Thursday, January 27, 2011

On the Web: Eldon Artist George Shane

Last week we learned about Ottumwa artists who studied with Grant Wood at the Stone City Art Colony. I received many responses from readers, and one introduced me to an artist from Eldon.

George Walker Shane was born in Eldon in 1906. As a journalist for the Des Moines Register, Shane often wrote about art. His combined interests in art and writing allowed him to travel to Venice and Mexico, sending articles back to be printed in the Register.

Shane was an involved member of the arts community in Des Moines. In 1951, Shane had a solo exhibition at the Des Moines Art Center. This activity and his career as a journalist introduced him to some very famous artists, including Alexander Calder, Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali, pictured with Shane on a visit to Iowa in 1952.

As with many of the artists we’ve covered, George Shane’s paintings were realistic and featured his immediate surroundings. He was interested in small town Iowa, depicting scenes of town squares and courthouses. Century farms were his main focus, and these paintings were very popular with Iowans. Again he was able to combine his interests in writing and art by researching the histories of the farms he painted. His series on hundred-year-old farms was printed in the Sunday Register, each painting accompanied by an historical article.

Thank you to the reader who alerted me to George Shane’s work. Keep the comments coming!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

On the Web: Ottumwa Artists at Stone City

With the recent re-launch of Mount Mercy University’s Stone City Art Colony research website (what a great resource!), I’ve discovered additional interesting students who studied under Grant Wood at the colony. Today I focused on Ottumwa artists, so many may recognize their names.

Newton W. Roberts (1881-1974)
Newton Roberts was a lawyer-turned-painter. One day, while his daughter and wife were away, he picked up his daughter’s paint brush and began to experiment. Without formal training, his connections with other Ottumwa artists lead him to the Stone City Art Colony. Clicking on the above link will give you an impressive list of his artistic successes, as well as several images of Roberts and his work.

Marion Gilmore Hulse (1909-1984)
Marion Gilmore, who later went by Mion Hulse, became quite an accomplished artist. Her mural Band Concert, done for the Corning, Iowa Post Office, shows cheerful children playing and friends chatting. There is a true Regionalist feel to this work, which realistically depicts Corning’s square and adds a certain optimistic glow to the event.

Other work by Hulse is very different stylistically, but still focuses on human interaction. Examples can be viewed below her brief biography.

Joseph Townsend Funk (1901-1985)
Joseph Funk was employed by Ottumwa’s Union Bank and Trust. He hosted Edward Rowan while the Little Gallery’s satellite was in Eldon. He began as a painter, but eventually gravitated toward industrial design and color engineering. Those interests lead him to help companies select colors for products and make decisions about the structural elements of buildings. Funk helped design the Ottumwa Armory-Coliseum and launch the Ottumwa Community Art Center.

Bertha Graves Morey (1882-1962)
Like many devoted natives of Southeast Iowa, Bertha Morey was a talented multi-tasker. Her interests were broad, including landscape painting, photography, silk, jewelry and bookplate design. She was curator for a traveling watercolor exhibit in Ottumwa and operated her family’s clay company after the death of her father and brother. The Morey Clay Products Company produced roughly seven million paving bricks each year. Morey’s father was also an artist of sorts, designing and building one of the world’s largest continuous kilns.

Bernard LaMarr Ferguson (1911-1977)
Bernard Ferguson assisted with the opening of five Iowa art institutes, and possibly the Davenport Municipal Art Gallery. He was chosen for Carnegie-sponsored training with Hungarian painter Jaroslav Brozik. During this time he met Johh Sharp and others he would study with at the Stone City colony.

Grant Wood had a lasting impact on Southeast Iowa. Sure, he immortalized a simple piece of architecture in 1930. The painting enhanced Iowa’s image and reputation across the nation, and has quite an economic impact each time it travels to its home state. The American Gothic House Center, which of course wouldn’t exist without the painting, brings 10,000 people through Eldon annually. Grant Wood’s brush with Eldon is still affecting our daily lives 81 years later.

