Big Things in Small Packages

For immediate release August 23, 2004


Sarah Oltrogge, (515) 281-4011,

Des Moines, IowaAt 98 years old, Mildred Heiring of Marshalltown can still recall the painstaking process her father, Fred Stice, used to create more than 50 miniature wooden dioramas.

Self-portrait"Dad called (the collection) ‘The Good Old Days,’" Heiring says. "It was a method of recording the past. He kept them under the bed and the collection kept growing and growing."

A generous donation of Stice’s life work by Mildred’s son George Heiring is the subject of a new exhibit at the State Historical Museum of Iowa entitled, "The Good Old Days": Folk Carvings of Fred W. Stice. The exhibit will be open through September 2005.

Stice began woodcarving while recovering from a broken leg in the 1930s, and continued carving up until his death in 1977. Around the time of World War II, Mildred, then in her 30s, started collecting and making dolls. Eventually a close collaboration grew between father and daughter.

detail of ThreshingWhat was at first merely a hobby rapidly became all-consuming. The carvings cried out to be displayed. A few years later, outside Montour, Fred and Mildred set up some of the carvings in a small gift shop they dubbed the Trading Post. In 1954, they moved the shop to just outside Le Grand on the Lincoln Highway, and renamed it the Doll Museum and Trading Post to acknowledge Mildred’s collection of dolls. The enterprise attracted thousands of curious passersby for more than three decades.

What delighted visitors were more than 50 scenes, ranging from everyday social work traditions of the past (like ice skating and blacksmithing) to biblical themes (Flight into Egypt, Last Supper), from popular Americana (minstrels, cowboys and Indians, covered wagons) to historical figures and events (Abraham Lincoln, Will Rogers, Iwo Jima, President Kennedy’s funeral). As Mildred explained, "We just never ran out of ideas."

Mildred, along with Fred’s second wife, Gladys, continued to operate the museum after Fred’s death and up until 1988, when it became apparent the family could no longer care for the collection. In 1995, they donated the entire collection – 53 scenes comprising more than 1,200 pieces (people, animals, wagons, furniture, tools, and so forth) – to the State Historical Society of Iowa.

"To some people, the thought of carving may seem a little silly, but it takes a lot of hard work. I was always interested in history and this is one way to preserve it. The scenes are interesting for the children who haven’t seen them, and for the older folks who remember them." – Fred W. Stice

"The Good Old Days": Folk Carvings of Fred W. Stice
The State Historical Museum of Iowa
600 E. Locust, Des Moines
Hours: Tues. – Sat. 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Sun. Noon-4:30 p.m.
Free admission.
Call (515) 281-5111 for more information.

*** There will be a special reception and photo opportunity with Mildred and George Heiring on Friday, Aug. 27 at 6:30 p.m. in the exhibit at the State Historical Museum. ***


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