Thursday, December 30, 2010

Grant Wood in an Art Historical Context

My first few weeks at the American Gothic House Center were spent rapidly absorbing facts about Grant Wood’s life and artwork: The timeline of his birth, travels, and artistic career; his influential and well known works; and his jobs as teacher, designer and professor. I learned all about Wood’s internal motivations for pioneering Regionalism, like his Iowa farm roots and a style-altering trip to Germany.

I am a big picture person, and I always want to know why. Very quickly I began to rifle through my memories of an American art history class I took at the UI. What was on the world news during the late 1920s and 1930s? Who were the other standout painters of the time period, and what relationship did Wood’s work have to those artists?

Between World Wars I and II, “Regionalist artists reflected the isolationist attitudes of the country.” The UIMA, in its description of “Plaid Sweater,”goes on to describe the art created during this time as socially conscious but exceedingly patriotic in its portrayal of American life and land. Themes like agriculture and small-town America, emphasized by the WPA, were meant to empower Americans suffering through the Great Depression.

Outside this small bubble of Regionalism consisting of Wood, Thomas Hart Benton and John Stewart Curry was Modernism. The Modernist movement included well known artists like Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Juan Miro and Jackson Pollock. Modernists were interested in human values and concerns, and have been described as global thinkers. Regionalists promoted America and viewed Modern art as elitist and foreign.

It’s easy to see the contrast between the two movements, but is there a comparison?

Jackson Pollock is a particularly interesting connection between Regionalism and Modernism. Pollock studied Regionalism with Thomas Hart Benton for three years, learning its philosophy of authentic American realism. However, by the early 1940s his work had become completely abstract. He abandoned the use of brushes and dripped paint onto a canvas placed on the floor. Benton’s student made so complete a transformation that he spurred a new great movement within Modernism—Abstract Expressionism.

Pollock supposedly said his teacher’s traditional ideas gave him something to rebel against. Even so, a close look reveals some similarities to Benton’s organizational principles in the composition of Pollock’s abstract works.

From a wide view, the history of art is simply one movement rebelling against the last. In most cases these movements occur simultaneously, and as with Pollock, multiple movements can even arise within the work of a single artist. There’s no real stopping place, and I could spend hours researching the ongoing influences of Modernism and Regionalism right up to today. But I better save something for next Thursday.

Best wishes for the New Year.

Molly Moser
American Gothic House Center

P.S. I couldn’t resist including a link to this awesome interactive webpage, where you can splatter paint with a click of your mouse! Experience Pollock’s style for yourself!

Eldon Makes the News!

Eldon in the news!

Last week I provided a link to the Ottumwa Courier’s coverage of a pie baking class taught at Cardinal HS by my neighbor in the Gothic house. Since then it’s come to my attention that the event was also reported on by the Fairfield Daily Ledger on December 16. Beth’s activity in the community is bringing more positive attention to Eldon!

Iowa blogger ‘Walkaboutdoc’ and friend visit the Gothic house but unfortunately the Center is closed. See the parody photo they took using their tripod, and read about the doctor’s impression of how time has changed the area.

The Daily Nonpareil of Council Bluffs, Iowa published an article on December 19 about Grant Wood’s 1927 mural in the city’s Hotel Chieftain. The mural was hung in the lobby of the Pottawattamie County Courthouse last Saturday.

“An Omaha art consultant believes that one segment of the mural Wood painted for the Hotel Chieftain’s Corn Room – a segment now owned by US Bank and put on loan to the Bluffs Arts Council – “previews the ‘American Gothic.’”” Read more.

Emma Lee Godfrey, also from Council Bluffs, had her poem Grant Wood’s Iowa published in Lyrical Iowa 2010. The book has been published annually for 65 years by the Iowa Poetry Association.

Happy holidays all! I leave you with Ms. Godfrey’s words.

Grant Wood’s Iowa

With the strokes of his brush
painter Grant Wood published
a show for the world about
his home state, Iowa.

His most famous painting
American Gothic, portrayed
the architecture, the landscape,
and the hard working people.

His hilly landscapes dotted
with trees bore his unique style
and gave viewers the experience
of Iowa just as surely as
the French painter, Monet, welcomed
viewers to his country gardens
with his studies of light and color.

Grant Wood painted what he
knew best and made a record
of the cornfields and pumpkins,
the hills, and the people
as they were in his time.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

On the web this week: The Effects of Grant Wood

Those with an interest in Grant Wood are well aware of the influence American Gothic had on the Midwest. What we are perhaps less aware of is his impact on the artwork of his students. Wood was an instructor at the University of Iowa from 1935 to 1942, at the Stone City Art Colony from 1932-1934, and was a public school teacher in Cedar Rapids during his early years. I did a little searching this morning and was able to find information on two artists who studied with him in Stone City. Both continued their careers in art and gave back to the state of Iowa.

The first artist is a name you’ll probably recognize—Isabel Bloom.

Isabel Scherer Bloom was born in Galveston, TX. Her family moved to Davenport, so she considered herself an Iowa native. She participated in two summers at the Stone City Art Colony and married fellow resident John Bloom. I was surprised to find that artists working in 3-D studied at Stone City, having heard mostly about the collaborative mural painting that took place there. While at the colony, Isabel carved in limestone.

Bloom later hosted a TV program for kids called Make Believe, where she modeled, dressed and used clay figurines to teach art lessons and tell stories. Her interest in children is reflected in her popular sculptures, which can be viewed in showrooms in Davenport, West Des Moines, and Moline, Illinois. Her work is now sold around the country.

