Jim Hayes was beaming after delivering a recent talk on Grant Wood’s historic house in Iowa City before a crowd of senior citizens living at Vintage Cooperative in Coralville.
That’s because one of the residents there, Judy Terry, had just presented him with a special gift – a gnarled wooden cane with the artist’s name on it which appears to be an authentic artifact.
“This is fantastic,” said Hayes, an Iowa City attorney who has lived in Grant Wood’s former home at 1142 East Court Street for more than 40 years and is its dedicated owner, protector and curator.
“I’m going to find a special place for it, that’s for sure,” he told Terry.
The cane appears to have been carved from a single tree branch with a hard knot for the top grip. Although estimated to be some 80 years old, you can still see ruler marks in inches along the side and make out the letters “GRANT WOOD” near the tip.
Hayes is convinced Wood may have used this cane in creating his art or working on various construction projects. He also speculates Wood probably carved the cane from the tree branch himself.
Did Grant Wood sign this cane? Indications are that the artist used it during his years in Iowa City not only as a walking stick but as a measuring tool. After 80 years, you can still make out his name near the tip. (Photo: Dick Hakes/Special to the Press-Citizen)
The home was built in 1855-58 as the showplace residence on the original 30-acre estate of Nicholas Oakes, a German immigrant who manufactured clay bricks here. The 3,600-square-foot house was in serious disrepair by the time Wood fell in love with it while living in Iowa City in the late 1930s.
Wood purchased the home in 1935 from the Oakes' cousins, restored its beautiful main staircase, replaced windows, replaced a fireplace, built bookcases, tables and chests and returned it to its late 1800s condition. The artist hammered and installed a copper hood over the fireplace which remains a beautiful feature of the house.
“Metal work, stone work, iron work, painting – he put all of his artistic achievements into the love of that home,” said Hayes.
Wood died in 1942, after which the house became the home of local physician Dr. Pauline Moore, who sold it to Hayes in 1976. Hayes made improvements of his own but kept the integrity of the house. He said it will be gifted to the University of Iowa upon his death, along with the four 1910 houses on the property now used as a colony for aspiring artists.
Back to the cane. Terry told the Vintage Cooperative group her story:
Possibly as long as five decades ago, her husband Bill was doing some construction work at the Kirkwood Avenue home of Dr. Tom Nicknish. Wood had apparently lived there for a short time prior to buying the Oakes house and there is a wall-sized mural by him in the dining room.
Terry says the cane was found in the attic and offered to her husband because he loved canes and often used one for his back trouble. The owners told him it must have been left by Wood, especially since it was marked in inches down the shaft.
“Whenever we traveled and stopped at Love stations for gas,” said Terry, “my husband would collect another cane and they sat around in a cane holder at our house for umpteen years.”
“Every once in a while, Bill would say he was going to take ‘Grant’ for a walk or use the stick to measure something,” she added.
The ruled lines on the cane were noticeable, but Terry said it wasn’t until about ten years ago after watching “Antiques Road Show” that it occurred to her to examine it more closely for a signature. She then found Wood’s name printed in capital letters near the tip.
She says there appears to be no way to verify the authenticity of the cane, but both she and Hayes are convinced it belonged to Wood.
Jim Hayes accepts the gift of this cane attributed to world famous artist Grant Wood from Judy Terry and her daughter, Saira Vitosh Steen, during a recent presentation at Vintage Cooperative in Coralville. Hayes is the owner and resident curator of the historic house Wood refurbished at 1142 East Court Street in Iowa City in the late 1930s. (Photo: Dick Hakes/Special to the Press-Citizen)
Presenting the gift was an emotional moment for Terry, whose husband died in 2013.
“My daughters and I are pleased this cane will end up in that house and eventually be part of the University,” she told Hayes. “And we know Bill would be pleased, too.”
For More Information: More details about Grant Wood’s home in Iowa City can be found at
https://grantwood.uiowa.edu/news/house-grant-wood-rebuilt . Visit https://grantwood.uiowa.edu/ for more information about the Grant Wood Art Colony.
Dick Hakes is a semi-retired newspaper editor who lives in North Liberty.