Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Where the tall corn grows

“Wood was painting what he longed for, an agrarian paradise where the land took care of her own before the machine came to torment her; further, this was an America without urban centers and thus free of the social complexities of mass unemployment, crowded conditions, factories and industry.”

    -  Going Back to Iowa: The World of Grant Wood
        University of Virginia American Studies Program

Sounds like paradise, doesn’t it? Many would agree; others not so much. A world without malls, convenience stores or McDonald’s? How would we survive? But there was a time when it was quite possible to survive, in fact thrive, without the amenities (and aggravations, I might add) that we have today.

It is obvious when viewing the works of Grant Wood that he lived in a dream world, a world where machinery wasn’t invented yet, smokestacks didn’t line the horizon and societal ills common today were nowhere to be found, and he painted this world in his landscapes.

This Sunday, an opportunity exists to gain a closer look into Wood’s world as Laural Ronk, director of the Bluffs Arts Council, and Dick Miller, chairman of the Bluffs Arts Council Corn Room Restoration Committee, will give a presentation at the Eldon Library Hall from 2 to 3 pm on the efforts to recover what is left of one of three Grant Wood murals.

To provide some history: In 1926 hotelier Eugene Eppley, commissioned Wood to paint four murals in dining rooms of his hotels in Sioux City, Waterloo, Cedar Rapids and Council Bluffs.

“Three of the murals were `corn murals' (one in each hotel). They were painted to fill the room. The corn murals were supposed to make viewers feel as if they were sitting in an Iowa field with tall stalks of corn, rolling hills and barns dotting the horizon. The mural is a typical example of the kinds of landscape visible in the surrounding countryside.”    - Art Talk

Two of the Corn Murals were in the Sioux City and Cedar Rapids hotels and are preserved in their entirety and on display in Sioux City Art Center and the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. The third, the mural in Council Bluffs at the Hotel Chieftain, wasn’t as lucky.

In 1970 when the hotel was in the process of being converted into apartments the new owners, upon being told the murals were unsalvageable, allowed anyone to come and take down the murals under the condition they were not sold and the pieces would be restored. Later research revealed segments of the mural were taken down and—for the most part—kept safe and, in some cases, restored.

One might ask why the mural segments, after all these years, are important as there are two other complete murals elsewhere in the state. An answer can be found in an entry concerning the murals from the Traditional Fine Arts Association.

“Grant Wood's Corn Room Mural is historically important because it shows that Wood was developing the ideas and approaches that would become Regionalism several years before he produced his first clearly-Regionalist works and achieved critical success with his invention: Woman with Plants (1929) and American Gothic (1930)... Wood's concerns with landscape, visible in the Corn Room Mural, remain a constant reference point for his Regionalist works: it appears as the background to Woman with Plants and in the famous house seen behind the couple in American Gothic.”

To preserve this history, in 2008 the Bluffs Arts Council began a campaign to raise funds to obtain the remaining pieces of Wood’s Corn Room Mural painted for the Hotel Chieftain and restore them for viewing. Thus far, 27 segments of the mural have been identified and the Bluffs Arts Council has obtained 11 of them, with several displayed in the lobby of the Pottawattamie Courthouse in Council Bluffs.

So this Sunday afternoon, for one hour, make a point to stop by the Library Hall and hear what Ronk and Miller have to say. After all, they are devoting their time and energy to preserve a piece of Grant Wood for future generations. Something that is very dear to anyone associated with the American Gothic House Center.

The presentation is sponsored by the American Gothic House Center and the Ottumwa Area Arts Council. Hope to see you Sunday.

Brian Chambers
Media Coordinator
American Gothic House Center

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. Thank you to all who have donated so far!
        Our Mission: Integrating the puzzle pieces of American Gothic
300 American Gothic St | Eldon, IA 52554 | 641-652-3352 |

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