Aug 27, 2023 6:36 PM

A love of art, a love for Burlington

Posted Aug 27, 2023 6:36 PM
Artist Karla Mundt on Tuesday, Aug. 15 at the Art Center of Burlington. Mundt has been teaching at the center for more than 30 years. (John Lovretta/The Burlington Beacon)
Artist Karla Mundt on Tuesday, Aug. 15 at the Art Center of Burlington. Mundt has been teaching at the center for more than 30 years. (John Lovretta/The Burlington Beacon)

By William Smith
Community Editor

Karla Mundt never intended to be one of the more recognizable faces in Burlington. It just happened that way.

Karla loves life — and she loves art. She sees both in every nook and cranny of the city that helped raise her.

“Art is everywhere around here!” she said during an interview with The Beacon, lifting her hands into the air.

Despite her bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Iowa, Mundt was uninterested in teaching. She loves art, though, and Karla always follows her inspiration.

“I’m not as patient as some of my friends at art school,” she said with a laugh. “Everywhere they go, they have a sketchbook and they’re drawing. For me, it’s like, ‘When I get an assignment, I’ll draw.’”

Karla wasn’t concerned about making a living off her art. She just followed her muse, which landed her a part-time teaching position at the Arts For Living Center on Washington Street. It later became the Art Center of Burlington on Jefferson Street.

“You know, I really fell into that accidentally. One of my friends was teaching a class at the Art Center, and he couldn’t come. And they’re always looking for teachers,” Karla said.

Karla filled-in. When the class was over, she was asked to stay. Her skill and creativity were evident.

“I thought, well, I could do that. So I did, you know, and I had the time to do it,” she said.

Karla still teaches at the Art Center today — everything from watercolors to pottery. She is a cheerleader for unlocking the creative potential of young minds.

“I just want to stick with my kids’ class most of the time, and once a month, do an adult class,” she said. “It’s amazing. Some of the kids will just do the most amazing things with clay.”

More than an artist

Karla has never pigeonholed herself as only an artist. Her life experiences go far beyond that.

“I got married. I was in Canada for two-and-a-half years. I worked at a domestic violence shelter,” she said.

Karla and her husband have two adult children who still live in Iowa, and she never misses a chance to hike. Nature is just as much a refugee as her paintbrush.

Fostering creativity

Somehow, seemingly by accident, Mundt found herself at the heart of the community. She got involved in downtown committees and volunteer organizations, planting flowers along Jefferson Street. Karla said she got involved to support her brother Bill Mundt, owner of Mundt’s Piano and Organ.

She started designing intricate table displays for the former Des Moines County Historical Society fundraiser — Desserts By Design — because it stirred her creatively.

She organized an annual Earth Day art project for children due to her passion for recycling and protecting the earth. Karla seamlessly created art from trash the children picked up during the Keep Burlington Beautiful Earth Day clean-up.

“You just take a couple of things and slap them together,” Karla said, downplaying her role.

Ever self-effacing, Karla argues her contributions to Burlington are derived from selfish motivations. But then she betrays that sentiment by showing love to the city she continually champions.

Karla recently volunteered to help put up the new wheat paste mural at the Burlington Public Library — an eight-hour project. And she did her best to avoid every camera at the event.

“I would be just as happy reading a book all day,” she said.

Sixty state parks

Karla lost her mom last year. Now she is in the phase of her life where it’s time to let go of her mother’s possessions.

“That’s my big future project. I need to declutter,” she said. “It’s time to get rid of the stuff I don’t need or use.”

After that, Karla would like to travel more. She and her husband have been on an informal conquest of Iowa’s 60 state parks — not counting preserves and recreational areas.

They’ve visited about 30 of those parks already. As usual, Karla’s latest inspiration was triggered by chance.

“I was just going through some old magazines to throw out, and the ‘Iowa Outdoor Magazine’ had an article several years ago about a woman who visited every state park. And I was like, I could do that,” Karla said.