Wednesday, July 25, 2012

In Search of Grant Wood: An Iowa Treasure

If you love to travel it may be a safe bet you also love and appreciate art.  They seem to go hand in hand, at least they do with me.  Although I grew up in Iowa, it wasn't until high school was I exposed to Grant Wood, Iowa's famous artist.  Famous artist?  Well, you may not know his name, but chances are you've seen his work.  It wasn't until my trip home in July 2012 that Grant Wood became one of my favorite artists.

American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa
 In 1930, Cedar Rapids, Iowa artist Grant Wood entered an art contest in Chicago.  The painting he entered was American Gothic, who his sister and dentist posed for.  The house, with its Gothic window (seen in the picture above), was the model for the house in the painting, but the painting was not completed with the two standing in front of it, but in Cedar Rapids, over 100 miles away.   The painting won the contest and was purchased by the Art Institute of Chicago, where it remains today.  It would become the first Grant Wood painting I would ever see , way back in 1984.  
American Gothic, by Grant Wood (from internet)

Grant Wood became famous after painting American Gothic.  Even though he had studied art in Europe, he started painting scenes familiar to him in Iowa, and the style became known as Regionalism, which he became famous for during the early 1930's. 

Young Corn (above), on display at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art in Cedar Rapids, Iowa   

Spring in the Country (above), on display at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art 

Veteran's Memorial Building, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
 While in Cedar Rapids I was on a quest to find the Memorial Window designed by Grant Wood at the Veteran's Memorial Building in 1928-29.  Wood spent three months in Munich, Germany overseeing the construction of the window.  
I almost didn't get to see the window (below) because of a construction project going on inside the building.  The front entrance was taped off and obviously a construction zone.  As I was shaking the door on the side of the building, one of the workers came up behind me asked if he could help me. I told him I was here to see the Grant Wood window.  He looked me up and down (they do this in Iowa a lot), then motioned to follow him.  He escorted me to the front door of the building, unlocked it, then through the plastic hung at the door and turned left...there it was.  You will notice the broom in the picture.  He started talking about it being an Iowa treasure and about Wood's stay in Germany, etc.  It was my turn to look him up and down and take his measure; a construction worker who knew about Grant Wood?   A breath of fresh air. 

Memorial Window, Veteran's Memorial Building, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

A few blocks from the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art I came across Grant Woods studio.  It wasn't open, so I snapped a few pictures and went on my way.  

Blue House in Munich, by Grant Wood (picture from internet)
Blue House in Munich was recently (Feb 2012) acquired  by the University of Iowa Museum of Art in Iowa City, Iowa.  It is believed Wood painted it while overseeing the construction of the Memorial Window in Munich in 1928-29.   It was donated to the museum by an Iowa family who received the painting from Wood in the 1930's. 

Only one other Grant Wood painting is on display at the University of Iowa Museum of Art is The Boy in the Plaid Sweater (below, 1931).  It is a painting of a Clinton, Iowa boy and came to be viewed as an archetype of an all American boy.

I wish I had time to see more of Grant Wood's work, and more time to follow his trail around the state, but I didn't.  There was too much to see and do.  If you want to know Iowa, or are planning a trip, or if you're a local who has never heard of Grant Wood, make a trip to Iowa City or Cedar Rapids or Davenport, or visit the small house in Eldon, Iowa and visit the Grant Wood Visitor Center.  You will look at the state differently, I guarantee it. The construction worker at the Veteran's Memorial Building was absolutely correct, Grant Wood is an Iowa treasure! 

The Boy in the Plaid Sweater


  1. Three things:

    1.) That's totally cool you found the house from American Gothic!

    2.) 'Blue House in Munich' is a great painting.

    3.) Am I the only one who thinks 'The Boy in the Plaid Sweater' looks like a young (we're talking 1920's or so) Brian Kilgore? I'm just sayin'.....

    1. The house is actually marketed in Iowa and is not difficult to get to, and there is a visitor center right next to it. Nothing gaudy or too touristy, and the lady who work in it studied Grant Wood in college. There is a 25 minute film you can watch in the center which was well worth watching. My mother, who has lived in Iowa her entire life, said she learned quite a bit from it. I like Grant Wood even more after the trip. And your right, the house was very cool!