Formerly homeless artist donates piece to DMU

It’s a quintessential art opening: cubed cheese and refreshments, with an audience abuzz as a new piece in the Des Moines University art collection is unveiled. But the story behind the art is almost important as the piece itself. 

The work, titled “Paradise,” is a colored pencil rendering of a lighthouse situated on a foaming shoreline. Created with great attention to detail by local artist Kelly Leopold, the landscape doesn’t symbolize any hidden meaning. But its donation to DMU represents an unusual friendship forged between the artist and DMU students over the past several years. 

Leopold’s connection to the University dates to a difficult time a few years ago when he was living in a homeless camp in the shadow of the Iowa State Capitol. Each week, students from the Homeless Community Outreach student organization would visit the camp, bringing coffee and provisions. But what stood out to Leopold about our students, versus some other outreach groups, was their skill as listeners. He took an interest in their safety, and friendship.

“I made sure they walked through my camp when they arrived, and back through when they left,” Leopold told a group of students gathered to congratulate and thank him for the piece. 

Even after he moved from the homeless camp into more permanent housing (thanks to a connection at Primary Health care), DMU students have continued to visit Leopold and hear his stories. They check up on his recovery after a fall from a scaffold at his job, and ask after his cats. The relationship he’s maintained with DMU students is one Leopold has treasured. 

Jacob Iceberg, D.O.-20 at left, Kelly Leopold, artist, at right

“You guys have been doing so much for me that I felt you guys deserve something back,” he says. 

Self-taught, Leopold pursued as many art classes as he could take as a high school student growing up in Des Moines. He keeps up with art as a hobby and worked with Jacob Iceberg, D.O.’20, to get the materials for the piece. Iceberg gathered his fellow club members for the unveiling, and is excited about the prominent location for the piece. 

“It will be great that our interviewees get to see it when they come to tour campus,” Iceberg says. 

The piece hangs in the Student Education Center square, on a pillar along the windows. It will be a tangible reminder of the beacon our students provide in dark times, and the power of friendship to influence health.  

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