Geisert book to launch in Elkader

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Children’s book author Arthur Geisert is growing pumpkins at the entrance to his Main Street studio-residence to commemorate the October launch of his newest book, Pumpkin Island, which is set in Elkader.

By Pam Reinig
Register Editor

From the deck of his studio on Main Street in Elkader, Arthur Geisert has an unbroken view of a sstretch of the Turkey River. Two years ago as he sat there enjoying a midsummer’s sunset, a small pile of rocks jutting out of the water caught his eye—and his imagination.
“It looks a little like an island, I guess,” said Geisert, an award-winning artist and author of children’s books. “So, I started thinking ‘What would happen if something like a pumpkin smashed against the island releasing its seeds to go pretty much everywhere?’”
What grew from that fanciful thought was Geisert’s latest work, Pumpkin Island, the story of a small town completely overrun by hundreds of orange squash. The book features pages of Geisert’s trademark illustrations from hand-colored etchings. Several downtown buildings provide the backdrop for his work.
“It’s not important (to the story) that it’s set in Elkader but the fact that it is Elkader is way, way cool,” said Geisert in an earlier Register interview.
Pumpkin Island’s national launch will be held in Elkader on Saturday, October 27, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Geisert will open his building to the public for the event. It’s an easy place to find: It’s the only Main Street storefront with fruit-bearing pumpkin vines flanking the entrance.
The structure’s upper story, which is Geisert’s private residence, will be a wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-floor showcase of the book’s copper plates, sketches and etchings in various states of completion. On the lower level, which is his studio, there will be a simple explanation of the machinery and process he uses. Geisert will sign books from his back deck overlooking the spot where the story began.
A team from Enchanted Lion Books, Geisert’s Brooklyn-based publisher, is traveling to Elkader for the launch. The encourage includes his editor, Claudia Bedrick.
Geisert has published three dozen-plus other works. His books have been translated into six languages. He studied sculpting and painting at the prestigious Otis Art Institute. His etchings, which are true works of art, have hung in the famed Chicago Art Institute, the Figge Art Museum (Davenport), the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, and the Dubuque Museum of Art. He’s also had cartoons published in New Yorker magazine.
Geisert moved to Elkader in 2015, in part, to facilitate a project he descirbes as a panorama of the Mississippi River.
“I eventually decided I had nothing new to offer the genre,” Geisert said. “But this story is completely new.”
Geisert’s editor was also intrigued by the concept and gave him the green light to pursue it. He began by making a series of drawings using pictures by Elkader photographer Trish Finley as reference material. He also spent weeks studying Main Street buildings and alleys,
“I spent a lot of time on a bench in front of Turkey River Mall,” Geisert said. He also pulled a wagon filled with art supplies and a chair to other places around town that he couldn’t capture from his Main Street bench.
Start to finish, Pumpkin Island took two years to finish, which Geisert said is a comparatively quick turn-around.

“If things go well—perfectly—a writer will be holding a book two years after the idea comes to him,” he added. “If any little thing goes wrong, it will be more like three years.”
Geisert isn’t sure how many copies of the book are in the first printing. An average print run is 12,000 to 20,000 with the idea of a second printing in the first year. “If you don’t have a second printing in the first year, you’re done for,” he added.

Geisert is already at work on his next project. It’s a retelling of the “Three Little Pigs” story but in his version the wolf doesn’t die—though he does get his comeuppance. The book’s illustrations are based on various Clayton County structures that have caught Geisert’s eye. And there’s another local twist: Elkader Public Library Director Lisa Wilke Pope is writing the text. Her suggestions for text changes to Pumpkin Island led to the opportunity.
“Art uses the library, and stops in often,” Pope explained. “When he started working on Pumpkin Island he shared his illustrations and draft of the story. He asked our opinions, and since I have a B.A. in English, I gave him my advice on some of the text. Later on, he asked me (and my husband) to go through the text line-by-line and give our opinions and suggestions. We were honored to do so!”

“After the draft of that book was pretty much finished, Arthur started talking about doing a Big, Bad Wolf book. He once again shared some of his illustrations and said he’d talked to his publisher and said that she’d suggested I write the text, since she was happy with my suggestions for Pumpkin Island. So Arthur agreed and offered the authorship of the wolf book to me. But, I really consider it to be a co-authorship, because his illustrations drive the story, and he’d already written notes about the storyline, so I don’t feel like I can take credit for the whole story!

This is the first time Pope has authored a book. “I’ve always loved books and writing. So I’ve enjoyed being involve with these projects,” she said.

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