Grant Wood works from the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art and Coe College head to New York’s Whitney Museum

Grant Wood Special Reception

Coe College (Stewart Memorial Library) — Tuesday, Dec. 19 at 5 p.m.

Grant Wood’s “Farmer with Pigs and Corn” (L) and “Farmer’s Wife with Chickens” from the Coe College Permanent Art Collection. Artwork © Figge Art Museum, Successors to the Estate of Nan Wood Graham. — photos by Mark Tade, 2005

Thirty Grant Wood pieces, three from Coe College and 27 from the Cedar Rapids Art Museum, will journey to New York City for an exhibition in the Whitney Museum of American Art, where they will hang along with some of Wood’s other works, including the iconic “American Gothic.”

The exhibition, “Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables,” will run from March 2 through June 10.

Kate Kunau, Cedar Rapids Art Museum’s associate curator, said the museum, which has the world’s largest collection of Wood’s work, was first contacted back in 2015 about the retrospective. The works traveling to the Whitney include some of the museum’s heaviest hitters like “Young Corn” and “Woman with Plants,” as well as some of Wood’s lesser-known works, such as charcoal studies, early impressionistic pieces and silver work, Kunau said.

“It’s a real labor of love,” Kunau said. “It’s a lot of work to get 27 pieces ready to go to the Whitney.”

Those preparations include getting over 20 new crates specially made in Chicago and figuring out how to fill the spaces in the Cedar Rapids museum where seven of the works are usually displayed, which will give visitors a chance to see pieces that are not usually on display.

The three Coe pieces joining the exhibition are part of a seven-piece mural set painted in 1932 and collectively called “The Fruits of Iowa,” including “Boy Milking Cow,” “Farmer with Pigs and Corn” and “Farmer’s Wife with Chickens.”

“We feel really fortunate that we can send them off where they will have a larger audience, a wider audience. We feel really fortunate that the Whitney will be including them in the exhibition,” said Ranelle Knight-Lueth, assistant professor of art history and director of galleries and collections at Coe College.

The pieces were originally commissioned by Eugene C. Eppley for the coffee shop in his Cedar Rapids hotel. In 1956, the murals were loaned to Coe, and in 1976 they were donated by the Eppley Foundation. They are currently on display in the Perrine Gallery of the Stewart Memorial Library.

“These were part of a larger mural work that he painted, but they are movable murals,” Knight-Lueth said. “So people get to see his mural works in a more intimate, close-up setting.”

In total, the college has 14 works of art by Grant Wood, 12 of which are on display.

The college will host a reception on Tuesday, Dec. 19 in the Perrine Gallery, where Knight-Lueth and Kunauwill talk about the artwork, the process through which the works were selected and how arrangements were made with the Whitney Museum to loan out the pieces.

Although Wood did travel and study in Europe, he lived and worked in Cedar Rapids for most of his life and taught at the University of Iowa from 1935 to 1940.

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“It is one of those small-town boy makes good sort of stories,” Knight-Lueth said. “He, along with a couple of other artists, sort of defined a really important period in American art: Regionalism. He brought something to American art that was new and fresh, but he was looking back to a simpler time. And he does that with a bit of wit, satire and a bit of idealism.”

Kunau said that in addition to being “far and away Iowa’s best known artist,” Grant Wood also changed how American art and artists were viewed.

“Before, you had to go to the east coast, to Europe,” she said. “Those were the places you needed to be and the scenes you needed to paint to be considered a real artist. Grant Wood stayed in Iowa. His paintings dramatize the Midwest landscape and the Midwestern people. It says that this is as important as anything in Europe, as worthy of artistic merit as anything else. To me that is one of Grant Wood’s most important contributions to the art world.”

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