Karol Holton, of Le Mars, sees Le Mars' new public art project as something bigger than a few colorful decorations.
"This is the visual story of what Le Mars is all about," she said of the 5-foot-tall fiberglass ice cream cone sculptures. "It's part of everyone."
The bright colored sculptures have popped up all over Le Mars, at places ranging from the county fairgrounds to a truck wash in the industrial park.
So far, 23 cones sweetly feature the work of local artists.
"It's almost contagious," Holton said.
She seems to be right.
Holton said what caught her attention about the project was that it's a "visual message."
"We're a society that learns by written language," the Le Mars woman said. "But our history -- if we didn't have the arts, we wouldn't have a record of our history. You can learn so much about a civilization by its art."
"Bob's is a place where a lot of out-of-state people stop, and they can get a taste of Le Mars' history with very few written words," Holton said.
Both of the cones she donated and painted have stories with them -- stories of how the community impacted her and her family's life, and vice versa.
Holton decided to contribute to the public art project with memorial money she received after her husband Pat died in 2009.
She knew she wanted to do something for the community that he was so much a part of through everything from 4-H to being a life-long rural mail carrier.
Holton started with the 4-H and FFA cone for the Plymouth County Fairgrounds.
"Pat and I were both in 4-H, and he was in FFA, too," Holton said. "Between us and our five children, we've had 75 years of activity in 4-H."
Since this year marked the 70th Plymouth County Fair, Holton decided to paint and donate the cone in time for the fair.
She designed it to look like a pewter sculpture, featuring the 4-H and FFA emblems.
Then Holton decided to donate a second cone, this one to be stationed at the Le Mars Post Office in her late husband's honor.
He served nearly 40 years with the postal service.
"The post office gave us the blue paint they use on those postal boxes," Holton said, adding that her son, a graphic designer, helped paint the cone.
"If you stand farther away from the post office, the painting on the cone looks very dimensional, with the shadowing and the way the light would fall on it from a certain direction," Holton said. "That cone is a memorial gift from my children and me."
Holton is working on a third cone in her basement, inspired by Iowa City artist Grant Wood's painting "Stone City," which features a rolling agricultural landscape.
She may place this cone in a "family park" near her home about 2 1/2 miles south of Le Mars on K-49, or possibly near a Le Mars business.
"I have a vision of a landscape of greens and browns and all this vegetation," Holton said. "You get an idea, and you're kind of driving from within to share the message."
Holton taught art six years at Gehlen Catholic School in Le Mars and 24 years at East Middle School in Sioux City.
"When teaching students, I tell them to create a message people can take in within 30 seconds or less," she said.
The cones can do that, she added.
"And they're fun," Holton said. "Can you find someone who doesn't like ice cream?"
The project connects generations, Holton said.
Some cones -- including the ones at Kluckhohn Elementary School -- have been designed by children and feature children's art.
Others feature the work of seasoned artists.
"For a child to see art featured outside the classroom is so important," Holton said. "Le Mars has a nice blend of artistic skills."
The painted works of art add something positive to Le Mars and bring the community together, Holton said.
She's not the only donor who thinks so.
Mike and Cheryl Wells, of Le Mars, helped place several cones in Le Mars, including one at the Le Mars Outdoor Pool and a patriotic-themed cone on the Eighth Street boulevard near Central Avenue.
"It has been so fun to see the creativity ofsome of our local artists displayed on our streets and through these artists, we see God's beauty displayed," the couple stated in an email. "That beauty touches us and speaks to us in a way that nothing else can.What a great way for our community to shine."
In total, local businesses and private citizens throughout the community have donated to the now over $60,000 public art project, according to Mary Reynolds, at the Chamber, who is helping coordinate the cones.
Now local service organizations are getting interested in buying a cone for public display.
The Le Mars Rotary Club is planning on a cone for O'Toole Park, Reynolds said.
Anyone interested in purchasing or donating a cone, which cost $1,530 to create and paint, can contact the Chamber at 546-8821.
More options are available for people who want to help out but can't afford the whole cost of a cone.
For example, a number of private citizens chipped in to pay for the cone that will honor the memory of children who have died.
Two local mothers came up with the idea to use one of the sweet sculptures as a sort of memorial.
"Those women quickly received donations and now that cone is almost finished," Reynolds said.
That cone will be placed in Shafer Park in southern Le Mars, and families who have lost children will be able to plant flowers of their choice around it in honor of their child.
There will be other cones that donors can help pay for, Reynolds said.
"We've removed the deadline of ordering once a year because they just keep coming in," Reynolds said.
She's also been hearing requests for a smaller version of the fiberglass cone to place in residents' yards.
"People are really buying into the cones, where they're placed, and the visual impact they have," Reynolds said.
Holton believes the project will draw people to Le Mars.
"I've had friends come to Le Mars just to be taken around and to look at the cones," she said.
But the cones aren't just for visitors, she said.
"It actually makes you explore the community," Holton said. "It's made people more aware of what Le Mars has to offer."
For people going cone-sighting for the first time, Holton suggests viewers note the setting they are in, and how the design on the cone ties into its surroundings.
"And look at the variety of ideas," she said. "The more cones, the more diverse they are. That's part of creating art. They can't all be the same. It's the same medium, but all the cones are individuals."
That's one of the best parts of the public art project, she said.
"I'm like a child opening up a Christmas present when I come upon a new cone," Holton said. "The more cones, the more stories to add. It'll be exciting to see what each new one has to say about Le Mars."