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SIMON I want Graeme Wood country record of July 1978. Will there was gentle. Tonight. Well those are two ground country grand
would spent the first years of his life surrounded by these hills that roll beside the wops of Penticton River near Anna most of these hills and the fields farms and families of rural eastern Iowa cast very deep impressions on his young mind and where to find their way into works of art that became internationally famous. And though in his lifetime he would frequent the great art capitals of the world and his work would be acclaimed by art critics and sought by collectors everywhere. His heart was always here in these Iowa hills and it would be the images of the land and the people of the Midwest that grand would would champion and preserve in his art. Tonight we're going to see many of the paintings that brought fame to Grant Wood and to Iowa. And we'll visit with people who knew this quiet friendly humorous man whose works of art adorn the walls of many I will homes today. I will carry the worker grant which don't have to go here
and building the Cedar Rapids center the largest collection of Brantford are in the world. In 1973 the Turner family of Cedar Rapids donated to the city's art center a collection of Grant Woods art that had been acquired over 50 years beginning when David Turner a Cedar Rapids mortician had served as one of Grant Wood's patrons. Among the works is this portrait of David's father Cedar Rapids pioneer John B Turner. This remarkable collection was given so that anyone and everyone could share in the joy and perhaps study the work of Grant would it even gives us the opportunity to see the genius of the very small boy living in Cedar Rapids. His family was of old Quaker stock who came from Virginia to Iowa after the Civil War. Grandfather father before him. Farm near an emotion that Francis died when Grant was 10 and so had he would move two or
three sons and baby daughter to Cedar Rapids at the turn of the century Cedar Rapids was changing from the small farming town to a city with industry. However young Grant wasn't paying much attention to that his time was occupied helping his family make ends meet and creating work such as bees. He later said. It is natural for children to draw as it is for them to breathe. I was bashful a child as ever lived. I could not speak a piece at the Sunday school entertainment or sing a song at the school assembly but I was in longing in a painting and my mother understood and encouraged me. Everyone should experience this joy of creation. Before I came to the arts I had not paid all that much attention to my violin interests so that I was abstract and contemporary approach to painting and I was that attracted to
the valley. However you can't work in this place and you know walk around the largest collection of ground wood without being affected by it. And without hearing all the stories about him constantly. So I've I've come to know him as an individual and as a man and a painter and by seeing all the original works over quite a long period of time I really have gained a new appreciation of him. And. I take a position. That. I'm not sure anyone else as I think he really was an abstract painter and didn't know it. I think he lived longer he would have evolved. Out of the strict. Reference to his naturalistic subject matter. And probably evolved into really being quite an abstract painter he just didn't have the time to get there. And so my interest has really been a rouse by
seeing a great deal of abstraction in his paintings. And so it was new meaning for me. You have worked here among the paintings immersed yourself in them. How do you feel about him. As a man. Well I think that having heard all the stories he was a strongly sensitive person. And. I really agree with his philosophy of teaching as an example. He said The important thing when working with a student was to develop the student as a as a person as a sensitive expressive person. And that the techniques the mechanical techniques will develop later as need be. And that that's exactly my philosophy. And so I have great respect for him as a teacher. I've come to respect his work a great deal. He had a very witty sense of humor and I really I'm sorry that I didn't get to know and I think he would've been a good one.
How do you relate to the people in Cedar Rapids. You know as far as I can tell people liked him. I think sometimes he might've been misunderstood because. I think that he wasn't he wasn't one that. Necessarily fit into the regular pattern of nine to five work days. Was he in any way eccentric. I don't think so particularly. He enjoyed wearing overalls because they were they said the work that he was doing that shocked everybody. He was eccentric to the extent that when he was teaching in the public schools sometimes. Francis Prescott the principal would have to call him and say you know you're an hour late for school and he'd have to shuffle over there. But otherwise I think he really was was really a typical artist in that he was very dedicated to what he was doing he knew what he was doing and set about doing that. Without too much concern as to whether other people liked it or. You know. Was
concerned about the approach. After graduating from old Washington High School in Cedar Rapids class of 1910 he headed out to pursue a career in art and your studies were cut short by lack of money. In one thousand eighteen he was inducted into the army shortly before the armistice and spent his time there painting camouflage and pictures of fellow doughboys for 25 cents. Officers for a dollar. He returned to Cedar Rapids after the war to paint and to teach his good friend Miss Francis Prescot principal of McKinley High School hired him to teach art. Though he had never graduated from college or passed the test for teacher certification it was a popular and enthusiastic instructor. Today Cedar Rapids honors the memory of the teacher Grant Wood with Grant Wood room at McKinley. Grant Wood Elementary School dedicated in 1954. And a whole area education agency
is named for the teacher who was never quite official. During the 1990s Grant took four trips to Europe. It was expected that any serious artist would study with the Impressionists. Grant was in his mid thirties by that time in the French countryside to capture the continent canvas. Viewing these paintings now it is hard to imagine they are done by Grant would certainly grant. Grant was yet to come. In 1924 grant his mother and sister Nan moved into number five. Turner alley it was a carriage house that served as a garage for David Turner's mortuary in 1976. Nan wood Graham now of Riverside California visited number five Turner Alley which is now on the national register of historic sites. And she had these recollections of her brother.
