Thursday, March 17, 2011

An Eldon Artist?

As I continue researching connections between Grant Wood and today’s artists, I come across more and more notable artists with ties specifically to southeast Iowa and Eldon. A few weeks ago one community member brought to my attention a painter named John Mulvany.

John Mulvany was born in Ireland in the1840s and moved to the US with his family during the following decade. His history is not well documented (most sources even disagree about his birth year, which doesn’t bode well for information about the life that followed), so I’ve pieced together what I can from correspondence, newspaper clippings, and online resources.

Mulvany studied at the Academy of Munich and returned to the US to begin his career as an artist. He progressed to painting what was considered the highest level of subject matter, historical group portraiture. Mulvany traveled and lived around the Midwest. Much of his work depicted scenes from the Civil War and from Irish history. Mulvany’s most famous painting is Custer’s Last Rally, completed in 1981 at an astonishing size—11 x 20 feet! In order to accurately depict the scene, the artist spent two years painting and researching at the battlefield and on Souix reservations. See a lithograph of the painting here (click on the image to enlarge it for a better view).

John Mulvany’s ancestors, also originally from Ireland, kept a saloon in Eldon until the Temperance Movement. Some family members lived in Ottumwa. His painting titled Trial of a Horse Thief is of particular interest to those living in our area. The preliminary painting is owned by the Szymanski Gallery in Pasadena, California. A booklet describing the piece was printed by the gallery in 1978 and named each of the characters in the painting. Mulvany did not make up this dramatic scene—he painted a specific trial at a specific location, including portraits of key personalities. According to the gallery, the trial took place in Kansas.

Despite the gallery’s confidence in naming the characters in the artwork, the Kansas State Historical Society is unable to verify the information in the booklet. Correspondence in 1987 between AGHC contributor Helen Glasson and Anne Weber-Scobie, a descendant of John Mulvany, suggests the trial may have taken place in Iowa. Mulvany's connections here, maybe the trial even took place in Eldon! (Take a second look at the painting—recognize anyone you know?) Weber-Scobie is an artist with an interest in family history. And why not, with relatives like the successful John Mulvany?

I hope to see you this weekend at the American Gothic House Center’s spring sale (most items 10% off, some up to 50% off!) and at the art and poetry exhibition inside the American Gothic House!

Molly Moser
American Gothic House Center

Don’t forget to sign up for the American Gothic House Center’s annual bus trip to discover Grant Wood country! You can view a detailed itinerary of the trip on our website. The itinerary has links to all the collections we’ll be visiting. Call me at 641.652.3352, or respond to this email to e collections we’ll be visiting. Call me at 641.652.3352, or respond to this email to reserve your seat!

The American Gothic House Center strives to become financially independent through gift shop revenue, sponsorships, and by establishing an endowment fund. Funds raised in this campaign will be used to match the Iowa Cultural Trust Endowment Challenge Grant and will become endowment funds to support the Center's annual operations. As a subscriber to the weekly newsletter, you have already shown support for the American Gothic House Center. I invite you to strengthen your role in the valuable experience we provide the community by making a contribution to our fund drive. Click here to give your tax deductible gift, or head to our website for more information.

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