The second artist I discovered is Lee Allen. According to Wikipedia (As all my research instructors cringe, may I just say that the more reliable information on Mount Mercy College’s website is unavailable this morning due to a recent overhaul.), Allen was born in Muscatine and studied at the UI School of Art as well as attending two summers at the Stone City Art Colony. Grant Wood introduced Allen to Diego Rivera, who helped Allen advance as a mural painter. Rivera was a popular Mexican artist known for his controversial communist artwork and his tumultuous relationship with fellow painter Frida Kahlo.

Allen returned to Iowa and completed murals in Onawa and Emmetsburg. I found an image of the Emmetsburg mural, where Wood’s stylistic influence and the Regionalist subject matter comes through clearly.

For 39 years, Allen worked as a medical illustrator for the University Of Iowa College Of Medicine. As he aged, Allen began to experience symptoms of macular degeneration, an incurable eye failure which eventually results in blindness. He combined his talent as an artist with his knowledge of medicine to write and illustrate The Hole in My Vision: An Artist’s View of His Own Macular Degeneration. (You may have to scroll down a few stories for this information.) For ten years, Allen studied and drew pictures of the changes in his vision as he aged and underwent laser eye surgery. The book was published by Penfield Books in a type specifically structured for visually impaired readers. Profits were used to support macular degeneration research at the UI.

Yesterday, as I took his photo in front of the house, a young man in a cowboy hat claimed to be Wood’s grandson. (To which I replied, “Yes, and the pitchfork in your hand is the actual pitchfork Dr. McKeeby held in American Gothic.”) Although Grant Wood did not have biological children, his protégé have continued to shape the artistic culture in Iowa and beyond.

I look forward to the re-launch of Kristy Raine’s Stone City Art Colony research on the Mount Mercy website and plan to present more of the ‘Effects of Grant Wood’ in coming newsletters. Thanks for reading!

Molly Moser
American Gothic House Center

P.S. Just in case you missed it, here's a link to Mark Newman's front page coverage of Gothic House tenant Beth Howard teaching a pie class at Cardinal HS last week.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

On the web this week: Holiday Shopping at AGHC

Good afternoon and happy Thursday! Last weekend’s Christmas in Eldon brought 73 visitors to the Center for the Tour of Homes. Parents and 37 kids decorated graham cracker gingerbread houses. Photos from the weekend are available on Facebook!

There are still plenty of events to come in Wapello County to get you in the holiday spirit:

Take a Winter Tracks Hike through Pioneer Ridge Nature Area to look for signs of animals and much more. All ages and families are invited to participate at 2pm on December 18.

On December 30 join in the national Christmas Bird Count, conducted annually for over 100 years. Count the birds at your home feeders or join WCCB staff at 8 am for a drive through the area in search of many bird species. If you would like to join the count from home, please call 641.682.3091 to receive the recording sheet and other necessary information.

Don’t forget Holiday Nights ‘N Lights in Greater Ottumwa Park, happening nightly through December 31.

I held out for as long as possible, but I’ve finally started playing Christmas music. It seems to be the best (only?) way to get through the cold! I also (reluctantly) began my Christmas shopping this week. It’s safe to say a fair amount of the gifts I’ll be giving are going to come from the American Gothic House Center gift shop. (Dear Moser family: I hope you’re ready for all things Grant Wood!)

Great new gifts in our shop this season include a brand new shipment of “The Original American Gothic House” t-shirts in a variety of bright colors like kiwi, paprika, honey, and many more! We just received round, white shatterproof ornaments with our logo, a classic gift to last for years. Also new are sketchbooks for aspiring Grant Woods, photo frames perfect for holding your very own parody photo, and American Gothic House bumper stickers.

We still have all your old favorites as well! Long and short sleeve denim button up shirts, clothes for baby, prints of many Grant Wood paintings, postcards and note cards, magnets, mugs and may more gifts for your friends and family. If you’re looking for something especially unique, try one of the handmade objects or prints by local artists!

Too far away to visit the gift shop? Call me at 641.652.3352 to place an order, or print our order form online and mail it (newer items are not included on the order form, so you may still have to call).

Happy gift hunting!

Molly Moser
American Gothic House Center

P.S. If you’ve been reading the blogs I regularly mention in this newsletter, you’re probably already aware of the long list of visitors to the American Gothic House. The most recent guest, Christine Buckley, writes a travel blog for the Huffington Post. Her first post on her stay at the house gave a great review of her time in Eldon. Apparently she thought this portion of her trip deserved a second look, because she added another essay about Eldon to her blog on December 3.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas activities for all!

Eldon has a full day of Christmas activities to keep you busy this Saturday, December 4.

Christmas Dinner: 11-2, KD Center

Tour of Homes: Never been inside the American Gothic House? Now’s your chance! Take a peek into six of Eldon’s homes and businesses from 10-2 and 4-8. Tickets for the Tour can be purchased for $5 at the Opera House.

Christmas Tree Wanderland: Friday, 9-5; Saturday, 9-9; Sunday, 11-3. Find the Christmas spirit while touring beautiful trees decorated by the community at the McHaffey Opera House.

The Depot will also be decorated and open for viewing on Friday from 5-9 pm and all day Saturday from 10-9.

Gingerbread House Decorating: American Gothic House Center, 1-4 pm. Parents and kids 12 and under are invited to decorate a graham cracker gingerbread house on Saturday. Arrive early to enjoy a wide selection of candy decorations!

Also on view: Gingerbread villages built by community members.

Boy Scout Soup Supper: KD Center, 5-7 pm. All this activity will likely get your stomach growling again, so stop in for soup at the KD Center.

Park Lighting Ceremony: 7 pm. Cap off an exciting day with Christmas carols and the lighting of the park!

On the web this week, Christine Buckley of the Huffington Post gives Eldon wonderful press in a review of her stay at the American Gothic House. The Eastern Iowa Mini Club posted many photos of their visit to the house and Center as well!

Stay warm!

Molly Moser
American Gothic House Center