LE MARS, Iowa | Housed inside a former Carnegie Library built in 1903, the Le Mars Art Center is, in itself, a work of art.

A building that was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1979, this adaptation of the Renaissance Revival style is a terrific example of what small town library architecture was life in the early 20th century.

But if you asked Judy Marienau about her favorite feature at center, located at 200 Central Ave. S.E., she'll say it has to be the high ceilings.

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Le Mars Arts Center

Judy Marienau, administrator of the Le Mars Art Center, said the friendliness of a small town is an underrated element of the Le Mars Art Center. 

"The high ceilings are wonderful when you're hanging art pieces," she said, inside a room filled with colorful quilts. "The high ceilings add to the beauty of art."

Since becoming the the art center's administrator (and sole employee) in 2014, Marienau has been slowly adding more function to the historic building.

The main floor consists of two art galleries, a shop, activity room and space dedicated to performances or receptions. The lower level has an art room, party room, meeting space and a small pottery area.

"The Le Mars Art Center is very much a work in progress," Marienau admitted. "I think I'm OK with that."

Sue Betsworth, a Le Mars accountant and a member of the Le Mars Arts Council, is also fine with the eclectic nature of the center.

That is, if there will always be space for her jewelry making.

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Le Mars Arts Center

Le Mars Arts Council board member Sue Betsworth talks about the artwork on display at Le Mars Arts Center in Le Mars, Iowa.

"I love coming to the art center and making my costume jewelry," Betsworth said, stringing beads onto a chain. "It's so quiet here and I like to spread out my stuff."

Increasingly, the art center is becoming used as an all-purpose community center. With its central location, it is currently used for Mommy and Me workshops and art classes for kids and adults. It also offers an open studio for a host of local artisans.

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Le Mars Arts Center

Unusual art pieces can be seen inside and outside the Le Mars Art Center. The art center is run by the Le Mars Arts Council.

However, Marienau is pleased that regional and national exhibits are bringing pieces to Le Mars.

"An art center our size is often deemed to be too small for many traveling exhibits," she explained. "We may be small but we offer a lot."

In fact, Marienau said part of the charm of the Le Mars Art Center comes from the friendliness of small-town life.

"Walking into an art center in a larger city can be intimidating," she said. "There's nothing stuffy about our art center."

Which is something Marienau hopes will never change.

"Up until the mid-1970s, this location was originally the home of the Le Mars Public Library," she explained. "We're keeping a part of Le Mars history alive and we're filing it with art."

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Food and Lifestyles reporter

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