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World-famous artist featured at Washington, Iowa gallery

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swarm curt 19-05-22s

Curt Swarm

French artist and now Burlington resident Cecile Houel (pronounced “well”) has her art on display at Art Domestique, 118 S. Iowa Ave., in Washington, Iowa, for the month of October.

She is perhaps best known for her project of painting the portraits of all the Nobel Peace Prize laureates. She recently completed her 21st portrait, which is Cresco, Iowa, native Norman Borlaug. Her first portrait was Dr. Martin Luther King. She has 100 or so more portraits to go, and considers it, at age 57, a lifelong project.

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Cecile Houel with her 4' x 4' portrait of Norman Borlaug. Water tower in the background has "Cresco" on it, where Borlaug is from.

She chooses her laureates randomly, does exhaustive research of each to determine who they are and why they received the Nobel Peace Prize. She then completes a number of charcoal and/or pencil studies of them before she oil paints the final 4’ x 4’ portrait. She finds peace in this and believes art can contribute to world peace.

All of her income is derived from art and teaching art. She has a spacious, mega-sized studio and gallery in Burlington that is open to the public by appointment.

In addition to art sales and teaching, Houel also does commission work and has several sponsors and benefactors. (She’s the only completely self-supporting artist I know.) And she is emphatically dedicated to her work, believing with a passion that she will succeed and be successful. Art is fun for her.

A few of the Nobel laureate portraits she has completed, in addition to Borlaug and King, are Liu Xiaobo, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Andrei Sakharov, Shirin Ebadi, Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan and Barack Obama.

Of course, painting Nobel laureate portraits is not her only art, by any stretch. Living in Burlington, she goes to the Mississippi River almost every morning, meditates and collects driftwood, lotus blossoms and a variety of other river goodies, like corn stalks and floating shoes. (I’m serious.) With the driftwood, she makes beautiful, stunning wood sculptures. She might decorate the driftwood sculptures with dried, gold-painted lotus blossoms. She dips the roots of the cornstalks in acrylic paint and uses them as brushes to make abstract paintings, even using the tips of driftwood sticks as brushes.

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Cecile Houel with her driftwood sculpture "Dance With Me Thou My King."

And the old shoes? Houel made a shoe sculpture out of shoes — one big shoe made of shoes. Her title: “All Together We Can Make One Big Step.” However, the shoe got so big and heavy she had to dismantle it. Anyone need shoes?

Her four main areas of art are: her God’s Feet Project, the Nobel Peace Prize Project, Pastels and Charcoals, and Driftwood Sculptures. The God’s Feet Project: In order to fulfill her spiritual quest, Cecile decided to bring to “God’s Feet” her creativity. She expresses her deepest inspiration on very large-scale murals and sculptures on the theme she calls “God’s feet,” developing multiple ideas around this theme, starting with the four elements Earth, Water, Air and Fire.

Having been in the United States for 14 years, Houel has dual citizenship in France and America. She has studied under famous artists and has had shows and received awards all over the world. Her paintings hang in the Bereskin Gallery in Bettondorf year-round. Houel loves America, saying, “There is so much energy and freedom here.” She travels back and forth and teaches art classes in both France, where she has children and a grandchild, and the United States. She will be conducting classes in Quincy, Illinois, soon, and a one-week pastel workshop in Brittany, France in June, 2022, mixing American and French students. For more information, go to her website Drop into Art Domestique in Washington, and check out Cecile Houel’s paintings for yourself.

Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, find him on Facebook, email him at or visit his website at

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