Grant Wood Tour of Iowa: Part III

I started my Grant Wood Tour of Iowa almost a year ago, and the funny thing is, the more I do, the more I learn there is still to do to really follow in this Iowa artist’s footsteps and learn about his work.

To recap the tour so far: I started in August 2011 with visits to the Dubuque Museum of Art, the Grant Wood Art Gallery in Anamosa, Stone City, and the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. Two weeks ago I visited the American Gothic House in Eldon.

So finally last weekend I visited the Grant Wood Studio at 5 Turner Alley in Cedar Rapids, and this week I went to the Tipton Public Library. Why Tipton? I’ll explain later.

I’ve been wanting to go to the Grant Wood Studio and its accompanying Armstrong Visitor Center for a year now. It’s tough to find time to get there since it’s only open part of the year and only from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. If you go this summer, be forewarned that there is road construction in the area and you may have to detour a bit, but the studio is definitely open for visitors.

When I entered the visitor center it was suggested that I join a group that was already watching a 22-minute film about the work of Grant Wood and his lifelong connection to Iowa. After viewing the film, the docents, Bill and Karen Schlue, took us on a tour of the studio.

Grant Wood lived and worked in this studio from 1924 through 1935. The building, originally a carriage house next to the Douglas family mansion, was built in the 1890s. In 1924, David Turner was planning to convert the mansion into a funeral home, and he offered Wood free rent in the hayloft of the carriage house if he’d help with the work.

At first, Wood used the loft only as a studio, but he soon converted it into a full-time residence for himself and his mother (and sometimes his sister, Nan). The space is certainly small for that many people plus art supplies, but Wood was a master at finding a place for things in every nook and cranny, as you can still see in the studio’s built-in storage.

The Schlues spoke about Wood’s life and work during the days he lived in the studio, illustrating their talk with a handful of old photographs that showed the work space as it was in the 1920s and even some images of Wood posing with his art in the space. During the time he lived there, Wood created many of his most famous paintings, including Woman with Plants, Daughters of the American Revolution, Young Corn, and American Gothic.

The studio and visitor center are located at 810 Second Avenue SE, Cedar Rapids. Admission is free, thanks to benefactors Esther and Robert Armstrong Charitable Trust.

Next on my list was the Tipton Public Library. I honestly can’t even remember how I learned about the Grant Wood art collection at this library; I think it was through somebody I encountered during last August’s tour. At any rate, I made a note and did some research, and indeed, this small library houses a collection of 21 Grant Wood lithographs and two oil paintings.

Apparently Chicago attorney Roger R. Leech was an avid collector of Grant Wood art. When he died in 1976, he left his estate to his sister, who then died the next year. Upon her death, the major portion of the estate went to the Tipton Public Library, including the art collection.

The collection features many famous lithographs, including Approaching Storm (left), Tree Planting Group, Fertility, and Honorary Degree among many others. One lithograph, Sultry Night (right), features a farmer who is bathing nude after a long day in the field. It’s Wood’s only “regionalist nude,” and only 100 were made due to the controversial content. (You may click on these images to see them enlarged if you’d like.)

Other unique works include a set of hand-colored lithographs, Vegetables and Tame Flowers (left). Even more unique are oil paintings titled Statue of Musette (right) and The Crucifix. I can’t find out much about these two pieces, but I can only assume they were created during Wood’s early-1920s foray into Impressionism when he studied in Europe.

This being a library and not an art gallery, the artwork is not exhibited on, shall we say, a grand scale. For one thing, the light’s not great. There is one wall with six agricultural lithographs displayed nicely (if not exactly spaced evenly), but most of the others are a bit haphazard. For example, December Afternoon is displayed within just inches of a tacky sign promoting e-books for kids. But the worst offender is the display of a lithograph titled Family Doctor, which was commissioned by Abbott Laboratories of Chicago as gifts for physicians and considered to be Wood’s last artistic work. It’s wedged in the corner, adjacent to a neon flamingo. Ahem.

The Tipton Public Library is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. If you ask nicely, a photocopied guide of the Grant Wood collection is available at the circulation desk.

And finally: An Iowa tour of Grant Wood artwork cannot be complete without a visit to Iowa State University’s own Parks Library. There you will find magnificent murals designed by Wood and executed under the federal program providing work for unemployed artists in the 1930s, known as the Public Works of Art Project.

The murals – When Tillage Begins, Other Arts Follow and Breaking the Prairie Sod – are located around the staircases near the library’s original entrance. Tillage consists of nine mural panels, each covering 17 x 6 feet.  The lovely Prairie Sod consists of a 23×11-foot center panel, plus two 11×9-foot side panels. You can view these spectacular murals any time the library is open (go to http://www.lib.iastate.edu/libhours-todayall/6175 for up-to-date information).

I promise this will be my last Grant Wood post for awhile.

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2 comments so far

  1. Erin Thomas on

    As the Education Director for the CRMA, I can understand how, the more you learn about Grant Wood, the more there is to find out. I’m so happy you were able to visit 5 Turner Alley, and that you had wonderful docents who could tell you more about Wood’s life and works. And if you ever drop by again, perhaps to see one of Iowa’s other fabulous artists’ work, let us know! We have so many treasures, and we’d love to share them with someone who appreciates all that Iowa has to offer.

  2. kzacharias on

    Dear Carole,

    I’m a graduate student at Virginia Tech, working on a research project related to the arts and engineering at land-grant universities. I came across your photos of the Grant Wood murals via a Google image search, and I’d like to speak with you about potentially using one of them in a publication (with credit, of course). If you’re at all interested, please email me at kazacha [at] vt.edu. Thank you!

    Regards,
    Kari


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