Back and for. The time. It was. Kind of her long. Forgotten which one. Anyone. Getting over a crime. By. Having my. Wife. And I'm. Pretty much brighter. With Grant Woods and loving mother.
Is becoming a vehicle for expressing the spirit of the Midway author William Shirer a boyhood friend said. Her triumph over poverty and hardship not be defeated by life. The building of this stained glass window which Grant Wood went to Munich to supervise brought about the turning point in his art in 1927. Grant Wood received a commission to design a 20 by 24 foot stained glass window for the Veterans Memorial Building. The subject of the window is a symbolic goddess of mercy. Towering over six uniformed soldiers. When wood arrived in Germany he was not pleased with the way German Craftsman were transforming its soldiers into medieval Saints. So he learned the technique himself of painting glass and completed the figures as he had originally conceived them.
On this final trip to Europe Grant would adopted a style of design and logic in his work that would flourish in the upcoming decade of the 30s. Two art students it reflects exposure to Flemish and German Gothic paintings. Do you and me. It's what we know as distinctly. Grant Wood in 1929 the stock market crashed. But the bright star of Grant Wood was rising. That star burst on the national scene at the annual exhibition of American paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago. The purchase Award that year went to American Gothic. It was a painting of a small town resident and his daughter not a farmer and wife as most of thought it to be. He chose his sister Nan and his dentist Dr. Byron McKee as a model. He put the two Stern figures in front of a house that granted happened on to an elder in Iowa not
far from the tunnel. He thought it ironic that a modest Iowa House would have a gothic window. Perhaps no has achieved the notoriety that American got tickets. It's the universal stereotype of the plain Puritan virtue of Midwestern farm folk. Nan wood Graham has said she wouldn't have missed the glory of posing for American Gothic Dr. McKee said of Grant's instructions. He told me that he wanted to face showing integrity from a man with a sense of humor. American Gothic has been the property of the Art Institute of Chicago ever since. The theme of American Gothic however has become the property of everyone else. Perhaps no American TV has been as recognize. Santa plagiarized. As American Gothic. Grant so ruled the American Gothic to the American audience or to the
Art Institute in Chicago and that was quite an event for a Cedar Rapids person to sell one of his paintings to the Art Institute and so we is some of his friends thought it would be a good idea to have a party to celebrate. So we had brought the picture and some others from the Art Institute and had this party and a grant made him a little speech that night telling about how he had gone to Europe and studied art. And then he had been disillusioned and decided that the thing that he really knew the best was the Midwest and he decided he was going to come back and paint pictures here. And he said that art should be indigenous. You should always see beauty in the things around you and to do those things and use them. And as we at that point were thinking about building a new house. And I said to him that evening
do you think there is an Iowa architecture. Oh yes he said oh yes now I have the I was really said. It's it's a very simple thing but he said I'd like to show it to you he said let's go and see it. So we we made many trips out looking for houses that he knew were early 1840 to 1860. And most of them were made out of stone city stone and. So it with that was the beginning of it. And so we just fitted in with our house plans and used the details that he showed us. Grant was so full of ideas that he would just lay out all kinds of ideas and all you had to do was to pick the one that suited you. And that was he was he had lots of ideas what would you say his greatest you know and says Were this how.
