Dubuque Museum of Art
8/26/04 RL note: At the time of publishing of this article the Museum had a previous URL which was misused by a third party and caused the Museum to obtain the present Web address. We have substituted the current URL at the Museum's request.
Grant Wood Lithographs
From April 15 to July 15, 2001, Dubuque Museum of Art presents "Grant Wood Lithographs," a gift of Randy and Cathy Lengeling. The exhibition is organized by the Dubuque Museum of Art. The exhibition presents the second installment of the last nine Grant Wood Lithographs from the suite of lithographs deeded to the museum by Randy and Cathy Lengeling. Additionally, Grant Wood paintings of the Carnegie Stout Public Library will be on display with new conservation boxes designed to enhance clarity of viewing and presentation.
Following is text from the exhibition.
Grant Wood achieved international recognition by assimilating this theme of "regional" artistic emphasis. Wood and fellow Midwest artists, Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, and John Steuart Curry of Kansas formed the core of a new American art movement called Regionalism. This artistic philosophy thrived in the depths of the depression, and Wood became one of its most eloquent exponents. Wood spread the tenets of regionalism by founding an art colony in Stone City near Cedar Rapids from 1932-33, becoming the state director for the Public Works of Art Project in 1934, and an art professor at the University of Iowa from 1934-1941.
Because of Wood's ambitious educational agenda and meticulous new style, his body of work remained small but made a large impression on the public. He completed less than forty mature paintings and only ten after 1935. Lithographs comprise most of his later works, printed in limited editions: original art for the masses. His nineteen prints represent one fourth of his mature works.
Guest Curator Randall Lengeling, MD
GRANT WOOD'S LITHOGRAPHS: THE COMPLETE SERIES
Wood embraced the print medium late in his career. At the Stone City Art Colony, he recruited Francis Chapin from the Art Institute of Chicago to teach lithography. In 1937 Wood delved into this medium with the artistic fervor previously reserved for oil painting. Wood executed nearly twice as many prints than oil compositions during the last years of his career. The subject of at least one print, due to its' popular reception, he later recomposed in oil. Lithographs represent Wood's last creative work.
THE LITHOGRAPHIC PROCESS
Lithography is a printmaking process, developed in the 1700's, where the artist draws on a flat stone with a water resistant crayon, which is then washed. Ink applied is taken up by the crayon only, and is then pressed on absorbent paper. The artist often oversees the process to insure the desired effect. This can be done multiple times. Finally, the surface is cleaned allowing no further printing. Finally, the artist usually signs the lithograph.
ASSOCIATED AMERICAN ARTISTS
In 1934, during the Depression, two prominent New York art dealers, Reeves Lewenthal and Maurice Leiderman founded the Associated American Artists (AAA) to promote American art and artists. They contracted with over twenty-five artists to create lithographic prints, usually in limited edition multiples of two hundred-fifty.
These were marketed through catalogs and magazine advertisements and sent through the mail for usually five dollars apiece. AAA assisted financially strapped artists and allowed the public to own prints of famous contemporary artists. The works of the Midwest regionalists Wood, Benton and Curry experienced great popularity.
Grant Wood produced at least four prints per year. He usually produced a drawing then transferred it to the stone plate on a pulpit on his back porch. After printing in New York, Wood signed each lithograph before mailing to buyers. Wood relished the opportunity to create works that most Americans could own. People loved them and bought them sight unseen even prior to their production.
Seed Time and Harvest, 1937, lithograph, Gift of Dr. Randy and Cathy Lengeling, 99.12.01
This is Grant Wood's first lithograph. He created this work as one in his "corn series" paintings, which described different phases of the production process. He painted Fall Plowing and Young Corn in 1931 and Spring Turning this same year (1937). This work completed the series. Wood often created prints that related to his mature paintings.
