Cresco artist gained fame in her own right

By Michael Morain Stroll through Cresco's Beadle Park and it's hard to miss the 13-foot sculpture of Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug, the town's most famous native son.

That monument's sculptor, Karen Laub-Novak, grew up in Cresco, too. She studied at the University of Iowa, resettled in Washington, D.C., and became an internationally known artist before cancer took her life earlier this month, on Aug. 12. She was 71.

The artist and her husband, the conservative think-tanker Michael Novak, often entertained a high-powered bunch of friends at their home, including U.S. Rep. Clare Booth Luce, journalist Charles Krauthammer and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, according to an obituary in the Washington Post.

But Laub-Novak gained fame in her own right. Her sculptures, paintings and prints have been displayed throughout the world. One critic called her portrayal of Borlaug "one of the two most beautiful statues in North America"; the other was Augustus Saint-Gaudens' hooded bronze "Grief" at the Adams Memorial in Washington's Rock Creek Cemetery, where Laub-Novak was buried.

The artist sculpted pieces for churches, crafted awards for various organizations and illustrated numbers books and magazines.

Early on, however, her work failed to get attention, and she collected a stack of rejections from gallery owners and curators. After sending countless letters under her full name, she finally decided to sign a note to an important museum with a simple "K." instead of Karen. It worked: The director sent her a warm response.

From then on, she signed all of her work as K. Laub-Novak.

Published in the Des Moines Register August 30, 2009