Ham Can Shrines & GrottosCatherine Bastian (1910 - 2006)




Earlville, 52041, United States


1960s to 2000s

Visiting Information

At least one Bastian grotto is still standing at the Feldman Family Farm. It is visible from Highway 20 running through Earlville. Bastian's Ham Can Shrines sometimes appear at thrift shops in the Dubuque, Iowa area. 

About the Artist/Site

Catherine Bastian (née Feldmann) was born May 22, 1910 in Dyersville, Iowa. She worked for many years at a bakery before retiring in 1959. In 1962, she and her husband Bill, inspired by a neighbor, built grottoes in honor of “Our Lady of Grace” in the front yards of family and friends. Her grottoes ranged in size from seven-inches to six-feet and were located throughout Earlville and Dubuque. One grotto, erected in the yard adjacent to the Feldman Family Farm, is still visible from Highway 20 running through Earlville. It is unknown how many others are still standing.

When Bill fell ill with tuberculosis, Catherine promised the Blessed Virgin Mary that if he recovered his health, she would devote her life to making grottoes in thanks. He did recover, and sometime after, Bill and Catherine vacationed to Florida and together collected seashells that they would later use in the grottoes. According to Catherine’s niece, she eventually produced an astounding 900 “ham can”  grottoes, which she created in assembly-line style in her basement using stones, colored glass, seashells, bright jewelry, plastic beads, fake flowers, and broken rosaries embedded in cement. Catherine used 1.5-pound, 3-pound, and 5-pound ham cans, which she likely acquired from the now defunct Dubuque Packing Company. She used colored felt to line the bottom of her shrines and never signed her work.

Catherine never sought publicity for her sacred art, and the majority of her work was given away to loved ones across the country. Catherine remained active in her faith and church community and was a member of St. Columbkille Catholic Church, it’s Rosary Society, Sacred Heart League, United Commercial Travelers Auxiliary, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars and World War I Auxiliaries. She dedicated countless hours to volunteering her time in the service of others, especially the elderly. Catherine died July 17th, 2006 at age 96 while living at the Dubuque Ecumenical Towers.


Contributed by Becca Kacanda, 2020


ham cans, found objects, glass, shells, stones

Map & Site Information

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