Grotto Ornaments Adorn Pathway of Peace Tree

    Becca Kacanda, Grotto Ornaments for Pathway of Peace, 2016.
    Caption Zoom

    When Becca Kacanda arrived in Dubuque in 2010, the New York native was looking for inexpensive studio space where she could unleash the forces of her creativity.

    Eventually, she found inspiration in a small grotto and began a journey that led her to create ornaments for Iowa’s Christmas tree in Washington, D.C. It’s one of 56 state and territory trees on the Pathway of Peace that surrounds the National Christmas Tree, right between the White House and Washington Monument.

    “I actually stumbled upon the grotto in Dubuque and it fascinated me,” she said. “So I started doing some research and discovered grottos are more prominent in the Midwest than anywhere else.”

    Becca’s fascination with grottos and so-called “bathtub Marys” – outdoor shrines that house statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary in upended bathtubs – took her on numerous trips across Iowa and the Midwest. She visited the Dickeyville Grotto in Wisconsin and the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, the largest structure of its kind in the world.

    She says the massive grottos were impressive, but she paid homage to the smaller, more intimate shrines in a new project called “Rotto Grotto.” (“Rotto” means “broken” in Italian.)

    With support from the Iowa Arts Council, she created Rotto Grotto and took it to several community events in eastern Iowa, including the DubuqueFest Fine Arts Festival last May.

    “I knew I wanted to have grottos out in public at some point,” she said. “The grant gave me the opportunity to show them and explain the process in a live demonstration with materials donated by participants who could also create their own grottos.”

    Pathway of Peace, Washington, D.C.
    Caption Zoom

    When officials from the National Christmas Tree program contacted the Iowa Arts Council earlier this year for artist recommendations, Becca’s name came to mind immediately.

    “The National Christmas Tree organizers were looking for an Iowa artist whose work spoke to the state of Iowa,” Iowa Arts Council’s Veronica O’Hern said. “I thought Becca was a good fit for that because her work promotes Iowa’s folk art and history, and the Rotto Grotto style could be adapted into ornaments for Iowa’s Christmas tree.”

    Becca’s 12 ornaments combine the elements of grotto traditions with a contemporary pop-art aesthetic, inspired by several works she had already completed.

    “Grottos in the Midwest started out as German-Catholic traditions, and I wanted these ornaments to be reflective of historical topics,” she said. "The ornaments are photographed with collage elements and filled with trinkets similar to what I did for the larger grottos."

    She said the response from Iowans about her work has been overwhelming.

    “People tell me about their grottos all the time,” she said. “I think people get it and they respond to the joy of doing collage work like that. It’s inspiring because there’s an attitude here that Iowa never fails, and that kind of encouraging message can be applied to different things, including these ornaments. So, I’m very happy they are representing Iowa on the Pathway of Peace in Washington.”