Wood’s presence in this portion of the state extends beyond American Gothic. He is alive in stories told by locals who remember seeing him doodling on the street or speaking with him. Many have personal relationships with his sister Nan, model for the iconic painting. His legacy is carried on by all the artists he taught, and those they taught, and so on. Lucky are we to have so many from Wapello County who studied with him at the Stone City Art Colony.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Winter in Wapello

During the lovely hot, humid days of summer I often ask myself, “How did I ever make it through winter?” I shudder at the thought of facing the next one—closed indoors, muscles clenched against the wind, not able to take a deep breath because the air is so painfully bitter. What I forget during the green season is the magical sparkle of a snow-covered world. Those mornings when frost forms inside my nostrils are the very same mornings that leave every stem, leaf and hillside stark white and glittering.

Who am I to complain about cold, anyway? The bare-footed chickadees feasting on dried aster seeds outside my window at the American Gothic House Center are bravely facing January. Click for photos of them!

We very often see Grant Wood’s sunny Iowa landscapes, but at this time of year it’s easier to appreciate several winter scenes he produced.

December Afternoon

Don’t let the frigid air slow you down! It’s toasty and warm inside the American Gothic House Center, and we’re still open 7 days a week. Stop by anytime to thaw out and learn more about Grant Wood and the house next door.

While you’re out and about, take the time to visit local artist Chris Abigt’s show, Uncommon Commonplace, at the Indian Hills Art Gallery in Ottumwa. Uncommon Commonplace is on view in the gallery until Thursday, February 20. Chris is the resident artist at MJ Art Gallery in Ottumwa. You may also recognize her name from the Center’s gift shop, where we are proud to sell prints and note cards of her painting Gothic Windows.

Keep warm—but enjoy the cold!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Wood's Influence, Continued

Last Thursday’s exploration of the environment surrounding Wood and the Regionalists provided many answers, but in the end my brief research lead to more questions. Continuing forward in history, today I investigated two American artists whose work shows ties to the ideas and subject matter of Regionalism.

On Sunday, the Smithsonian American Art Museum closed its exhibit "Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell From the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg." The exhibit featured 57 works by Rockwell and drew over 700,000 viewers during the six months it was on view.

Like Grant Wood, Rockwell cherished childhood summers in the country and drew on these memories for later paintings. He began drawing as a young boy and left high school in 1909 to pursue art at the National Academy of Design. At only 22, the illustrator was published on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. The Post continued to feature his illustrations for four decades. Once again recalling Wood, Rockwell painted murals and his artistic talent served his country as a military artist during WWI.

Widely popular (so I won’t get into too much description), Rockwell is known for his cheerful depictions of small-town American life. In the 1960s he began to illustrate for Look Magazine, where his drawings became both more personal and political. During the ten years he worked for Look, his subject matter included civil rights, poverty, and space travel.

The idealized, loyal illustrations of Norman Rockwell undeniably resemble the patriotic themes of Regionalism. Steven Spielberg said of his Rockwell collection, "I look back at these paintings as America the way it could have been, the way someday it may again be." To me, his statement sounds like a way to describe the work of Grant Wood.

Another popular illustrator working during the time of Norman Rockwell was N.C. Wyeth. The Wyeths were a family of artists, and N.C. had a son Andrew who became famous for his paintings. Andrew Wyeth, sometimes called “Painter of the People,” worked in a regionalist style until his death in 2009. Wyeth is most famous for his painting “Christina’s World,” a portrait of his disabled neighbor crawling through a field because she chose not to use a wheelchair.

Like the Regionalists, Wyeth championed America and scorned Modernism. Wyeth “was also a vocal patriot, which… dovetailed with a general sense that his art evoked a mythic rural past embedded in the American psyche,” wrote Michael Kimmelman for the NY Times.

Wyeth painted his family and friends as well as the Pennsylvania and Maine landscapes that surrounded him. When the bohemian artist lifestyle became trendy, Wyeth rebelled by exhibiting the more traditional behavior of the Regionalists. A 1963 journalist described his work: “In today’s scrambled-egg school of art, Wyeth stands out as a wild-eyed radical. For the people he paints wear their noses in the usual place, and the weathered barns and bare-limbed trees in his starkly simple landscapes are more real than reality.”

In explaining the meaning behind his work, Wyeth also describes the beautifully mysterious qualities in many Regionalist landscapes and portraits. “Let’s be sensible about this. I put a lot of things into my work which are very personal to me. So how can the public feel these things? I think most people get to my work through the back door. They’re attracted by the realism and they sense the emotion and the abstraction — and eventually, I hope, they get their own powerful emotion.”