Dysart’s Magic Cylinder dedicated
September 16, 2019


An idea proposed nearly a year and a half ago became a reality as the latest illusion in Dysart, a Magic Cylinder, was officially dedicated in Dysart Park on Sunday, Sept. 8 with 30 people in attendance for the occasion to recognize the efforts of artist Mary Snyder Behrens.

The Magic Cylinder is based off a koi pond, with the fish painted on the ground around a reflective tube, displaying a unique view of the painting as if it were an actual pond. The illusion is surrounded by a small, decorative fence on a concrete walkway.

"I had seen examples of Magic Cylinders illusion before and they were always very intriguing," Behrens said. "It was a thing since the 70s and 80s. Leonardo Da Vinci, the Chinese all did these. There's a long history of these. It struck me this would be a fun structure to make."

Dysart Park was selected as the location for the illusion due to available space. A garden area had been located in this spot previously, but wasn't tended to properly. Behrens was pleased with the location because of the proximity of the playground, allowing more people to see it while playing in the park. The park also made an ideal location for the dedication ceremony as city councilmen, community members and interested parties came for the official dedication.

"There's been a great deal of support for these illusions and this project that has taken a year and a half," Behrens said. "This was a nice semi-formal ceremony so people could look at the final piece in place."

Vision Dysart, a steering committee dedicated to developing strategies to grow the arts in the community, applied for a grant from the Iowa Arts Council to pour concrete for the illusion with matching funds. Volunteers put the concrete in and the cylinder was installed by Rowan Equipment and Fabrication. Painting of the koi was done by Behrens based on computer simulations to get the correct arc on the fish to be reflected properly. No city funds were used to create the illusion.

"Putting art at the heart of a community enhances and enriches our lives," Katherine Ollendieck, Director of Tama County Economic Development said. "It inspires us to look beyond what we believe to be possible and imagine a more vibrant, exciting future. It also reminds us that we're all creative beings - and that's whether we're making art or music, telling stories or sharing in the experience."

Ollendieck was among several speakers at the event, including Dwayne Luze with the Dysart Development Corporation and Mayor Pam Thiele.

"It's been an interesting view to watch these illusions develop and it's bringing a whole new dimension to our city," Thiele said. "Each are bringing visitors into Dysart, who are discovering how nice our little town is. We're looking forward to more projects in the future."

Thiele was in attendance at the first Vision Dysart meetings when the committee was interpreting findings from Iowa Economic Development to spur growth in the community. Members brainstormed suggestions and by the third meeting, Behrens brought up the idea of anamorphic illusions.

"We were just like 'really, you know how to do that?!'" Thiele said. "I'm a fellow artist as a professional photographer and I could visualize that in mind. If she knew the techniques, I felt it would work."

Thiele advised Behrens on her proposal to the City Council made in April of 2018 to educate them on the projects. Behrens provided a background of the project, a timetable and the motion for the first of the illusions, the Great Dysart Gorge, was unanimously approved. The Magic Cylinder was also presented as a future project for the park.

"She gave a great presentation and the council didn't hesitate," Thiele said.

Publicity for the illusions came from print publications across the state, TV news such as KCCI and word of mouth. According to Thiele, people from across the state and even further have stopped in town to see the gorge and other illusions.

"Some people are a little skeptical because they walk up to the illusion and don't quite see it," Thiele said. "Our eyes want to make it right, so you might have to close one eye to make it work. It's fun to watch visitors interact with them."

Yet the illusions continue to draw visitors from across the state as Dysart works to promote the attractions "in anticipation of its sesquicentennial in 2023" according to the program. A map and information sign were also installed by the Magic Cylinder, outlining local attractions, restaurants and churches in Dysart. An information kiosk is currently being planned for the community.

"I never would have thought this was what I'd be doing with my career," Behrens said. "When we first started talking about projects in Dysart, the goal was to bring people to town. If you just put a mural up, you're not going to attract people. We wanted something people could engage with and that's what came up with illusions. It's gratifying to know these illusions are doing what we intended."

Attendees were treated to food and refreshments after the dedication in the nearby park shelter, presented by Vision Dysart. For more information about the Magic Cylinder and other illusions in the community, visit


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