Monday, July 13, 2009

Connecting the Pieces of Grant Wood's Corn Mural

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa - An arts group is hoping to raise $120,000 to buy the remnants of a mural painted on a hotel wall by Grant Wood in 1927 that was cut to pieces nearly four decades ago and to put it back together.

Recent discovery of part of the border of that mural was found above a dropped ceiling. The border contained the painted refrain, “where the tall corn grows,”.

The group hope to make the mural the centerpiece of an art center planned for the Bluffs. Ideally, they'd like that art center to be in the mural's original home at Bluffs Towers.

The odd history:

In 1926, hotel magnate Eugene Eppley (April 8, 1884-October 14, 1958), also known as Gene, was a hotel magnate Eppley is credited with single-handedly building one of the most successful hotel empires, by the 1950s the largest privately owned hotel chain in the United States. At its peak in the 1950s, the Eppley Hotel Company owned 22 hotels in six states. Eppley sold the company to Sheraton Hotels in 1956 for $30 million. (1)) hired Wood to paint four murals for the dining rooms of his hotels in Sioux City, Council Bluffs, Cedar Rapids and Waterloo.

Three of the murals were `corn murals' (one in each hotel). They were painted to fill the room. The corn murals were supposed to make viewers feel as if they were sitting in an Iowa field with tall stalks of corn, rolling hills and barns dotting the horizon.The mural is a typical example of the kinds of landscape visible in the surrounding countryside.

"Wood was painting what he longed for, an agrarian paradise where the land took care of her own before the machine came to torment her; further, this was an America without urban centers and thus free of the social complexities of mass unemployment, crowded conditions, factories and industry." (2)

Wood's murals from the hotels in Sioux City and Cedar Rapids ended up in the Sioux City Art Center and the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. But in 1970, owners of the Bluff Towers in Council Bluffs invited the public to cut away parts of their Wood mural and take them home.

Wood's technique in painting this mural was subtractive -- his assistant Carl Eybers would put a thin layer of paint on a prepared section of the canvas, and Wood would then wipe away from that paint to create the corn stalks, buildings and other imagery visible. The murals are faded today both because of this subtractive technique. The Canvas was then glued to the wall. (3)

The corn room mural mural for the Martin Hotel in Sioux City has been
kept whole, and a conservation process saved the mural, but damage has dimmed the imagery and shifted his colors towards golden-brown. That mural can be seen at the The Sioux City Art Center.

Grant Wood (1891-1942) born in Iowa has an international reputation. His best-known painting, American Gothic (1930) (at the Art Institute of Chicago), has become an iconic image of rural America. Wood spent the majority of his art career living and working in Cedar Rapids. He was the head of the Iowa section of the Public Works of Art Project which ran from 1933-1934.

Wood was the most prominent artist in the Regionalist art movement in the 1930s, and he remained a proponent of its approach to art for the remainder of his career. This movement was a democratic art accessible to everyone and reflecting local, rather than imported from Europe or elsewhere, interests and traditions. The ideas Regionalism describe are connected to the immediate, local audience for the art.(4)

Wood's canvases also came with the bonus of a recognizable subject, one that was bucolic and idyllic, that provided instant uplift and gratification. (5)

Grant Wood's Corn Room Mural is historically important because it shows that Wood was developing the ideas and approaches that would become Regionalism several years before he produced his first clearly-Regionalist works and achieved critical success with his invention: Woman with Plants (1929)

and American Gothic (1930). Both these paintings have their origins in the specific landscape of the Midwest, but fuse their local subjects with formal concerns drawn from seventeenth-century Dutch painting. Wood's concerns with landscape, visible in the Corn Room Mural, remain a constant reference point for his Regionalist works: it appears as the background to Woman with Plants and in the famous house seen behind the couple in American Gothic. The central imagery in one of the main panels -- conical piles of harvested corn -- reappears in his later work, notably as the central focus of his lithograph, January (1937), in the painting Iowa Cornfield (1941), and in his last known work, an oil sketch from 1941 called Iowa Landscape.(6)
Grant Woods Iowa Cornfield 1941(Iowa Cornfield 1941)

Can you help?
The Bluffs Arts Council is encouraging anyone with pieces of Grant Wood's corn mural to contact the organization at (712) 328-4992.

The council also is accepting donations for the project. Send them to Bluffs Arts Council, City Hall, 209 Pearl, Council Bluffs, IA 51503.

Paul Grant (follower of Basho)


Refrenced also:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Some of larger pieces of the mural that were salvaged from the Hotel Chieftain in Council Bluffs are on display at the Pottawattamie County Courthouse in CB. Although they're faded one can still get an idea of what it must have been like to sit in that room in 1927. It's too bad that it never seemed to occur to anyone that some color photos of all three murals would be invaluable to future art historians.a

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