Just off of 2nd Avenue in Cedar Rapids sits an unassuming little carriage house. In a tiny studio apartment that used to be the hayloft, is where the most iconic American painting was created. Artist Grant Wood lived as well as worked in the space from 1924 - 1935, and he created all of his masterpieces there, including "American Gothic," "Young Corn," and "Woman with Plants."
Talk of Iowa host Charity Nebbe toured the studio with Katherine Kunau, associate curator of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.
The first thing you notice as you top the stairs is the door, an old coffin lid on hand from the neighboring Turner Mortuary. Wood painted the glass in the window as a clock face. The hands could be turned to times as well as messages indicating the artist was, "painting in the studio," "taking a bath," or "having a party."
The studio itself is filled with light from four directions, including a windowed cupola above. Kunau says while she's not certain that the light drew the artist to the space, "I'm certain that's what kept him here."
And the studio wasn't just the site of his most famous work, it may also have been responsible for that work. The Turners gave Wood the space for free. Kunau says Wood was teaching in the Cedar Rapids School District at the time, and living rent-free is what allowed him to quit his job at the school district and devote himself to his art full-time.
And despite its size, Wood entertained frequently in his studio apartment. Curtains were hung across the back, so that it could be used to stage plays Wood wrote. "What I always take away with me from coming to the studio is, we think of him primarily as a painter, but he was so artistic in so many other ways," says Kunau. "He was very crafty. He made this space a home. He created lots of storage for himself, lots of artistic touches."
"I always like to be reminded of how handy he was and how interested in all sorts of arts he was."
Also in this edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Professor of American Art History at University of Iowa, Joni Kinsey about Wood's impact on the U of I campus, as well as the state and Lynette Pohlman, Director and Chief Curator for University Museums at Iowa State University. ISU is home to several of Wood's works.
This program originally aired as part of IPR's 2016 Iowa Week during the month of September.