Null uses artistic talent to save Mon Maq Dam

John Null of Scotch Grove completed an oil painting of the historic Mon Maq Dam in Monticello. Several prints were made and are being sold to help the Friends of Mon-Maq Dam raise money to save the dam. (Photo by Kim Brooks)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     “People come here for the dam, for the love of the dam.”

     John Null, lifelong resident of the Scotch Grove area, uses his love of art and creative talent to make a difference.

     Null recently completed an oil painting of the historic Mon Maq Dam in Monticello. He said it started from a photo Monticello resident Tom Osborne captured.

     “I told him it doesn’t get any better than this,” Null said after seeing Osborne’s photo.

     Prints of the original painting are being sold to benefit the non-profit organization Friends of Mon-Maq Dam. Their mission is “to preserve the historic dam on the Maquoketa River in Jones County, Iowa.”

     Null has painted a few Jones County scenic images over the years, including downtown Scotch Grove, Eby’s Mill Bridge before the bridge collapsed, and Stone Bridge, also located outside of Monticello.

     “You have to be motivated and I hadn’t done a painting in a while,” Null said.

     After hearing the Jones County Board of Supervisors and Conservation Board both voted in favor of tearing out a portion of Mon Maq Dam, Null threw his support behind the Friends group.

     “We want to preserve and conserve,” he said of the dam. Null himself grew up fishing at the dam site, and took his sons as well. It holds a special meaning in the Null family.

     “I have fond memories of going there as a child. I took my kids there. I know this river.

     “I have a love of water,” he added. “It’s my favorite thing to paint.”

     Null started the painting just after Thanksgiving 2017, and had it completed just before the New Year.

     “I didn’t work on it every day,” he said of pacing himself.

     He set up shop at his kitchen table inside the Nulls’ scenic rural Jones County home. He said his wife, Nanci, gave up use of their table for his project.

     Null would get to work in the dead of night, preferring to paint in silence.

     “I would work on it at all hours of the night,” he said, showing pictures he took of the painting during its various stages of completion. In one photo, Null took a selfie with the painting in the background at 2 a.m.

     With vibrant hues of color seen throughout the painting of the dam, Null said you would never guess he only used eight different colors to come up with the palette.

     Null said the Friends of the Dam, a grassroots organization, plan to sell his prints to fight to save the dam.

     “It has historical significance here,” he said.

     It’s not just people from Monticello who support the effort, but people from all over the county and former residents.

     “We want to save the dam for generations to come,” he said.

     The funds will also go toward the installation of an ADA fishing ramp should the group be successful in their fight.

     Null said those associated with the Friends group surveyed the public at Monticello’s Fourth of July festivities last year. An overwhelming 97 percent of all participants wanted to see the dam left alone.

     Petitions were also placed throughout Jones County, again with countywide signatures urging the county to preserve the structure.

     “In three weeks we had 3,000 signatures,” Null said. “Those voices matter.”

     There are hidden images seen throughout Null’s painting, including a frog, which he includes in all of his works of art. He also painted his wife’s tackle box sitting under a tree and fishing her fishing pole, as well as a roll of Lifesavers, which holds fond memories for Null.

     “We always took lifesavers with us when we took the kids fishing,” he said. To this day, when he goes fishing with the grandkids, they do the same.

     Those interested in purchasing one of Null’s 500 limited edition prints can do so by visiting or e-mail The prints sell for $75. You can also purchase one of just 12 artist proofs for $225. All of Null’s prints were printed locally at Julin Printing in Monticello. Null said Julin offered to donate their time for the cause.

     “I want my art to help and serve a purpose,” he said. “This was a gift I’ve been given.

     “The dam is just sitting there, not harming a soul. We’re fighting to save it.”



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