Randy Richmond spent years looking at Nahant Marsh at 65 mph.

"I had driven across the (Interstate) 280 bridge for years, thinking, 'That looks like an interesting spot,' but never had gone there," the Muscatine-based photographer recalled.

That was until he heard an Iowa Public Radio interview about Nahant, a 513-acre wetlands in southwest Davenport, which piqued his interest.

Richmond was hooked and proposed a trip with his companion of five years, pastel artist Audrey Brown. 

"He suggested it was perfect, and I thought it was right up my alley," she said. "I thought, 'A marsh? Water? Sure!' "

They ended up spending 18 months chronicling the area, and the results — "Nahant Marsh: Almost an Island" — go on display beginning Friday at the Quad-City Arts Center Gallery in Rock Island.

"I thought it would be something fun for both of us to work on together, and at least get out of the house and give a little back," Brown said, noting that they are giving 10 percent of their profits from the show back to the Nahant Marsh Education Center, with Quad-City Arts doing the same.

The veteran artists were amazed by the visual variety at the marsh, not only from season to season but even hour to hour.

"The inhabitants in the marsh change during the day," Richmond said. "In the early morning there's the flocks of pelicans and herons, and then that shifts to the smaller birds and shifts back again in the evening to the larger birds."

While Richmond took his time creating photos — 30 gigabytes worth, which had to be narrowed to 40 prints for the exhibit — Brown quickly took her pictures and went back to her Rock Island home to paint.

"There's all kinds of different light," she said. "Sometimes when it's really bright you get those really harsh shadows, and when it's cloudy it looks different."

Brown said she was impressed with the dichotomy of an oasis of peacefulness in an urban area.

"Here's all this wildlife in the middle when you've got trains and an industrial mix, yet they brought this area back," she said. "There's this pocket of coolness that sits there."

Brown, a 46-year-old DeWitt, Iowa, native, was working on her paintings while her historic house in the Broadway neighborhood of Rock Island was being renovated.

"It's this little sanctuary from all the other craziness around here," said Richmond, who splits his time between her house and his in Muscatine.

"For me it's relaxing to get out and unplug and look around at everything," she said.

An Augustana College graduate, she works primarily in art restoration, taught to her by her mentor at the college, the late Jim Conrad. Brown is working now with the Deere-Wiman House and Ben Butterworth Center in Moline to restore their collection of vintage paintings.

Richmond, a 55-year-old Muscatine native and University of Iowa graduate, is an adjunct photography instructor at St. Ambrose University in Davenport and has completed similar nature studies in Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa.

Much of his work, including what will be on display at Quad-City Arts, is printed on paper that has been created by members of a Japanese family for the past 400 years. The varying paper, which goes through a laserjet printer these days, is made from rice or a mixture of mulberry and hemp.

Both artists hope the exhibit will convert others to becoming fans of Nahant Marsh the way they have. 

"For someone like me, who kept looking over my shoulder, thinking, 'That's a nice place, I gotta check that out,' it could make them check it out and give it a closer look," he said.

"It's nice to show people that kind of stuff can happen and it can coexist with industrial areas," Brown added, "within a city, where we have all these wonderful little pockets that we have that are wonderful places to explore that are important for wildlife."

They were tempted to create works from backroad areas of the marsh, which are difficult, if not impossible, for visitors to reach, only to change their minds.

"But we decided that if we want to get people to go visit the marsh, we want them to go where everybody can go," Richmond said.

Brown said it continues the philosophy of her mentor Conrad to "paint what you know."

"I can take you to this place I enjoy, and if I can give you a feeling of that, then you can do something," she said. "That's what my art's about."

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