Isabel Bloom returns to roots with new ownership

Ashlee Boers

Oct. 19, 2011 - Three employees of Isabel Bloom LLC have purchased the privately-held sculpture manufacturing company headquartered in Davenport, Iowa. Sculptor Donna Young, Controller Cathy Nevins and Operations Director Bill Barrett purchased the company from Hunt Harris. The transaction was finalized Oct. 18, 2011.

Young, Nevins and Barrett say the sale to the three long-time employees represents a return to Isabel Bloom’s original roots.

“Isabel Bloom herself was both sculptor and businesswoman,” Nevins says. “She designed and produced her sculptures. She sold them. And she ran the business. Donna has been our sculptor for 26 years. Bill and I have worked here collectively for 30 years. We are all passionate about this company and Isabel’s legacy. In many ways, we are going back to our original roots.”

The Isabel Bloom sculpture line was created 60 years ago by regionalist Davenport artist Isabel Scherer Bloom. Bloom studied at both the Chicago Art Institute and the Vogue School of Fashion and Design, and learned how to carve limestone sculpture at Grant Wood’s Stone City Art Colony, Stone City, Iowa, in 1932 and 1933. From there she began experimenting with concrete, developing a line of accessible and affordable handcrafted sculpture that has been beloved in Iowa for decades.

Wood’s regionalist influence is evident in Bloom’s designs, as well as the designs of contemporary Bloom sculptor and protégé Donna Young.

“Isabel was my mentor for 15 years,” Young says. “I learned her technique, her philosophy of design and her productions methods. She encouraged me to develop my own style, which I did. But although my style tends to be more realistic, I continue to incorporate her simple, stylized design approach.”

Bloom production methods haven’t changed much either.

“Every sculpture is crafted start to finish by hand,” Young says. “We use a larger concrete mixer than the little red one Isabel had, but we mix concrete the same way. We make our molds, pour the concrete, and finish our pieces just like Isabel, one at a time.”

Isabel Bloom owned and operated her sculpture company until she sold it to two customers, Bernadette Murphy and Barbara VanVooren, along with two silent partners, in 1981. In 1995, the company was sold again to three local businessmen including Hunt Harris, Tom Carter and Jeff Gilfillan. Carter and Gilfillan retired several years ago and Harris remained the company’s sole owner at the time of the sale. Focusing on growth, the three businessmen invested in the company by expanding its production and sales capabilities. In an effort to lower production costs in 2006, the decision was made to outsource production to China.

In response to customer reaction, ownership rescinded the decision.

“We are a traditional, home-grown Midwest company with Midwest values,” Operations Director Bill Barrett says.  “Our customers are very loyal to us and to our brand.  Because of this, our local concrete line has always been entirely crafted here, both for our Showrooms and for some local gift stores. In fact, we offer tours for our customers to see the handcrafting process for themselves.”

In 2010, the National Gift Line, produced overseas in cast stone resin and sold throughout the country, was discontinued.

Harris says he “couldn’t be happier that Donna, Cathy and Bill have purchased Isabel Bloom. The proud tradition that began with Isabel some 60 years ago will be preserved for years to come with their leadership.”

Young, Nevins and Barrett begin their partnership with a new showroom in West Des Moines. The Isabel Bloom Valley West Mall showroom opened Oct. 1, 2011. Three other Isabel Bloom showrooms are located in Davenport’s Northpark Mall and the Village of East Davenport, and in downtown Moline.