|The Stone City Art Colony and School: 1932-1933
Grant Wood (1891-1942) - faculty
Immortalized as a leader in American art and regionalism, Grant Wood was born on a small farm outside Anamosa, Iowa in 1891, the second of four children. His father, a farmer of Quaker ancestry, and his mother, a teacher, fostered his early love of art. In 1901, after the death of his father, Hattie Wood sold their land and moved the family to Cedar Rapids, where Grant did odd jobs to lend financial support. He and his closest friend, Marvin Cone, graduated from Washington High School in 1910; Grant immediately left for Minneapolis to study wood and metal techniques with Ernest Batchelder.
That fall, he began pursuing a teaching degree at the University of Iowa while learning carpentry and still painting. By 1916, he was a student at the Art Institute of Chicago, although he would never finish his studies. In 1917, Grant returned from Chicago to find that he had been exempted from the draft; he waived his exemption, was briefly stationed at Des Moines’ Camp Dodge, and was later assigned to designing Army artillery camouflage in Washington, D.C. With the 1918 Armistice, Wood returned to Iowa without having seen any formal military action.
Following World War I, Grant taught for a single year at the Rosedale country school, near Cedar Rapids. That experience earned his teaching credentials, and he taught art at Jackson Junior High (1919-1922) and at McKinley High School (1922-1925). Typical of Wood’s vision and leadership style, his 1924 ninth graders completed a frieze for the school cafeteria. The summer of 1920 found Wood and Cone traveling together throughout Europe. While there, they lived in Paris, took classes at the Academie Julien, and made dozens of impressionist-style paintings. By their fourth trip abroad, Wood had been moved by the German primitives movement in Munich, and suddenly saw the possibilities of painting the commonplace as something significant.
As Cone and Wood began to exhibit across the state in Federated Women’s Clubs functions, the Iowa State Fair, and county festivals, David Turner (of the Turner Funeral Home family in Cedar Rapids) called upon Grant to help him transform the old Sinclair house into the new company mortuary. Grant decorated and modified the house’s garage into an apartment and studio and would have Turner as his lifelong sponsor, benefactor, and friend. While living at 5 Turner Alley, Wood worked as an interior decorator, promoted the local art community, led an amateur theater group, and painted many of his best known works. By 1926, Wood had transformed the entire Sinclair House into the Fine Arts Studio Group, renting space to some of the city’s most talented musicians and artists, offering studios, drama and painting classes. One of the tenants, Leon Zeman, a Cedar Rapids public school art teacher, became a close friend of Grant and later attended the Stone City Art Colony.
Through support from the Cedar Rapids Art Association and the Carnegie Foundation, the Little Gallery was launched in 1928 as a Midwestern experiment in art education. The director, Edward Rowan, became a friend to Wood, and together, they brought many nationally recognized artists to Iowa. While vacationing with Rowan’s family in Eldon, Iowa, Grant not only found the model house for his icon American Gothic but also developed the idea for an artists colony in eastern Iowa, the first of its kind in the Midwest. The governing principle was to immerse artists in the Iowa landscape through a communal experience.
With the grand success of the colony’s initial year, a second session was offered in 1933; despite high attendance and large weekend crowds for art auctions and entertainment, the colony collapsed under strained finances, Depression-Era concerns, and Grant’s new appointment as a University of Iowa art professor. Prior to his faculty status, Wood had worked as a part-time art instructor for the PWAP program while maintaining an Iowa City studio. By the summer of 1934, Grant was made an associate professor of art and was appointed as the director of all Iowa Works Progress Administration (WPA) art projects. That year, he also gathered his team of artists and began to design the murals for Parks Library at Iowa State University. In February 1935, he married Sara Sherman Maxon, a light opera singer from Cedar Rapids. The couple made their home in Iowa City at 1142 East Court Street; Grant’s first one-man shows in New York City and Chicago (April 1935) proved a resounding success.
