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.”