The Grant Wood Art Colony (GWAC) will research and document the extensive and diverse practice of Regionalist artist Grant Wood (1891-1942) to present a comprehensive record and resource of his paintings, lithographs, drawings, decorative work in metal and wood, and domestic and public commissions.

Grant Wood’s American Gothic (1930, Art Institute of Chicago) is arguably the most famous work of American art. Despite a number of major museum exhibitions and books about Wood and his career, there is still no one place to learn the facts about his prodigious creative output. To address this challenge and preserve his legacy, the Grant Wood Catalogue Raisonné project aspires to document the diverse artistic practices of Regionalist artist Grant Wood (1891-1942) in a comprehensive and definitive record that will be accessible to scholars, museum professionals, art dealers, and the general public. Administered by the Grant Wood Art Colony (GWAC) at the University of Iowa, it will be the first catalogue raisonné of Wood’s paintings, prints, drawings, murals, decorative work in metal and wood, as well as his public and private commissions. Drawing on resources from museums and collectors across Iowa and the United States, and in partnership with multiple units of the University of Iowa, this project will establish an arts and humanities laboratory focused on the study of Iowa’s most famous artist.

In his time and since Grant Wood’s art has played an extraordinary role in helping Iowans, Midwesterners, and Americans more generally, better understand who we are and the values that shape us. That legacy is intertwined with the history of the School of Art and Art History at the University of Iowa, and the Grant Wood Catalogue Raisonné project will enhance that connection in many ways. During its creation the cataloguing process will be a resource for classes in art history, museum studies, database management, library science, and other fields, and an important training ground for students. As a model of the humanities-in-action for the public good, the completed catalogue will be a resilient resource for the academic community and the public more generally, linking the artist’s achievements to the University of Iowa in perpetuity.

Dr. Joni Kinsey, Professor of American Art History, University of Iowa. Member, Grant Wood Art Colony National Advisory Board

A catalogue raisonné is a comprehensive, illustrated database of an artist’s works. Contemporary catalogues raisonnés are cloud-based digital sites that can be readily updated with new information. In addition to being the definitive source for facts about Wood’s art, the database and public-facing, searchable website will also be a repository for scholarship and creative work about, or inspired by, Grant Wood: articles, videos, digital visualizations, and creative projects. Such an undertaking requires many hours of research and scholarship and entails significant costs, including: 

  • An experienced project manager
  • A graduate research assistant
  • An undergraduate intern
  • The subscription to the software platform specifically for creating a catalogue raisonné

Support will come from the Grant Wood Art Colony, grant writing, private philanthropy, as well as other departments at the University. Those interested in giving may do so by clicking here.

Grant Wood spent most of his life in eastern Iowa and taught at the University of Iowa for the last eight years of his life. In his work, he sought to communicate the spirit of the Midwest and, along with John Steuart Curry and Thomas Hart Benton, to make regional art about people and place. As a young artist, he traveled to France, Italy, and Germany, and to art programs in Minneapolis and Chicago. Prior to 1930 he was experimental and prolific, producing furniture, sculpture, murals, architectural and interior design, theatrical scenery, stained glass, decorative arts, prints, and many paintings. This early part of his career has received less scholarly attention and needs the most new research to document fully. In 1930, he painted American Gothic, marking a turning point toward his mature style. His best-known paintings, drawings and lithographs come from the last 12 years of his life and are well-documented in the existing scholarship.

Today the University of Iowa claims Grant Wood as an important part of its history and sees a digital catalogue raisonné as a vital contribution to Iowa’s history and culture, making the full range of his work available to everyone. 

What is the Grant Wood Catalogue Raisonné?

The Grant Wood Catalogue Raisonné will include all his known extant and lost works from his student days to the end of his career (roughly 1910-1942). Wood worked in a wide range of media beyond his paintings and the entire range of his creativity deserves to be better known. Collectors and auction houses, along with people who have inherited pieces, continue to come forward with works “by Grant Wood” to be reviewed, evaluated, and possibly added to the catalogue of his work, but there has been no repository or institution to collect all this information.

