Iowa’s Grant Wood

I’ve always enjoyed Grant Wood’s artwork, but was reminded of it again with my immersion into Iowa during the Great Depression. Wood’s art is compelling and whimsical at the same time.

This children’s book is a nice overview of of his growing-up years, how his gift was developed, and how he was received as an artist in his own time.

In the back is a section about “Drawing and Painting like Grant Wood,” leading to a handsome chicken. Those iconic chickens were a recurring theme in so much of his art.

You can tell that dinner is at noon because of the shadows under the chickens! This is the left side of a delightful long painting of threshers having dinner in a farm kitchen. My mother loved it, so we framed a print of it for her, which my sister now enjoys in her kitchen.

Grant Wood’s work coincided with the Great Depression. I was interested in the designs he did for public murals, such as the ones in the library at Iowa State College (now University) at Ames, Iowa. He was state director of the Public Works of Art Project, an agency of the federal government to put artists to work. Remarkably, Wood donated his time for the project.

Eight staircase mural panels were painted in 1934, and were designed to reflect the different subjects taught at the land-grant college. Wood donated his services, but fourteen artists painted the murals. They used an old swimming pool at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, where Wood was an associate professors, as a studio.

The murals are still an attraction in the Iowa State University Library.

This book, compiled by Joan Liffring-Zug, has many photos of Grant Wood’s work in color, stories behind the scenes, and quote by people who knew and work with Iowa’s favorite artist in bib overalls.

11 comments

  1. I worked my way through Iowa State by working at the Iowa State Library. Those murals are a treasure and one I enjoyed seeing daily. So life size and and wonderfully done.
    ISU 1958-1962

    • I’ve only seen them once. Aren’t you amazed that they were actually painted at the U. of Iowa in an old swimming pool? I worked my way through SCI in the college library, but it was the brand new Donald O. Rod Library, so no historic murals.

  2. I have enjoyed Wood’s work over the years. Thanks for sharing that dinner for the threshers image. My grandmother had to prepare dinner for the threshing crews in the early 1930s in South Dakota.

    • It’s from one end of a larger painting that’s probably my favorite. The details of the seating, overalls, kitchen on the other end, wallpaper, even the round covering in the wall where the stovepipe fits during the winter.

  3. I’m only familiar with “American Gothic.” I need to check out more of Wood’s work! I was very relieved to read that the murals in the Iowa State University Library have been preserved. So much public art from the WPA has been lost in the name of progress.

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