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Charles August Ficke

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Charles August Ficke of Davenport was a man of two minds. One of the minds was long on moral responsibility. "Each generation," Ficke was fond of saying, "must pay to succeeding generations the debt it owes to the preceding ones." This mind's work ethic would have made Ben Franklin happy. Using this mind, Ficke worked as a dry good salesman while attending night college classes, and in 1877, became a partner in a prominent law firm, and eventually mayor of Davenport.

"Now just a minute," replied the other mind. "I believe that recreation and travel should not be postponed until one was too old to enjoy them." This mind took Ficke and his wife on long vacations, twice around the world, five trips to Mexico, then to Egypt, the Orient, South America, the Sudan, Jerusalem, Greenland, and Siberia. The moral work-ethic mind had no choice but to go along.

Fortunately for Davenport, Charles Ficke found a way to make his two minds work together. He had become fascinated by art when he visited the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876 and saw 4,000 original oil paintings from around the world. It was the first time he had seen anything but prints.

On their travels around the world, therefore, the Fickes visited art galleries and museums whenever they could and bought a number of paintings and artifacts from each country. By 1912, Ficke's personal art collection was well known, and he was often asked to lecture on art.

Even as he first began to collect art, however, the responsible mind suggested that he give his collection to Davenport. In 1924, after the economic and cultural hardships of World War I were over, that is what he did. Davenport introduced a bill into the Iowa legislature to create the first municipal art gallery in the state. The Davenport Municipal Art Gallery opened in October the following year with Ficke's original donation of 330 paintings, a collection he kept adding to until his death in 1931.

Ficke's gift inspired others. Today, most of the 5,000 art objects in the gallery have come from donations of people who, like Charles Ficke, have learned how to enjoy themselves and be responsible at the same time.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.