August 24, 2015

Perhaps the most recognized artist to ever have spent time at the University of Iowa, we think Grant Wood deserves a permanent place on the University of Iowa campus.

In fact, we're a bit puzzled by the fact that a campus building has yet to be named in his honor.

Grant Wood's "American Gothic" is one of the three most recognized paintings in the world, alongside Edvard Munch's "The Scream" and Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa."

That's why we fully support a movement to name the salvaged portion of the old Art Building along Riverside Drive the Grant Wood Art Building.

Wood taught painting at UI in that very building from 1934 to 1942, and also supervised the federally-funded New Deal mural painting projects and pursued his own works.

Through partnerships like the Grant Wood Art Colony, the university has taken some important steps recently toward resurrecting its connections to Wood. And still more steps are likely to be taken once the university eventually inherits Wood's former home at 1142 E. Court St.

But we wonder just how many UI students are aware Wood ever spent time on campus, or taught in that building.

Wood was born in Anamosa and trained at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Academie Julian in Paris, France. He taught in Cedar Rapids public schools in the early 1920s before coming to UI. He is known is a major figure in American Regionalism, along with John Steuart Curry and Thomas Hart Benton. Regionalism refers to having a specific style or point of view. In particular, these artists were known for depicting everyday life and rural scenes.

Artists of this style were said to be rebelling against Modernist art, which was viewed as elitist and unrepresentative of the American experience.

But therein lies what continues to overshadow Wood's time at the university. Wood was considered to be an arch Modernist, a liberal. His viewpoints conflicted with conservatives within the department, creating quite a bit of controversy and turmoil. When Dr. Lester Longman was hired as the head of the art department in 1936, he was charged with rebuilding the department and he objected to Wood's methods and viewpoints.

Some contend Longman made it his mission to tarnish Wood's artistic achievements and legacy, and many reports note the two had a mutual hatred for each other.

The result was an attempt to write Wood out of any contribution he made while at UI. It appears to have been at least somewhat successful.

You don't have to be an artist or an "art person" to know who Grant Wood is. We thinking naming a UI building in his honor will help bring him to the forefront and give him the recognition he deserves.

Publication Source: 
The Iowa City Press Citizen