To have things nice and simple and useful. And real I think that's that's probably their right. Those are the right words. What you remember about Ron Wood as a person and a friend he was he had a wonderful sense of humor and he was so down to earth about things and very. Well I I guess I said he was a very careful work when he wanted things to be just right. And when it was right it was right and he would keep working for perfection. He lives it. He didn't do things in a hurry. And he was always proud of it when it
worked right. The same year that American Gothic won its prize in Chicago. Stone City won the landscape prize of the art salon of the Iowa State Fair. When it was exhibited in Des Moines. Grant saw an old farmer standing in front of it and he reported the farmer would get up close to the picture and Speck back away shaking his head. I thought if I went up and stood by him he would say something about painting. Sure enough he did. Pretty soon he shook his head vigorously and said I wouldn't give thirty five cents an acre for that land. No doubt the farmer had some thoughts about Grant's trees as well. I didn't voice the meticulous perfectly sculpted trees or trademarks of many of Grant Woods landscapes. He was also very fond of chickens. Grant created this chicken when he was only 10. Grant my chicken this painting appraisal hangs in the Carnegie stout
library in Dubuque. And in this painting Grant uses a black young rooster. Perhaps to show his own attitude about the trials of young manhood the 30s were to be a prolific decade for Grant Wood. And in 1932 as he moved to the forefront of American Art Grant decided to establish an art colony in his beloved stone city. There was a large mansion in stone city and it was there for two summers that over 50 students gathered to spend their summer painting learning and earning their keep and in some cases living in ice wagons right on the grounds. One of
the youngest to attend was Bob Provost who today is an ironworker sign painter and artist from Clinton. When the colony was first announced in the newspapers. The headlines said fools rush in where angels fear to tread because the start in our colony first in the Middle West which had never been law before. Then they started in the middle of the Depression. Everything said that they could not possibly be a success. But just like everything else a grat would get. It was a success because we had people in all its pages of art. Some of us that were. Pretty crude in our work we wanted to learn more about it. We felt the grappled was a man that could date just. Yet we looked at others like Byron Boyd who is already one of the great artists as a country and one of the finest architects and this part of the country. And he was there as a steward and because he also knew that Grant would could teach him that some of the things that he had been striving for. And there was a head of the art department lady was
that was head of the art department at Grinnell College. Was there as a student and she was a fine artist but we could all learn so much from Grant Wood and it was Grant Wood himself that really made that thing a success because and everyone that knew Grant would want to know more about him and especially under him was something that was beyond most of our wildest dreams. That opportunity was a gift from heaven. The thing that always impresses me most is his the loss of free rent would have a way of leading everyone to the things that one of them to do and the development of that one person. When we first got to the art colony he would not accept any of us in a class until we had one out and painted a picture. Then he said we're developing you as an artist. He said I don't care what the quality is of that first picture I'm not judging that. But I want to know how to develop each person as an artist. He said We're not here to create
more graphic words though I often wish that we could. But I think that only God can do. But Grant Wood was such that he developed each one in their own style. And I think that that is one of the things right now that is going to bring art and music and all of the culture of America right back to where it belongs again. When the ark colony closed in one thousand thirty four Grant headed to the University of Iowa to serve as an associate professor of art at the Art School. By then he was a national figure and it was not uncommon for other artists and writers of equal fame to drop by and visit Grant when they came to I was city a participant in national lecture tours himself. Grant had established the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to speakers to provide a safe haven for his friends when they visited. Here he poses with fellow member of the society Missouri painter Thomas Hart Benton Grant was also made
director of the Federal Public Works art project which put food in the mouths of hungry artists and yielded these murals from the I was State University Library in Ames under Grant Wood's guidance. The artist brought to life the words of Daniel Webster when Tilly begins other arts follow. At age 42. Grant would married Sarah Maxon and set about restoring this civil war mansion on East CT street and I was city. However the marriage ended after just a few years apart Reinard was a graduate student at the University of Iowa when he became Wood's personal secretary until Grant Wood died of liver cancer at the age of 52. He was of course a showman. Here this sense of humor in this son that he like to have was always there and sometimes it got
in the way of people understanding the seriousness of his art for example. I've heard him say many times that I get most of my ideas when I'm doing something manual like milking a cow. A list first appeared in The New Orleans paper and interview and it came out. I get all my ideas for painting when I'm milking a cow which of course does makes a difference it makes in a different interpretation and this makes people defensive as to his or to the real seriousness of his artistic intent. I think his greatness as an artist was his unique vision of American life. And once in a long while an artist will come along who can sum up in a single statement.
The character of a whole nation and the you know the the strengths and weaknesses and the foibles and the joys and sorrows of the whole nation and one amazing statement. And he was this kind of man the creator of American Gothic. He felt that other regions of the country in other regions of the country the land was obscured by rubble and by vegetation so that you didn't get this overwhelming sense of the ground itself. But in Iowa it seems that the naked land asserts itself over everything that is laid upon it. And it's this tremendous feeling of the land. And I must say this is reflected in his landscapes and I think I've never run across anybody who had a sense of place and of belonging and of ruts quite like he did just one last question.
Assignment Iowa Classics
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Grant Wood Country
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Iowa Public Television
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Iowa Public Television (Johnston, Iowa)
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Interviewer: Mary Jane Odell [Chin]
Producing Organization: Iowa Public Television
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Iowa Public Television
Identifier: 24F33 (Old Tape Number)
Format: U-matic
Generation: Master
Duration: 00:27:57
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Chicago: “Assignment Iowa Classics; 403; Grant Wood Country,” 1978-07-13, Iowa Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 21, 2022,
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