Thursday, March 14, 2013

U of I revives art colony

Even a casual student of Grant Wood is familiar with the Stone City Art Colony project in the summers of 1932 and 33. It was Wood’s, along with Edward Rowan, dream to bring artists together to learn from established artists, compare notes and develop new works of art in the Regionalism style. The colony only lasted two years but its legacy has survived for decades. It still is considered a ground-breaking endeavor in the art world.

The University of Iowa School of Art and Art History is currently reviving Wood and Rowan’s dream with the creation of the Grant Wood Colony, a place where mid-career and emerging artists can work, live, teach and practice their art in an academic environment. It is becoming one of the most sought-after positions in the world of promising artists.

The idea for the art colony grew from Iowa City attorney Jim Hayes, who has lived in the house Grant Wood occupied from 1935 until his death seven years later. Hayes bought other properties in the neighborhood and approached the U of I about a neighborhood art colony in the area of Wood’s house, of which Hayes has decided to deed to the university upon his death.

One thing led to another and currently the colony consists of one house owned by the university and another house rented by U of I, both in close proximately to Wood’s Iowa City home, with the intention to expand as time progresses. Eventually Wood’s home will be the epicenter of the colony and reserved for visiting guests and meeting space. But that is down the road.

Saffron Henke, assistant director of the Grant Wood Colony, explained where the art colony currently stands.

“Currently we have two fellowships, one in painting and one in printmaking. There is hope there will be another fellow added next year,” she said.

Saffron explained these fellowships are “prestigious” in part due to the close association with Wood. But there are many others reasons the fellowships are in demand.  Each fellowship comes with furnished housing, a private studio, an opportunity to teach at the university, a salary and, of course, the distinction of being aligned with the University of Iowa School of Art and Art History. In the emerging art world, given the number of applications received, this is evidently a good deal.

“This year we will receive 225 applications for two positions,” Henke said. “Similar programs at other universities may have 50 applicants.” She added that applications for the Grant Wood Colony fellowships come from all over the United States and the world.

Besides the obvious perks the fellowships offer and the prestige associated with Grant Wood and the University of Iowa Art School, Henke said there is another reason the fellowships are sought, as in the art world there has been a renewed scholarly interest in Wood, due, in part, by the re-establishment of Regionalism and a Wood biography, “Grant Wood: A Life,” by R. Tripp Evans, that has garnered much attention.

Although Regionalism is embraced at the art colony, it shouldn’t be confused with artists attempting to recreate Grant Wood’s style, Henke said. Like Wood’s form of Regionalism it is an effort to take a closer look at the immediate world, only not defined the way Wood and other Regionalism artists defined it in the early 20th Century. “It is a return to finding what is going on closer to home,” she said.

Henke is not a life-long Wood scholar, as she only began studying Wood when she took the assistant director’s position at the colony two years ago. Since that time, however, she has “immersed” herself in Wood to gain clearer insight into the man and his art. She said working at the art colony “feels intently wonderful” and has hopes the colony grows according to plan.

Future plans include the colony having up to seven fellows in various disciplines to include performers, writers and humanists. The art colony area (all house in the neighborhood of Grant Wood’s home now occupied by Hayes) will expand to a total of four houses along with Wood’s home. And there will be sidewalks and gardens linking the houses together creating a place where artists learn from established artists, compare notes and develop new works of art in the Regionalism style.

Sounds a lot like Stone City.

For more information on the Grant Wood Art Colony or to donate to the project, contact Saffron Henke at

Brian Chambers
Media Coordinator
American Gothic House Center

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