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Bed 1.HEIC

Room Histories


William Morris



"We should have nothing in our houses which we did not either know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." This was William Morris' response to the mass-produced factory furniture prominent in England in the mid-19th century. William Morris -- an English born, Oxford educated writer/painter/architect -- and a group of artists and engineers formed Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Company. Armed with nothing more than ideas and some contacts in the architectural world, these men and women set about designing and making murals, carvings, stained glass, metal work, wallpaper, and furnishings

William Morris Room

firm" and this naturally applied to weavings.

​Owning to his interest and talent as a writer, Morris established Kelmscott Press in 1891. In the last years of his life, this endeavor proved to be a comfort and allowed him to pursue again his youthful hobby of collecting old books and manuscripts. True to Morris' high aesthetic standards, the books were printed on linen with ink imported from Germany and bound in vellum. Morris carved the type-set blocks himself. The books never made money. As he explained himself in 1895: "I began printing books with the hope of producing some which would have a definite claim to beauty, while at the same time they should be easy to read and should not dazzle the eye, or trouble the intellect of the reader by eccentricity of form in the letters..."​


This aesthetic moved across the Atlantic Ocean and by 1910 had taken up residence in the United States, influencing such masters of design as Gustav Stickley, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the brothers Greene, Charles and Henry. Its lasting affects can be seen in the furnishing of this room, from the wallpaper to the draperies. This room serves to honor and celebrate William Morris, his words and designs.

that would usher in the Arts and Crafts Movement. Also playing a strong part in the development of this taste was the pervasiveness of Gothic and Medieval styles, found predominantly in churches, on the middle class mind. Morris felt this influence strongly from the time he was a small boy.​


Although Morris' interest in textiles began as early as the 1860s, he wouldn't begin seriously experimenting with designs and colors until the dying process was honed in the mid 1870s. At that time, weaving and designing carpets and tapestries began in earnest. Morris was adamant that "everything designed by the firm be manufactured by the



Begun as a challenge between the Des Moines Register's feature writer/copy editor John Karras and columnist Don Kaul, 114 cyclists completed the first Great Six-Day Bicycle Ride across Iowa in 1972. Lured by the writers' tales from the road, the popularity of the ride grew annually. By 1975 it became apparent that it was here to stay and was officially named the Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI.)


RAGBRAI traditionally begins with the rider's back tire dipped in the Missouri River and officially ends with the rider's front tire dipped in the Mississippi River. In between, lie thousands of riders and anywhere from 400 to 523 miles of small town Iowa. Perry played host to RAGBRAI three times in its first 23 years.

Over the years, RAGBRAI has put up some staggering numbers. In the first 23 years, 150,000 riders took part in RAGBRAI, 10,799 miles were traveled, and 707 towns played overnight host. The ride has been covered by magazines such as Time, Sports Illustrated, Bicycling, and Fitness, and it has inspired over 33 similar races throughout the country. One such race is the Bike Ride to Rippey (BRR.)


Team Cucumber, Team Skunk, and Beavis and Butthead on bicycles are just a few of the sights you will see on a nine mile stretch of road between Perry and the neighboring town of Rippey. For the past 47 years in early February, come blizzard or sub-zero temperatures, BRR (a kid brother of RAGBRAI) takes place. Sponsored by the Perry Chamber of Commerce and an array of community volunteers, BRR attracts upwards of 1000 participants annually from across the globe. Participants from California, Florida, Arizona, and Colorado take part in this legendary event as well as riders from such far flung locales as Sweden. Not to be disregarded are the Iowans who brave the elements annually, in all manner of garb, to ward off the long days of winter. Just like their summer relatives who encounter storms and sweltering temperatures every July, these cyclists are a testimony to the enduring spirit of Iowans.

Betty Mae Harris


She was like nothing they had ever seen before. With Tahitian headdress, acrobatics, and props from Chicago, the former showgirl from New York fascinated the children of Perry. On October 14, 1927, Betty Mae Harris opened a dance studio in


Perry that would affect the children and parents of the entire generation. She taught clog, soft shoe, tap, and toe ballet. By 1929, she was advertising classes for adults and adding classes in breakaway, plastique, back and wing, and rhythm for tiny tots.

Before moving to Iowa with her husband, Betty Mae worked in Movies and on the stage in the Ziegfield Follies, as dancer and singer. But one in Perry, she did not rest on her laurels. She made eight trips to Hawaii to study under native experts, perfecting her island dancing. This training took her to the top echelons of Polynesian and South Seas Island dance, teaching at conventions throughout the United States. The children of Perry are the ones who benefited from Betty Mae's drive and desire.

Betty Mae Harris Room
Betty Mae Harris Room

This is not to say that Betty Mae and her students had an easy time of it in Perry. The students and their parents were requested to make their own costumes for the annual recitals held in June. During World War II, rubber was used in place of cotton tights and metal for taps was non-existent. But this didn't take away from the thrill it was to study with Betty Mae. She wore her long, blond hair up in a braid, wrapped around her head, never down. She was a mysterious and beautiful "taste of heaven" according to longtime student and professional dancer, Dixie Lee Sheets, just one of the many former students who were inspired by Betty Mae to make dance their life.



