2022 marks the 40th anniversary of Penny’s Visions Art Gallery in Neola, Iowa. Husband and wife duo, Russ and Penny Christensen are both artists. Russ specializes in bronze sculptures and is most known for this Eagle of Honor statues located in each Pottawattamie County town. Penny is a painter and author and is the self-proclaimed dreamer of the two. 

We chatted with Penny to learn more about this fantastic gallery and what life has been like for a gallery owner in Pottawattamie County. Russ and Penny Christensen’s story is incredibly inspiring, and their gallery is a must-visit! 

What inspired you to open the gallery 40 years ago?

Russ and I had taken art class together in high school. When we got married we had talked about opening a place where we could sell our art and share beauty with others. Then we saw an old house in a field in Mills county. After my grandpa asked the owner if he wanted it....(his answer was we could have it) our family helped us tear it down and we moved all the wood here. The family then helped us build our soon-to-be gallery with the old wood. To tear down the house and then build the gallery took us 3 years. Our oldest daughter was 3 when we started tearing down the house.

What has been your favorite aspect of owning the gallery?

Taking imagination and bringing it alive to the point someone else feels the connection and the beauty. This doesn’t always mean in a purchase - sometimes we see it in joy lighting up their eyes or tears rolling down their cheeks. We were born to create and feel truly grateful we have lived in a time and place where this has been possible. Owning a gallery is hard work, stressful and rewarding. All the components of living.


What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced with owning the gallery?

When we first opened the biggest challenge was people knowing we were here.

Our first month we made $35 and thought we had struck gold. Somebody actually came and bought something. Next, it was to get people to take us seriously. A much harder and longer quest than we could have foreseen. It still continues today. 

We made it the first year eating peanut butter sandwiches and eggs my grandma gave us. We struggled and got to 1986. The farming crisis hit and things got even tougher. The thing that helped us the most was faith and an upbringing of( don’t give up on something you believe in and search for a way). Our personal needs were small and it was always our spirits we had to watch out for. The point really is.... what we realized was problems were always going to happen. So... pull up your bootstraps and find a solution. Our most complicated times were the collapse of the housing and stock market in 2008 and the covid crisis we are in right now. They have both stretched us to the limit .....but we are still here. Putting our thinking caps on solving problems. Plus creating art on a wing and a prayer. An art life is not easy....but it is what we were born to do. There is always a way, sometimes it’s just hard to find.

Looking back at 40 years you can pick out agonizing moments that changed your life and expanded your business heart. Such as 9/11. We made less money that year than the year we opened, but the money seemed so unimportant. It brought us home to the reason for our art quest. To create beauty and light to sustain the spirit and soul during the darkest hours. We had no money but we did have the inner strength to carry us forward. 

Being an artist is like this: you look at a large rose bush full of leaves and thorns....then the rose bush decides to bloom and show its magnificent beauty. It is in this small miracle you realize life is like the rose bush. Life is filled with many things causing you pain, but, seeing the beauty and also creating it can help bring the flowers forward and make the thorns not so prevalent, or so painful. We choose to see the flowers.

Will you be having an event this year to celebrate the anniversary?

Yes, we will be holding 2 open houses. The first week of November and the first week of December. Stay tuned for details!

We are open anytime someone is driving by and would like to stop or for their convenience, if they are driving from a distance, they might want to call ahead of time to make sure we are here. (712) 485-2618

To learn more about Penny’s Vision Gallery, please visit their Facebook page and website!


This post was originally published on March 15, 2022 on the Watta Way blog.