At its September meeting, the Board of Regents will consider accepting a home and quarter-acre lot on Iowa City’s East Court Street on behalf of the University of Iowa. The home, gifted to the University by owner Jim Hayes, neighbors the famed home of celebrated Iowa artist Grant Wood. Hayes, owner and resident of the historic Grant Wood house, purchased the neighboring home with the intent to add it to the university’s Grant Wood Art Colony Program.
Hayes began the colony in 2011 with the cooperation of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The college leases four other neighborhood homes from him, which are used to house visiting scholars from around the country. These four properties, in addition to the Grant Wood home and neighboring house, form a unique, collaborative space for visiting artists to live and work in. The concept echoes Wood’s own practice of gathering artists and writers to collaborate in Iowa City in the late 1920s and 1930s.
“The house is in great structural shape,” said David Kieft, University of Iowa business manager and director of real estate, planning and development. “With a few improvements, it can really help the colony be a showcase to attract faculty and artists from around the world to Iowa City.”
Creative types and the UI have a long history. It was the first public university to pair the teaching of art and art history with the creation of art in a studio. Art has always been a central part of campus and part of the university’s legacy. The Grant Wood Art Colony Program serves as an extension of that legacy and will play a large part in the future of the university’s commitment to the arts. Its fellowship program, for example, brings emerging artists to live and work in Iowa City, while teaching classes at the UI.
“We have continued to broaden our applicant pool for the fellowship program,” said Maura Pilcher, director of the Grant Wood Art Colony. “The true mission of continuing the Grant Wood legacy is to look for emerging artists who can benefit from the fellowship and who can enrich the students, the university and the state of Iowa by being here.”
The colony’s fellowship program provides three one-year fellowships in painting and drawing, printmaking and interdisciplinary performance. Faculty select fellows through a national search and are provided with furnished living quarters at the colony. Applications open in January, with selections made in April of each year. Fellows teach two courses at the UI as assistant visiting professors and finish their fellowship with an end-of-year exhibition.
“Grant Wood was given a place to live and work enabling him to quit his day job,” Pilcher said. “He was provided time to be prolific and develop his vision. That’s how his style evolved. Our fellowships provide similar accommodations to emerging artists to spark their creativity and develop their craft.”
It isn’t just the fellows who benefit. Students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences are afforded the opportunity to work closely with these emerging artists. Classes taught by Grant Wood Fellows are popular among the graduate students, with many of them rearranging their schedules to fit in classes taught by the visiting artists. These students benefit through these classes, but also through one-on-one experience with the artists.
“They get to see what it’s like to be a working artist,” Pilcher said of the students. “Our fellows understand how difficult it can be to understand that world.”
Iowans all around the state benefit from the program, too. As part of their fellowship, visiting artists travel to numerous cities and small towns in the state to provide art instruction and classes to residents at no cost. In addition, 2019 marked the inaugural year of the Grant Wood Public Art Residency, a week-long program designed to train students to create public art. The students have created murals in ten communities across the state, including Webster City, Goldfield, Stanwood and others.
“It’s a mutual benefit,” Pilcher said. “Our students get hands-on experience and the ability to build their portfolio. At the same time, these towns get to experience these artists’ vision. That’s a win for everybody.”