result of a lovely “older” jeweler spending a lot of time at my booth in Florida, telling me “you should try this, I think you will like it!” His name is Jim Biondi (shaken not stirred - thanks Jim!) and suddenly a new pile of ford-forming designs adorns the latest pile of sketches on my workbench. At this point I have so many stacks of designs my greatest challenge is deciding what to play with next!

Is the artistic life lonely?

Out of the silence springs focus. I also see a few thousand people at most shows I exhibit at 12-27 times a year so far from a lonely life.

Who is your favorite artist or what is your favorite piece of art?

Somehow Munch “The scream” always pops into my head. Then I balance it with some lovely Monet water images….all about balance. Anyhow that’s how I feel most days.

What is your dream project?

Make anything I want with no budget.

What memorable responses have you had to your work?

For my Earloops: I haven’t worn earring in 25 years – these are amazing! To my custom creations: Lots of hugs.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Are you a business person or Artist? My answer - in order to succeed as an Artist you do need to be both – but an Artist first.

Professionally, what’s your goal?

Use up all the gemstones I have purchased in the last 38 years. Yeah - good luck with that!

What will we see when we come to your studio? How do we get there?

An Ellickson Gallery and Organics sign and large school bell greet you in front of my purple door. My studio is attached to our house which was a one room red brick schoolhouse named Pleasant Valley Schoolhouse #4. An inner wall of my studio is an exterior wall our schoolhouse. Inside you will be greeted by many “shiny, glittery” items – my jewelry! Plus my gallery has pottery, glass, and woodworking artwork made by friends, and organic garlic and mushrooms grown right here on our certified organic farm. My workbench will most probably have several items in process, which I will be happy to explain. If you stay long enough or happen to wander right through to our back yard, my husband will invariably lead you to share his 150 mushroom logs growing operation. Follow the maps and directions in the brochure and off the website. We are located about 2 miles off the Locust Road (W38), about 10 miles northeast of Decorah.

More about the Northeast Iowa Artists' Studio Tour:

The Northeast Iowa Artists' Studio Tour is a unique opportunity to explore artists studios for an intimate look into their creative process and a chance to purchase their newest works right out of the kiln, hot off the presses, paint freshly get the point! This year, you can experience 51 artists at 38 locations while also taking in the charm of Northeast Iowa's small communities, local fare, and the breathtaking scenery of the Driftless. Each artist is different, but they all share a passion for imagination and each one welcomes their guests with gusto. Visit the Tour's website to download a brochure, map, or GPS coordinates for each location.


  1. RovingPatrick
    Really nice work.

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