Following Grant Wood

Grant Wood Country sign in Stone City, Iowa

Once my attention was truly piqued concerning Grant Wood I wanted to go to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Although Grant Wood spent his first years growing up on a farm in Anamosa (a short distance from Stone City), his mother moved them to Cedar Rapids when his father died suddenly. It is in Cedar Rapids that the largest collection of Grant Wood’s paintings can be found, as well as his studio. At this point it all became a “must see”.

"Stone City" Grant Wood

It was interesting to learn that he had begun as an Impressionist painter, but considering the time period, it shouldn’t be surprising – (February 13, 1891 – February 12, 1942). He did go to Paris to study which again leads to an Impressionist leaning. But that was early on in his art career. It was after a trip to Germany that he began to develop his own style. The more tightly controlled highly stylized work that he is best known for was directly influenced by German artists. It was however, when Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” won third place prize at the Art Institute of Chicago, that his career took off. Also, the Art Institute of Chicago bought the painting from him for $300 in 1930. Wood had close ties to the Art Institute as both a student and as a visitor.

Grant Wood's Studio
Grant Wood's Studio in Cedar Rapids

Which brings me back to my journey. First seeing “American Gothic” in Chicago and then finding myself in Stone City painting. Then on a pilgrimage to Cedar Rapids to see his paintings at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art and then his studio. He lived in his studio with his mother and sister Nan. It was a small space but very efficiently used, something to think about in the world of downsizing. Grant Wood was also well known for the many murals he painted throughout the public buildings in Iowa as part of the WPA during the Depression. With many accomplishments, including teaching at the University of Iowa, Grant Wood died at age 51 in Iowa City.

Having been taken with the beauty of the rolling hills of Iowa when first we arrived, I loved seeing Grant Wood’s landscape paintings. He captured the landscape beautifully and uniquely. Being able to see the transformation of his art and the landscape he painted was a treat. I wished I’d had more time to stay and paint there but time pushed us on and all I had to go on was a hard drive full of pictures when we returned home.

St. Joseph Catholic Church, Stone City, Iowa
In doing some research on the church I found out it was St. Joseph Catholic Church and it was built in 1913. The stone was donated by the quarry businesses as well as the workman who built it. It is in the U.S. Register of Historic Places. The first mass was said in 1914.

Stone City was a favorite spot so when we got home, I started looking at those pictures for a painting. The stone church we saw was particularly striking. I had a lot of pictures of it. One thing popped into my head as I was taking pictures, the waitress at the General Store Restaurant, around the corner had spoken of the beauty but said I could leave out the quarry. At first I thought she was right, until I thought about it some more. Having the quarry where the stones were cut for the church in the background struck me as a more telling picture. And then I thought of Grant Wood’s paintings, the way he portrayed a whole town or farm or story with his paintings. That’s when I knew what to paint, not just the church, but the quarry, a couple of houses. the general store, the rolling hills, and the winding road. Thank you Grant Wood.

5 thoughts on “Following Grant Wood

  1. Thanks for the fresh perspective on Grant Wood. I wish I had the following information for you BEFORE you went to Iowa, but here is where Rose Frantzen hangs out now: Maquoketa, IA. Don’t know if that is anywhere near Iowa City. Ok, you probably forgot–Rose is the artist who set out to paint a portrait of every resident in Maquoketa, and the resulting collection was shown at the National Portrait Gallery in D.C. The portraits, each done in a half a day, are fabulous. She has a website where you can check them out. http://www.oldcityhallgallery.com/

    1. I did look her up before we left but there just wasn’t time. I think we’ll be going back there again at some point so I’ll keep her in mind.

  2. I have been reading about Grant Woods lately too. I thought the same thing, not surprising some early work looked impressionistic. I can’t help thinking it is a good thing not all artists moved to New York where there seems to be some sweep into a likeness of work for some. His paintings truly remind me of the Midwest and our roots there. Thanks for this wonderful post.

  3. Sure glad I got to see Rick at the fourty year reunion and talk to him, seemed like a great guy.
    Jeff Hughes

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