to Be Afraid
Bloom was born Rose Isabel Scherer in Galveston, Texas, in 1908.
She grew up in Davenport, Iowa, and was the oldest of three children.
She took a variety of sculpture courses and spent a couple of weeks
one summer at Grant Wood's Stone City place, where she met her husband
John. She and John Bloom had three children. She is a sculptor of
small and large pieces, but she is best known for her small figurative
sculptures of children. Her sculpture business was later sold, but
her designs are still selling. At the time of the interview, August
3, 1999, she was already considerably weakened and her memory was
fading, but she enjoyed recounting her life stories. Isabel died
on May 1, 2001.
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mother remarked one time that I always saw pictures in the wet spots
on the sidewalk. I still do. When I could have been eight, we dug
clay by the creek, my brother and I, modeled little animals, and
we put them in a tin can and put them in the coal-burning furnace.
My father had a fit. We lost our first artistic endeavor.
say we had a very pleasant growing up. My mother was a very pretty
womanshe was French-Italian, spoke French fluently. She had
a nice personality. Whenever my father had to go to a conference,
he took her along, because she would talk to people better than
he did. My father was very staunch German-type, very assertive and
business-like. My mother was Catholic; he didn't have any religion,
but he took everybody to church on Sunday and saw that everything
was done right. He took care of everything very well. He was the
vice-president, general manager of Davenport Machine and Foundry.
He started out as a machinist. They say every time he got a promotion,
we moved to a better house. He helped me a lot.
father decided I had to have art training, so I was going to Immaculate
Conception Academy for high school. I was with the nunsnot
too crazy about it. I wasn't exactly the conventional type: I did
something, I did it my way. I was going to a painting classafter
school at four o'clock, I went out and painted. I wasn't too interested
in painting, but I did it. Nobody knew anything about sculpture.
father decided every girl should learn to play the piano. I was
not a piano player, so I finally quit. Every girl should have a
hope chest. So he saw to it on our birthday, we each got a cedar
chest. He had certain ideas like that. My father felt that every
girl should have business training, so I went to Brown's Business
College for six months. Then I went to work for a couple doctors
as a receptionist and assistant. I started doing sculpture when
I was working for the doctors. I went to the craft fairs and sold
that way. I just did it. There just wasn't any sculpture classes.
sure glad I didn't miss Stone City. That's a bunch of adults on
holiday. I took my two-week vacation and went there. Grant Wood
would sit at the head of a table with a red-and-white checked tablecloth,
like the father figure. He wrote and asked John to come; he knew
John's work. The green mansion was a beautiful home. The women slept
upstairs in dormitory, and the men slept in the tents and John slept
in the ice wagon with Grant Wood. I got acquainted with John when
I was chipping stone by the back door of the green mansion, and
he told me, "Look at that mess you're making; I'm going to
have to clean that up."
Wood was supposed to have sculpture classes, but those who were
interested in sculpture went over to the quarry, found a piece of
stone, and chipped it. There was some teachingthe teacher
from one of the universities, she didn't add very much. Mostly it
was an interesting bunch of people. John met more, though. I was
always with the younger group. He was with Grant Wood.
City gave me the same thrill and lift that I'm sure that Woodstock
did. I compare them all to what they did to the spirit. The next
year there was nothing. Grant wasn't there, and it didn't carry
over. That one summer was something to remember.
had started this studio right down on Brown Street, and there again,
my father helped. He bought the building for me, built all the workbenches
and tables. So I took some small pieces and photographed; I went
to Chicago, Michigan Avenue Garden Shop. They said, "Where
have you been? We've needed somebody like you for a long time."
So from then on, I sent them everything I did.
a kiln and I did a lot of them in clay. There again, my father built
me a kiln with a gas burner, big one. With the firing, you'll practically
walk the floor with waiting to see what it's going to turn out to
be. I did quite a few fairly large pieces, and every one sold. I
was so thrilled to think somebody wanted it. I did a merry-go-round
horse with two children on the back with a brass rodit turned
out perfectly. So, I gave it to the gallery; I'm sorry in a way
I did now. They put it out one time, and some writer called it "exquisite."
They don't put it out very much.
wanted to paint; he didn't want to hold a job. And he was doing
government murals for the post office. We rented the whole upper
fifth floor of the old Masonic Temple down here, which was empty,
in order for him to have a big enough place to paint the mural.
It was quite exciting. I worked downtown.
lived in an old house that we did over. It had a big yard and a
place for the children. So, as they grew up I could still work and
watch them from my studio. It was an old house, with 1887 newspapers
under the carpeting. We had to put in new plumbing and things like
that. But it had a nice big yard for the kids to play, and it was
wouldn't call it modern sculptureit's simplified. I thought
children were nice in a garden. It's just children in various positions.
Once I got headed in that direction that's where I stayed. I think
my favorite is the one that's called Violetit's a little
girl, scootched down with her nose in a bouquet of flowersSmelling
Flowers, I call it. I'm amazed they are using the figures in
funerals, instead of flowers.
people will just be happy with it. They seem to be, the way they
tell me how much they love it. People mostly come up here with arms
full for me to sign. Everybody's so happy with it. It's always very
exciting. It's most satisfying to see the sketch turn out to be
a piece of sculpture. I can't draw, but I can make a little sketch
to remind myself.
had some classes at the galleryI told the kids, "Don't
hit your friend; hit the clay, bounce it up and down. Work the clay."
I think clay is a good thing for kids to work with because they
see it's round instead of flat. I have stacks of drawings my kids
would send me. They were so interesting. I enjoyed working with
kids up through about eight. Working with children, you can do it
through drawing and clayyou can teach through that so much
better than you can with some other methods.
and I did a children's book. It was a simple little story, and then
John's illustrations were exquisite. They printed a thousand; they're
all gone. The printer did a beautiful job; you can't tell the original
from the printed.
had a TV show for a couple years at WOC. It was called, "Make
Believe." I modeled the characters of the old fairy tales and
put clothes on them, and then I told the story, and I gave them
a lesson in modeling in clay. People seemed to like it. In fact,
a couple years ago, a couple of grown men came over and shook my
hand and said, "I never missed your program." It was a
lot of workI worked all week painting the background. One
time, I had the boys with me. I thought that they could demonstrate
decorating Easter eggs, and I had half a dozen hard-boiled eggs.
I went over and told my story, and I walked over to the other side
of the stage where they were, and my youngest looked up and said,
"Look mom, we ate all the eggs." I wonder what I did;
I don't remember!
lately, people are getting interested in the sculpture, in the name,
now they want to see the old programspeople have been calling
the station wanting a print off of the program. But they said they
didn't have any of that old program.
an artist, it's an easy kind of life. I don't think you take things
so seriously. I think it's been a most interesting lifewhen
you're interested in art, you're interested in a lot of other things,
like travel. I traveled a great deal. I went to Russia three times.
Once I went all by myself. I have quite a collection of Russian
icons. I bought them in New York, Sotheby's auction house. I don't
know why I have such a feeling about the icons, because they don't
have any sculpture relation. I went to France, England, Greece.
Just the stimulation; does you good all over. I'd go by myself to
all these strange places; I always felt at home.
Russian guy said, "You are the very best tourist"because
I was interested in the country. I don't have the language. Somebody
asked me, "How did you get by?" I said, "In my diary,
it says, 'I drank wine with four Russian sailors; had lunch with
say that the most important thing was not to be afraid.