Some of Grant Wood’s most well-known paintings depict Midwesterners wielding metal tools, from plows to garden hoes to, of course, pitchforks. Less known is that Wood worked with metal himself. As a child, he served as an apprentice at a Cedar Rapids metal shop, and was later commissioned by a number of local homeowners and businesses to create metal artwork; one client, for instance, tasked Wood with creating corn-themed hotel fixtures.
Grant Wood’s metalwork — including a corny chandelier — will be among dozens of rarely seen Wood pieces featured in the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art’s newest exhibit, Grant Wood Revealed, open now through Sept. 5, 2021. The exhibit is part of the museum’s year-long celebration of Iowa’s 175th anniversary. (President James K. Polk signed Iowa statehood into law on Dec. 28, 1846.)
Rural life, particularly in Iowa, was a seemingly endless source of inspiration for Grant Wood (1891-1942), a longtime Cedar Rapidian, University of Iowa art professor and lifelong Iowan (despite spending much of the ’20s traveling Europe). As one of the most famous artists in American history and certainly Iowa history, it’s no surprise that the CRMA would become a collector of Wood’s works and maintain a permanent Grant Wood gallery. But Grant Wood Revealed marks a departure from their typical Wood offerings, according to the museum.
In a press release, CRMA Executive Director Sean Ulmer said the exhibit will showcase a “different side of an artist everyone thinks they know.”
“While American Gothic is the most famous American painting, Wood created it at the age of 39,” he said. “Grant Wood Revealed shares how Grant Wood evolved as an artist, from his childhood drawings — already quite sophisticated — to drawings for his high school yearbook, from early explorations in Impressionism to his impactful series of portraits of the later 1920s, from his initial forays into metalwork to a commission for the J. G. Cherry company.”
The J.G. Cherry Company — which worked out of the historic Cherry Building in Cedar Rapids’ NewBo District for about 25 years — was depicted in a series of paintings by Wood in 1925. One of these pieces, The Coil Welder, will be on display as part of the new exhibit, which is largely focused on works created prior to 1930, when his fame and notoriety as a painter took off. This period of success was cut short when Wood died from pancreatic cancer in 1942.
Another piece called Firescreen Ornament represents the pre-American Gothic point in Wood’s career (roughly 1920 to 1930) in which he was a popular contractor among locals looking to spruce up their homes, specifically residents of Linden Drive in Cedar Rapids.
“Some of the decorative commissions he received during this time: a folding screen, fireplace andirons, painted lunettes and more,” CRMA explained in a Facebook post. “In these projects, he demonstrated an inclination to borrow from many artistic sources, including organic vegetal forms, Victorian florals and Art Deco designs.”
More than one-third of CRMA’s nearly 300-piece Wood collection — the largest in the world — will be featured in Grant Wood Revealed.
“This exhibition exposes Wood’s ever-inquisitive mind and the works included — some from the Museum’s own extensive collection as well as several key loans from private collectors — share the steps in this artist’s fruitful but all-too-short career,” Ulman wrote.
The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, 12-4 p.m., with special hours Thursday (12-8 p.m.) and Saturday (10 a.m.-4 p.m.). Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and college students, $4 for children aged 6 to 18 and free for kids 5 and under. Face coverings are required by the museum and the mask mandates in Cedar Rapids and Linn County. Masks are available for purchase at the museum.
If you want even more Wood-iness while at the museum, there are currently three other exhibitions dedicated to his work: Grant Wood: From Farm Boy to American Icon, Americans in Paris: Grant Wood and Marvin Cone’s 1920 Trip to Paris and Seriously Funny: American Gothic Parodies.