Visitors to Shakespeare Garden listen to a performance during a past Midsummer Garden Arts Fair in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The garden is undergoing a revitalization, including custom-crafted components from Barnes Manufacturing. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

“All the world’s a stage… and one man in his time plays many parts.” excerpt from Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”

By Cindy Hadish/for the Corridor Business Journal

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Tom Barnes has played many parts in his 62 years in business, having taught himself welding at age 12, but it’s rare that projects come along to touch his heart like the one Barnes Manufacturing Services is currently undertaking.

The Marion company is custom-crafting steel components for the revitalization of Shakespeare Garden in Cedar Rapids, including the main entrance sign and a sundial for the nearly century-old garden.

Project leaders initially considered an overseas firm for the structures, until a Rotary Club member made the connection to Mr. Barnes, keeping the work local. Shakespeare Garden is the 2024-2025 Linn County Rotary Community Project, helping fund major revitalization improvements as a joint project of the Cedar Rapids Metro Rotary Clubs.

The main entrance sign under work for Shakespeare Garden can be seen outside Barnes Manufacturing in Marion, Iowa. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

This isn’t the first park project for Barnes Manufacturing, which crafted the steel amphitheater canopy for Marion’s Lowe Park. The oak-leaf-design structure survived Iowa’s 2020 hurricane-strength derecho, Mr. Barnes noted.

High quality Cor-Ten steel for the Shakespeare Garden entrance sign was purchased in St. Louis and “rolled” in Chicago – to create a uniform thickness – before being brought to Marion, where the custom manufacturing took place.

Besides giving structures a weathered patina, sandblasting allows the steel to rust evenly, providing incredible durability.

“It will last 500 years,” Mr. Barnes said.

Tom Barnes is seen next to the Shakespeare Garden sign outside of Barnes Manufacturing. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

The entry arch, featuring lasercut “Shakespeare Garden” lettering in a custom font that replicates wording on stone entrance columns, will be 14 feet, 6 inches tall, weighing more than 1,200 pounds.

Mr. Barnes will work on the sundial next, which carries particular meaning; enough so that he is donating to have it named in memory of his parents, Walter and Josephine Barnes.

His father was a farmer who served in the South Pacific during World War II. His mother earned a bachelor’s in English Literature, Master of Divinity degree, and Doctor of Ministry. The couple had a sundial on their farm and “absolutely” would have loved Shakespeare Garden, he said.

Barnes Manufacturing, co-owned by Mr. Barnes and his wife, Vicki, typically creates custom pieces and short-run production for the oil drilling, food processing and asphalt industries.

“The fun stuff like this doesn’t come along very often,” he said.

A rendering shows the entrance arch to Shakespeare Garden in Cedar Rapids. (courtesy Tom Barnes)

The revitalization is a public-private partnership with the Cedar Rapids Garden Club and other groups, and the Cedar Rapids Parks Department, as Shakespeare Garden is located in Ellis Park, a city park along the Cedar River in northwest Cedar Rapids.

Project budget, from grants and donations, is estimated at $500,000 for benches, decorative paving, stone planters, ADA-compliant pathways, plantings and more.

Al Pierson, president of the Northwest Neighbors Neighborhood Association, who serves on the Friends of the Shakespeare Garden steering committee, said signs with QR codes will provide information on plants and garden history.

Mr. Pierson, landscape architect Natalie Ross of Ross Land Studio, and steering committee member Lisa Ramlo are among the project’s driving forces, with Phase I work expected to begin this fall.

He recalled meeting several years ago at the home of Sylvia Popelka, near Ellis Park, to plan the revitalization, which was temporarily sidelined by the pandemic.

Ms. Popelka and other members of the Wednesday Shakespeare Club “have been the force behind the garden its whole life,” Mr. Pierson said.

A bust of the bard will be relocated during the revitalization of Shakespeare Garden. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

The club has continued since its founding in 1895, while the garden dates back to 1927, when ground was broken and a mulberry tree of the same species as in Shakespeare’s own garden was planted in Ellis Park.

Club member Barb Rhame noted the garden will retain iris, roses and other plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s works, with additional native plants.

The mulberry tree survived the 2020 derecho and the record 2008 flood, which decimated the garden. Original peonies and stone walls facing Ellis Boulevard also survived.

A thatched entrance, designed by renowned artists Grant Wood and Marvin Cone, didn’t hold up to the elements and was replaced in 1950 by the stone walls. A sundial installed in 1937 went missing at some point.

While the plants and wall will remain, Ms. Rhame said, a bust of the Bard will move to a “Shakespeare Sanctuary” in the garden, making room for a stage patio for events, such as the annual Midsummer Fair.

Even with the changes, Ms. Rhame said, “we’ve moved back to that original idea of a Shakespeare Garden, which is a quiet place of repose.”

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Midsummer Garden Arts Fair
7-8 p.m. June 29
Shakespeare Garden at Ellis Park, 916 Ellis Blvd. NW
Free event featuring music, dance and poetry from Shakespeare’s time, including a scene from “Much Ado about Nothing”

Learn more:

Tom Barnes stands next to the entrance arch for Shakespeare Garden, under work at Barnes Manufacturing in Marion, Iowa. (photo/Cindy Hadish)