The Stone City Art Colony and School 1932-1933
Thomas Savage

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Thomas Savage [“Tom”] (1908-1987) - student

Born in Fort Dodge, Iowa, Thomas Savage was a painter of some recognition by the time he joined the Stone City Art Colony in the summer of 1932. In addition to being a full-time farmer, Savage had pursued studies at the Layton Art School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the greatest sense, he typified Grant Wood’s ideal of a regional artist due to his unique combination of talents. A protégé of Wood, Savage would attend the 1933 art colony. He had worked with Wood at the University of Iowa to help produce murals for the 1931 Iowa City PWAP project. Savage was also part of the Wood murals series at Parks Library, Iowa State University (1935-1943).

As a professional artist, Savage excelled at painting scenes of farm life. His painting, “Butchering on the Farm,” won first place in oils and the sweepstakes prize at the Iowa State Fair [Iowa Art Salon] in 1934. The sketch for this painting, part of the Public Works Project, was selected by Grant Wood and exhibited later in the Washington, D.C. office of Henry Wallace, an Iowa native and then U.S. Director of Agriculture. Savage’s sketch was ultimately moved to the White House after being chosen for display by Eleanor Roosevelt. Despite its reputation, the image was roundly criticized for its unrealistic depiction of slaughtering as a bloodless scene. The painting was eventually moved back to Fort Dodge and is part of the permanent collection of the city’s Blanden Memorial Art Museum.

Savage was awarded two well-known WPA mural commissions. The first, “The New Calf,” was painted for the Jefferson, Iowa post office and installed in 1938. Despite its public appeal, that work was also criticized for its romanticized notions of farm life. Immediately following the Jefferson mural project was a second WPA commission award for the New Hampton, Iowa post office in 1939. The painting, “Breaking the Colt,” portrays two farmers attempting to control a spirited horse. While completing the New Hampton commission, Savage was farming full-time in the Fort Dodge area. A third, and lesser-known WPA commission, was for the Eupora, Mississippi post office, entitled “Cotton Farm” and installed in the 1940s.

Savage later became a commercial artist for Mid-Continent Bottlers; for company reasons, he relocated to Des Moines in 1966 and remained there until his retirement in 1974. Savage returned to the Fort Dodge area in 1979 and served as president of the city's Federation of Arts and exhibited works in Fort Dodge Art Guild competitions. He died in Fort Dodge in September 1987. An exhibition in his honor, “Tom Savage: A Regionalist Recognized” opened at the Blanden Art Museum on October 6, 2002.

Online Resources for Thomas Savage:

Iowa State University, Parks Library. “When Tillage Begins Other Arts Follow; Designer Grant Wood.” Available:

Iowa State University, Parks Library. “Grant Wood Mural: Other Arts Follow: Engineering Panel.” Available:

Thomas Savage. Taken from the group photo by John W. Barry found on the General Bibliographic Resources page. Photo provided by artist's son, James Savage, Prairie Village, Kansas.

Thomas Savage. Taken from the group photo by John W. Barry found on the General Bibliographic Resources page.

Photo courtesy of artist's son, James Savage, Prairie Village, Kansas.


When Tillage Begins: The Stone City Art Colony and School
Published online October 2003 by the
Busse Library,
Mount Mercy University
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
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