Thursday, April 5, 2012

Baseball During the Grant Wood Era

In my mind Grant Wood and baseball go together like peas and carrots…and I’m not just saying that because I’m distracted by the fact that today is Opening Day for my beloved Chicago Cubs. Because Opening Day is my favorite day of the year I hope you don’t mind my tangent in today’s post!

Many of Grant Wood’s works invoke memories of simpler times gone by. Wood used to say that he drew ideas for his paintings reminiscing from his time living on the family farm when he was a child. When visitors stop by they often tell me stories from their childhoods while pointing out an element from one of Wood’s prints hanging on the wall. Some of the gentlemen even inspect the pitchforks we use as props to see if they have the appropriate credentials (initials scraped into the wood near the top of the handle).

Baseball has the same effect on many people. Each year Opening Day causes people to recollect on days gone by—your first time at a major league game, that great hit that won you the ballgame…maybe even the time you caught a foul ball in the stands (something that I STILL haven’t accomplished).

And I can say after working here for a year now, that in the minds of tourists, nothing says “Iowa” more than Grant Wood and baseball. All summer long families and retirees travelling the countryside have these two things on their mind—the American Gothic House and the Field of Dreams. Countless visitors make these two stops of part of their Iowa “bucket list”.

Perhaps baseball wasn’t really Grant Wood’s idea of a good time, but by the time Grant Wood was an up-and-coming artist baseball was Iowa’s (and America’s) pastime. “The WPA Guide to 1930s Iowa” discusses the popularity of baseball at the time, noting its rise in popularity and the change from being an “informal Sunday afternoon game in the back pasture” to a “highly commercialized sport”. Shops in towns across Iowa would even close during home games so everyone could go down to the ball diamond.

And now, for anyone who is interested, a few fun baseball facts during the Grant Wood era:

When Grant Wood was a child growing up in Cedar Rapids, so was Earl Whitehill. A native of Cedar Rapids (though just a couple of years younger than Wood), he went on to play 17 seasons of Major League Baseball—first for the Detroit Tigers in 1923, then the Indians, and then the Senators, and ended in 1940 with one season as a Chicago Cub.
In the same year as Grant Wood painted “American Gothic” Iowa made baseball history with the first ever professionally played night game. On May 2, 1930, a crowd of almost 12,000 watched the Des Moines Demons took on the Wichita Aviators (and won) at this historic event.
Also, a fun item to note is that from 1904-1932 the Cedar Rapids minor league team was called the Cedar Rapids Bunnies. They then had the more fierce sounding Cedar Rapids Raiders from 1934-1942. Maybe as a child Grant Wood even saw a Bunnies game or two!
And for anyone who is a fan of history and/or baseball, I stumbled across some footage of the University of Iowa baseball team from around the time that Grant Wood began teaching there!

Don't forget tomorrow is the last day to sign up for the Grant Wood Bus Trip!
Upcoming events:

April 14: Grant Wood Bus Trip

April 28: Spring Cleaning Day/New Volunteer Introduction

June 8-10: American Gothic Days

Art Contest

5K Run/Walk

Bike Ride

Holly Berg

American Gothic House Center

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