The Grant Wood Catalogue Raisonné will become the definitive resource on factual information about Wood’s works of art, their materials, and their histories. As published on the website, the digital platform will make Wood’s work widely available around the world and will include:

  • An online, up-to-date, and interactive catalogue of Grant Wood’s artistic work which will be monitored and regularly updated, including
    • A record of every object: materials, dimensions, title(s), date, exhibition history, provenance, bibliography, keywords, and, whenever possible, digitized images with metadata
    • A means to search Wood’s output by subject, media, date, exhibition, ownership, etc.
  • Ancillary resources including Wood’s signatures over his career, documentation of his handmade frames, and an annotated bibliography
  • Wood’s exhibition history, collections holding his work today, and bibliography of scholarship

Every catalogue raisonné project is a complex endeavor, requiring a dedicated staff over a number of years.  The small staff will focus much of their efforts on scholarship – seeking sources and evidence, working with experts to examine newly discovered pieces or those that raise questions, and tracking the ownership history (known as provenance). The project will be supported across the University of Iowa by colleagues in art history, the UI Stanley Museum of Art, library science, data science, art practice, and possibly even materials science in order to bring together Wood’s works and their histories. The University will also provide administrative support, insurance, and can indemnify the catalogue raisonné and provide liability coverage for staff and advisors.

The catalogue raisonné staff will work closely with the UI Libraries to support cataloguing, metadata, and digitization questions, website development, and technical implementations. As university partners, the UI Libraries is invested in providing long-term access and preservation for the catalogue raisonné, keeping the work available to future generations of students and scholars. Their Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio supports researchers with new forms of digital scholarship such as this, and Studio staff have been involved in the project from its inception. The UI Libraries is prepared to accession data and images from the catalogue raisonné into their digital archives, and their experience with metadata and systems interoperability will ensure that content is not lost to inevitable technology upgrades. The UI Libraries have already digitized Grant Wood’s scrapbooks owned by the Figge Art Museum; the scrapbooks can be found in the Iowa Digital Library and will be included in the catalogue raisonné.

The University of Iowa will house the public-facing website created from the database. As a catalogue and a repository for research and digital humanities projects, the site will reveal new and exciting insights into Wood’s work and the work of his contemporaries and followers. As a site for collection and research, bringing together a range of investigators, the Grant Wood Catalogue Raisonné will be a laboratory of Grant Wood studies and his links to the University.

Why is there no catalogue raisonné for Grant Wood?

As his career ended in 1942, Grant Wood and Regionalism fell into obscurity for thirty years, due, in part, to the rise of Abstract Expressionism. American art scholars only began to research and publish about Wood’s art in the 1970s and 1980s. Museums holding the largest collections of his work during that period, particularly the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art and the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, were in those days small local institutions, unable to tackle the scope and cost of a catalogue raisonné. Often an artist’s foundation or art dealer funds a catalogue raisonné in order preserve an artist’s legacy or to establish the parameters of that artist’s market. Grant Wood has neither a foundation nor a primary art dealer, but he now has the Grant Wood Art Colony and the University of Iowa to champion his work.

While catalogues raisonnés have existed for many years in printed form, they were laborious and expensive to produce before online databases. Cloud-based, digital tools have increased the development, efficiency, and availability of catalogues raisonnés. Often, they begin with a particular scholar or curator whose career centers on a specific artist. While Grant Wood has been the subject of intense study by a number of museums and art historians, none of them claim Wood as their ongoing focus. Although the GWAC will benefit from their scholarship and the collection records of museums, the staff will be building a comprehensive catalogue from scratch.

Happily, a number of museums with important collections of Grant Wood’s works have agreed to participate in the Grant Wood Catalogue Raisonné because of the reputation of the University of Iowa and of the Grant Wood Art Colony. These museums include the Stanley Museum of Art (University of Iowa), the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art (IA), the Figge Art Museum (Davenport, IA), the Dubuque Museum of Art (IA), the Muscatine Art Center (IA), the Des Moines Art Center (IA), and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art (Fort Worth, TX). Other important institutions such as the Smithsonian American Art Museum will be added to the list as the project is underway.

With this cooperation and today’s increased interest in and dependency upon catalogues raisonnés, now is the time to launch a Grant Wood Catalogue Raisonné. Recent publications of catalogues for Wood’s contemporaries Arthur Dove, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Edward Hopper, and major work underway for Thomas Hart Benton and Marsden Hartley mean, without a catalogue raisonné, Wood would go understudied once again jeopardizing the collective knowledge and legacy of one of Iowa’s most important artists.

Why the Grant Wood Art Colony?

