Many Ames residents remember the miniaturized scenes in the Little Theater which helped children identify with story characters. The productions illustrating a scene in books for children were begun in 1929 by Letha Davidson who had simply pushed some books out of the way to provide a display area. In 1965 Adele Figura started her term providing the displays in the Little Theater display case which had been built for that purpose in 1939.
Adele Figura (1930-2003) was a beloved display artist for the Ames Public Library from 1966-1993. She was responsible for displays both off-site (bookmobile and North Grand Mall) and on-site (poster windows, Little Theater, book exhibits, and publications)
Born to Lester and Ruth (Dahlberg) Johnson in nearby Ogden, Iowa, Adele graduated from Ames High School in 1948, and from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 1951. She married fellow art student Gene Figura in October 1951, after which the couple resided in St. Paul for two years. Both pursued art careers in Ames until each retired in 1993, Adele from the Ames Public Library, and Gene from Iowa State University College of Design. Inspired by talented parents, daughter Lori also follows an art career. Adele developed a love of display work from her first position as display artist for JC Penney in its former location on Main Street. Many residents still recall the magical scenes created by Adele for the Library's Little Theater.
Before she began a display, Adele always studied and read the book she planned to illustrate. She would familiarize herself with the characters so she wouldn't miss any important details. She would then paint the background and build the scenery and characters from household items she had saved for that purpose. Little people would be formed from cotton padding shaped over wire bodies and have heads of nylon hose stuffed with cotton or modeled in Pladoh. Dolls loaned by stores or Ames residents were also sometimes used. Toothpaste caps might become tiny flowerpots. Tissue paper would become leaves on tiny trees and log cabins or castles would be constructed of cardboard and paper-mâché.
This is an ideal place to create projects of this sort, for all the reference books are right at hand. The Little Theater is an important part of the children's library, explained Adele Figura in a 1974 interview by the Ames Tribune. Many junior and senior high school students who were familiar with the display in grade school drop in and see what we are now producing.
Ames Historical Society is fortunate to have in its collections, several hundred color slides of Adele Figura's creations, both at Penney's and the Ames Public Library, courtesy of Gene Figura. The images on this page and the following page are from those slides.