SUBSCRIBE NOW

Iowa state parks: Story City woman's sticker art captures iconic landmarks

Ronna Faaborg
Ames Tribune
Artist Naomi Friend hold the Brookside Park sticker she created with the park's iconic firetruck in the background.

Artwork doesn’t have to be large to be impactful. And it doesn’t have to be expensive to be valuable. Those are two of the premises behind the Iowa Parks Sticker Project, a labor of love for local artist Naomi Friend.

Friend has created stickers featuring Iowa’s parks and iconic landmarks. Some of her stickers are specific to Ames, highlighting favorite images like the firetruck at Brookside Park, the sycamore tree at the corner of Lincoln Way and University, and the bridge across the pond at Ada Hayden park.

The stickers cost about $4 each and are available at the Octagon Gift Shop in downtown Ames or on Friend’s website, NaomiFriend.com.

Artist Naomi Friend holds a sycamore sticker in the foreground with Ames' beloved sycamore tree, located at the intersection of Lincoln Way and University, in the background.

The idea to create stickers honoring Iowa’s natural and historical landmarks occurred to Friend two years ago while she was an artist-in-residence at the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory, where college students were studying the state’s rivers, lakes and streams and the wildlife they contain.

The experience inspired Friend’s first collection of stickers, where she drew the watersheds of the state of Iowa and eventually a number of other U.S. states.

“I started thinking about Iowa a little differently,” Friend said. “Instead of seeing corn and bean fields, I started thinking about it as the space between rivers. … So I started doing sketches of all the river systems in the state, and then I moved on to sketches of the watersheds in other states.”

Naomi Friend, of Story City, draws in her sketchbook at Cafe Diem in Ames.

The little pieces of art that became stickers were perfect for Friend’s schedule while she was busy with the artist-in-residence position. With a bachelor’s degree from Dort College, she came to Iowa State with her husband Andrew and earned her MFA degree in integrated visual arts in 2013.

The couple settled in rural Story City, where Friend works as a professional artist with a focus on cyanotypes – much larger than stickers – for which she received first place at the Celebration of Iowa: Agriculture Art Exhibit in 2018. She also has a farm, Friend’s Flowers, and her flowers can be found at local farmers’ markets.

Naomi Friend's drawing of Wyoming shows the wealth of watersheds in that state.

When Friend works on a new sticker honoring one of Iowa’s parks, it often provides the opportunity for a family outing with her husband and their young son, Peter.

“Visiting the parks is a family thing,” Friend said. “That’s how I usually experience the park I’m drawing. We’ll go there and do something nice like have a picnic, and I look for something that stands out.

“For example, at Blackhawk State Park, it was the Witches Tower. At Backbone it was the trail.”

Friend said she was surprised by the trail at Backbone. Expecting hills, even big hills, she was surprised by the trail that led to a steep cliff where junipers were growing.

“It was really interesting. I also really liked the boathouse there, so the Backbone sticker has both the cliff shape and the boathouse.”

Friend’s stickers have been popular with people filling their Iowa State Park Passports this year, which celebrates the 100th anniversary of the state’s park system.

“People have asked me whether all of the stickers on the Iowa Passport will be available, and that program is so popular,” Friend said. “I think there are 65 parks on that list, and I am slowly making my way through it. So far I have at least 45.

“I have 35 state parks and then an additional 10 that are not state parks – they’re recreation areas that are on the passport. My goal is to do all of them.”

Stickers created by Story City artist Naomi Friend are on sale at the Octagon Gift Shop in downtown Ames. They are also avialable at Friend's website, NaomiFriend.com.

Although her project is not officially part of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, she plans to donate a percentage of her sales to the state’s park system.

“I’m not making this for the state park systems,” Friend said. “But I do feel like it’s a good way to help the DNR celebrate what we have here in Iowa.”