The Grant Wood Catalogue Raisonné project will be administered at the Grant Wood Art Colony (GWAC), which is a unit within the University of Iowa Provost’s Office of Community Engagement. Grant Wood taught at the University of Iowa from 1934 until his death in 1942 and lived in a beautiful home a mile from campus that he restored and developed as another creative outlet. This house, which Wood called “1142,” is now owned by Jim Hayes, an attorney and champion of Grant Wood, who had the vision to create the Grant Wood Art Colony to honor the artist and his legacy. Hayes acquired five houses adjacent to 1142 East Court Street to create the Art Colony and will give the properties to the University of Iowa at his death.

In 2009, Hayes formed a National Advisory Board of 21st-century scholars and collectors of Grant Wood’s work to create a new vision for Wood’s legacy. In partnership with the University of Iowa, they established an artist residency program, the “Grant Wood Fellowship.” With funding and staff from the University of Iowa, the GWAC annually hosts three fellows in residence–visual and performing artists–who live at the Colony, teach courses at the university, and pursue their own work. Following Wood’s vision for artists working in community, the Colony serves as a vibrant home for exchanging ideas and scholarship.

The GWAC also sponsors a biennial symposium dedicated to historic American art and Grant Wood’s place in it. In the last few years, the National Advisory Board has pushed for the creation of the Grant Wood Catalogue Raisonné and raised funds toward that end. One of the houses at the GWAC has been set aside for living space and research headquarters for the catalogue raisonné project, and a few National Advisory Board members will advise the staff of Grant Wood Catalogue Raisonné. Together, the Fellows, the symposium, and the catalogue raisonné will further the University’s research and community engagement goals.

In turn, the University of Iowa strengthens its link to an illustrious former faculty member. While the University of Iowa already embraces the GWAC and the creative arts Fellows, the catalogue raisonné forms an intellectual anchor worthy of a Research 1 university. The database and website will be free to all and will provide a platform for showing the scholarship of University of Iowa students and faculty. Anyone accessing the website will see the University of Iowa connection.

How will the catalogue raisonné impact teaching and learning?

The UI Libraries have embraced the creation of the Grant Wood Catalogue Raisonné since the idea first surfaced several years ago. It brings together key elements of the Libraries’ work: state-of-the-art cataloguing, archival research and preservation, and digital scholarship and publication. We stand ready to support the work of the catalogue raisonné staff with technical expertise, data preservation, and tools to create a 21st-century website that can be used by undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, scholars, and the general public.

A catalogue raisonné is an incredibly valuable teaching and research tool. This project aligns with the university’s strategic goals for excellence in teaching and learning and innovative research and creative discovery. It aligns also with the Libraries’ strategic priorities of supporting high-impact research, student success, and engagement with library users and our communities.

John Culshaw, Jack B. King University Librarian, University of Iowa

While it is unusual for a university to host a catalogue raisonné (Stanford University and Bates College each have one under their auspices, but these are the work of particular scholars not initiated by the institutions), the University of Iowa will be innovative in demonstrating how the creation of a catalogue raisonné can be a link to university history, a repository for primary source material for research, an interdisciplinary learning experience, and a means of training the next generation of scholars in the creation of and the effective use of data, metadata, and images in original scholarship.

The creation of a catalogue raisonné takes many people and many skill sets; it is thus an excellent vehicle for training young scholars and for forging interdisciplinary teams. Essentially setting up a catalogue raisonné team is akin to establishing a laboratory. There are questions to answer, procedures to follow, and challenges to overcome. This particular lab will need to work extensively with museums, research published records of Wood’s works, record his exhibition history and cross-reference it with works exhibited, seek missing works, mine archives for new information, and ultimately create the definitive database for future Wood studies.

Once the Grant Wood website launches, faculty across the university, across Iowa, and beyond can use it for their own research into art history, U.S. history, regional studies, the history of agriculture, and visual studies. It can be a resource for assignments at the undergraduate level, an inspiration for creativity, and a source for digital humanities projects. The website will be a repository for articles, papers, videos, data visualizations, scientific analysis, and art projects created by faculty and students, making it a living, not a static, resource. The website will be available to U.S. and international students and scholars, as well as curators, collectors, registrars, and art dealers. As a resource shared with the world by the University of Iowa, it enriches understanding of American history and art history, of Iowa and the Midwest, and of the innovative work at the University of Iowa.


Learn more about how this project was made possible by the generosity of the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust by clicking here. Other support has been provided by private donors.

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