I recently took a trip to the Jocelyn Art Museum. There they had many great painting in the permanent art collection. One that caught my eye, which I had seen many times before, but never knew any thing about, was a painting called Stone City, Iowa , which was created by Grant Wood in 1930. This painting is oil on wood panel and is
30 X 40 inches.
Grant Wood is a famous philosopher who was born in February in the year 1891 in Anamosa, Iowa. Wood was born to Quaker parents on a small farm. This experience would be the basis of his iconic images of small-town plain folk and verdant Midwestern vistas. He later moved to Cedar Rapids after the death of his father in 1901. He first studied at the Minneapolis School of design between 1910 and 1911 and became a professional designer while attending night courses at the University of Iowa and at the Art Institute of Chicago. At the end of 1915 he gave up designing and returned to Cedar Rapids.
After his military service he taught painting and drawing at the public school of Cedar Rapids and visited Paris in 1920 with Marvin Cone. His early works were outdoor scenes combining a bright Fauve palette and a loose, impressionistic style – the result of a 1923-24 trip to Italy and Paris, which included study at the Academie Julian. He visited Europe again in 1928 and notably went to Germany and Holland where he discovered German and Dutch primitive painters to whom he borrowed many facets. Wood was appointed head of the Iowa Works Progress Administration-Federal Arts project in 1934 and also taught at the University of Iowa.
He took part in many exhibitions notably in 1919 with Marvin Cone in Cedar Rapids, at the Galerie Carmine in Paris in 1926, at the Lakeside Press Galleries in Chicago and at the Ferargil Galleries in New York in 1935. In addition, many retrospectives were held after his death at the Annual Exhibition of American Painting at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1942, at the Municipal Art Gallery of Davenport in 1957, at the University of Kansas in 1959, at the Art Institute of Chicago and the M.H de Young Memorial Museum of San Francisco in 1995-96, at the Joslyn Art Museum of Omaha and at the Museum of Art of Worcester, Mass.
Grant Wood was known as a regionalist painter An American term, Regionalism refers to the work of a group of rural artists, mostly from the Midwest, who came to prominance in the 1930’s. Not being part of a coordinated movement, regionalists often had an idiosyncratic style or point of view. What they shared, among themselves and among other American Scene painters, was a humble, antimodernist style and a fondness for depicting everyday life. However, their rural conservatism put them at odds with the urban and leftist Social Realists of the same era.
The three best-known regionalists were Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry, and Grant Wood. With Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry, who died prematurely in 1946, Wood represented the painters of “The American Scene” also known as the school of Regional American Landscape. These artists represented rural life in the U.S in the tradition of European masters.
They enjoyed success in 1930 during the Great Depression when the public found some intellectual and moral comfort during troubled times. Wood was trying to induce the birth of a true American national art. He even wrote a manifesto, “Revolt against the City” in 1935 calling for a renaissance of American art which he found too dependent on European art, especially French art notably in the field of abstract painting. He wanted to regroup regional schools in order to develop a new form of realistic painting.
Success came late for Wood who spent his life in his native Iowa where he found his inspiration and subjects. At the start of his career he was influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement and then painted in a manner that could be compared to those of John Sloan, Edward Hopper, Edouard Vuillard or Utrillo.
Wood changed his style in 1928 as seen with “American Gothic”, his masterpiece produced in 1930, which became a much popular painting in the U.S.
It represented a couple of farmers in front of their house built in the “gothic carpenter” style. Such painting revealed the influence of German and Dutch primitive painters regarding the minute treatment of details, notably in the architecture of the farm. It symbolised the life of pioneers.
Wood painted the people and landscapes of the Middle West in an idealised way, inspired by his personal universe filled with tales and legends thus paying homage to those people who worked hard without bothering about earning money.
Stone City, Iowa was Wood’s first major landscape, painted in the same year as the famous American Gothic. At the height of his style, Stone City is also the epitome of Wood’s dialogue about change that was often threaded through his traditional subjects. Understood in this tranquil, idealized scene of life in harmony with nature was the knowledge that Stone City itself reflected the transitions brought about in a rural community by industrialization. Located on the Wapsipinicon River twenty-six miles from Cedar Rapids, Stone City was a boom town gone bust: built on the success of its limestone quarries and laid to rest by the introduction of Portland cement. The land, Wood seems to suggest, has gone back to a purer purpose of grazing animals and growing crops. Wood’s interest in this village continued to grow, and it became the site of a summer artist’s colony which he ran in 1932 and 1933.
The public progressively turned its back on the painters of the “American Scene” when the economic crisis was over. Such indifference deeply affected Wood who died at 50 after trying to start a new career under another name. Still his works are now rated between US $ 100,000 and 1,500,000.