Even as his paintings garnered national recognition, Wood’s life was fraught with tension at the university and at home. Traditional academics in the art department loudly protested over his lack of formal education, his teaching style, and his ideas of murals for public schools and buildings. His marriage ultimately ended in divorce in September 1939. His response to the chaos was to focus on his art – lithography, book illustration, interior decorating, carpentry, metalwork, and painting. Grant opened a studio in Clear Lake, Iowa, and re-connected with old friends in Cedar Rapids. A December 1941 surgery in Iowa City revealed liver cancer; Wood died on February 12, 1942. His memorial service and funeral were held at Turner Mortuary in Cedar Rapids, surrounded by paintings that he sold to David to help pay bills in the late 1920s. Wood was later buried at Riverside Cemetery, Anamosa, Iowa, next to his mother.
Among Wood’s most recognized works are: Woman with Plants (1929), a study of his mother, Hattie; Stone City, Iowa (1930); American Gothic (1930), featuring his sister [Nan Wood Graham] and his Cedar Rapids dentist, Dr. Byron H. McKeeby; Arnold Comes of Age (1930), a portrait of Arnold Pyle; The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (1931); Fall Plowing (1931); Young Corn (1931); Daughters of Revolution (1932), a satire on the DAR’s opinion of his recent Cedar Rapids stained glass commission, the Veterans Memorial Window; Self-Portrait (1932); Arbor Day (1932); Dinner for Threshers (1934); Return from Bohemia (1935); and Parson Weem’s Fable (1939), a depiction of the George Washington cherry tree legend.
Wood was honored with a Doctor of Letters from the University of Wisconsin, a Master of Arts from Wesleyan University, a Doctor of Fine Arts from Northwestern University, and a Doctor of Fine Arts at Lawrence College (Appleton, WI). His paintings are among the permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC), the Joslyn Art Museum (Omaha, NE), the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Smithsonian Institution, the Cincinnati Art Museum, and the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
Online Resources on Grant Wood:
Art Institute of Chicago. Modern and Contemporary Art Collection. “Grant Wood: American Gothic.” Available: http://www.artic.edu/artaccess/AA_Modern/pages/MOD_5.shtml
Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. “Grant Wood.” http://www.crma.org/collection/wood/wood.htm
Cedar Rapids Museum of Art Grant Wood Studio, 5 Turner Alley
Chapman, Cindy Cullen. "Walk in the Footsteps of the Artist: Grant Wood, An American Master.” Cedar Rapids Gazette 3 June 2001. No longer available online.
“Grant Wood Revisited: Famous Paintings by Iowa’s Most Beloved Artist Assembled for Sesquicentennial Exhibit.” Midwest Today (April/May 1996). Available: http://www.midtod.com/9603/grant_wood.phtml
Iowa State University, Parks Library. “Murals Designed by Grant Wood.” Available: http://www.lib.iastate.edu/art/gwood.html
Haven, Janet. “Going Back to Iowa: The World of Grant Wood.” Available: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~MA98/haven/wood/home.html
Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, NE. “Permanent Collection: Grant Wood.” Available: http://www.joslyn.org/permcol/20thcen/pages/wood.html
Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), WGBH, Boston. “Sister Wendy’s American Collection: Grant Wood’s American Gothic.” Available: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/sisterwendy/works/ame.html
Horn, Madeleine Darrough, and Grant Wood, ill. Farm on the hill. New York: Scribner, 1936.
Lewis, Sinclair, and Grant Wood, ill. Main Street. New York: Lakeside Press, 1937.
Wood, Grant. Art in the daily life of the child. Iowa City [IA]: University of Iowa, 1939.
Wood, Grant. Revolt against the city. Iowa City [IA]: Clio Press, 1935.
Wood, Grant, Park Rinard, and Arnold Pyle. Catalog of a loan exhibition of drawings and paintings. [Chicago]: Lakeside Press, 1935.
When Tillage Begins: The Stone City Art Colony and School
Researcher & Author: Kristy Raine