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.

1 comment:

  1. Would you know if Lee Allen is the artist who painted a portrait named Mad Mag?