Somalis settled in Perry after fleeing civil war in their homeland and finding work at Iowa Beef Packers (IBP). Although on the surface this appears unusual, it begins to make sense when one realizes that small-scale meat fish processing plants dominate small manufacturing sector in Somalia. 

Somalia is just one of the nine countries that make up East Africa. The other include Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, and Sudan. A physically beautiful region (Victoria Falls is located in Uganda and the source of the Nile is further south), much of East Africa has been torn apart by war for decades. Somalia is the eastern most country in East Africa bordered on the east by the Indian Ocean, the north by the Gulf of Aden, and the east by Ethiopia and Kenya. American troops were in the capital city of Mogadishu in 1992 to end the civil strife. They were withdrawn but the strife continued.


The Sudan is another country whose people have come to Iowa. Since 1992, over 1,200 Sudanese have escaped the southern portion of their country which had been ravaged by civil war since 1983. This is only a fraction of the 18,000 refugees living in Iowa after fleeing to the countries of Vietnam, Laos, and Bosnia. The Sudanese immigrants to Iowa made their way to Des Moines and found work at IBP in Perry (at the time, one of the largest employers of Sudanese in Iowa) and in retail.

Coming from a country of 600 ethnic groups, 400 languages (none of them written), a 43 percent literacy rate for men, and 12 percent literacy rate for women, the adjustment in the United States has been a difficult one but not without merit. These refugees have become involved in four Des Moines 

African Room

churches: Trinity Lutheran, Cottage Grove Avenue Presbyterian, St. Ambrose Cathedral, and Evangelical Covenant. Most important, however, they are learning to live free of the fear of war.



Quilts are a distinct form of American art and needlework. Sharing the same origins as needlework, quilting was the result of pioneer women stretching meager wardrobes from season to season. The early settlers of the United States did not regularly see peddlers or traders and were forced to rely on what they had on hand. These pioneers developed unique methods of preserving and reusing cloth and yarn, and quilting was one of these methods.


Quilts, originally made for warmth, have become a form of folk art and were originally made for warmth. Quilt-making has evolved over the years into a way of showing respect for grandmothers and great-grandmothers who began the tradition years ago.

The use and repetition of shapes and colors are a part of the story quilts tell. Squares, triangles, and circles suggest different directions in space while color establishes rhythm. Repetition of color and designs is a method used in quilting to communicate a message. The Amish allowed only solid fabrics in their quilts, illustrating the discipline of Amish life, while the Mennonites used brighter colors and fabrics with designs. Turkey red was the most popular color used in 19th Century quilts, especially among the Amish and Mennonites, because red fabric was cheap, durable, and bright.

Quilt Room

As women made progress toward equal rights and housework became less rigorous, quilting evolved even further. With more leisure time, quilters were able to create more designs, quilt patterns began to appear in newspapers and pattern books, and fabrics were developed in a wider variety of colors.

Quilt Room

Some patchwork quilts were tied by drawing heavy thread through layers of the quilt and tying the ends in a double knot. To quilters the art is in the quilting -- stitching tiny, perfecting even stitches in patterns to bind the layers of the quilt together. It takes years to perfect this skill.

The patchwork and prairie style quilts stitched in the Midwest were often looked down upon by the upper classes on the East Coast but prairie women had great skill and could create beautiful things. Quilts were made with left over scrapes of clothes and tended to be less elaborate than quilts created in more urban areas.



Needlework had lofty beginnings. During ancient times, needlework was decorative and symbolic and adored the robes of 

royalty. Gold thread and silk showed religious or royal rank, and jewels and beads sewn on to uniforms signified great wealth, noble titles, and victories in battle.

But in the early centuries of this country, needlework and sewing were not fancy means of expression. Needlework was a means of survival, stretching meager wardrobes from season to season. The early settlers of the United States did not regularly see peddlers or traders and were forced to rely on what they had on hand. These pioneers developed unique stitches and methods of preserving and stretching cloth and yarn. Their means of sewing and preservation of fabric was distinctive and set the standard for all that followed.

The sewing machines that were designed and patented in the 1700s and 1800s were nothing more than poor imitations of   

Needlework Room

the movement of a sewer's fingers. Although sewing machines expedited the process and made mass production possible, nothing could replace the authenticity and integrity of hand-made designs.

But with the Industrial Revolution came household tools that made life easier for women and once again, needlework took on a new meaning. More efficient utensils for housework produced more time for leisure. This extra leisure time resulted in more time spent with arts and crafts. Many of the hand-made goods and other crafts produced in the early years of the 20th century were not only the work of artists but of housewives who spent increased time with their needle and thread.

The prairie woman's life revolved around the house and the farm, but weekly excursions to town allowed her the opportunity to socialize with community, school, and church groups. It was with others in these groups that women learned and were exposed to different ways of thinking and creating, and where their own opinions and beliefs could be expressed through art such as needlework. Needlework continues to provide an escape from everyday work and reality and gives us some of the finest folk art available today.

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