Tree Planting Group, 1937, lithograph, Gift of Dr. Randy and Cathy Lengeling, 99.12.02
Wood often borrowed from his childhood memories of a one-room school near Anamosa. His sister Nan related: "As Grant meandered to and from school each day, he observed the world around him-the plowed fields, the growing corn, the seasons, the animals, the people, and the little country school. In later years, he immortalized these scenes in painting titled Young Corn, Fall Plowing, Spring Turning, and Arbor Day". This print is a reprise to that latter painting. Wood deeply respected his nurturing teachers and pays artistic homage to them. Wood, an educator himself, taught art in the Cedar Rapids public schools until 1925. He resumed formal teaching in 1932 as co-director of the Stone City Art Colony for two years. His fellow director Adrian Dornbush, a former Dubuque resident and Art Association president, taught many Dubuque area students.
January, 1937, lithograph, Gift of Dr. Randy & Cathy Lengeling, 99.12.03
Wood felt that a field of snow covered corn shocks aptly symbolized the Iowa winter and "the rabbit tracks, leading into the snug shelter of the shock" gave the composition a humorous quality. Unbeknownst to Wood, AAA sent this work to an international show in Venice where it received a world prize! Pope Pius XI, after seeing the work, wanted to purchase it. However, Wood, true to his generous nature, sent it to him as a gift. He created an oil painting of January in 1941.
Honorary Degree, 1937, lithograph, Gift of Dr. Randy and Cathy Lengeling, 99.12.
Grant Wood received no formal degree after high school and embarked on a sporadic art education that began in Minneapolis and ended in Paris in 1924. Despite this lack of formal training, he became an associate professor of fine arts at what is now the University of Iowa. During his controversial tenure, he encountered confrontations with the standard "academic" professors.
One of Wood's adversaries was H. W. Janson, then a young professor in Iowa City, whose textbook History of Art is now a standard. Friction between them prompted Janson's rash criticism of Wood and Regionalism in the 1940's and 1950's. The latest edition excludes any mention of Wood, Regionalism, or American Gothic.
Nevertheless, Wood received a number of prestigious honorary degrees. In Honorary Degree Grant Wood, somewhat "short" on formal training, is honored with a "gothic" hood by his taller and more pretentious academic colleagues. Wood is basking in the glory of the Gothic arch, his symbol for Regionalism and American Gothic, his claims to fame. This is one of the few self-portraits he completed.
Wild Flowers, Tame Flowers, Fruits (see left), Vegetables, 1938, lithograph watercolored by Nan Wood and Ed Graham, Gift of Dr. Randy and Cathy Lengeling, 99.12.06, 99.12.07,99.12.08, 99.12.03
Grant Wood's dedication to his family, especially to his sister Nan, is evident through his financial assistance during the Depression. He borrowed the concept of an artist directing staff to color prints popularized by Currier and Ives in the 1800's. He painstakingly trained Nan and Ed Graham to watercolor his only mature series of still lifes, entitled Wild Flowers, Tame Flowers, Fruits and Vegetables. This required over three years to complete the one thousand prints. They sold through the mail for $10 each.
This series celebrates the natural and cultivated bounty of Iowa. Wild Flowers and Tame Flowers also invite the country vs. city comparison that recurs in Wood's mature works.
July Fifteenth, 1939, lithograph, Gift of Dr. Randy and Cathy Lengeling, 99.12.10
July Fifteenth stylizes the Eastern Iowa terrain. Wood learned this simplification technique from the Neo-impressionist Georges Seurat, who used cross-hatching of brushstrokes to give a sculpted quality to forms. Note this technique in the center of this print which rounds or "geometrically reduces" the hills. Wood used this technique masterfully in the painting Spring Turning, a composition echoed in July Fifteenth.
Lithography alleviated his deepening financial difficulties, escalated from a marriage that ended in 1939. Grant Wood also received invaluable art management and financial consultation from AAA co-founder, Reeves Lewenthal.
Midnight Alarm, 1939, lithograph, Gift of Dr. Randy & Cathy Lengeling, 99.12.13
Wood often gave lithographs as gifts or for services rendered. He gave this gift to [?] Norma Englert, a University of Iowa librarian.
In The Spring, 1939, lithograph, Gift of Dr. Randy & Cathy Lengeling, 99.12.11
Grant Wood traveled and studied in Paris three times in the 1920's. He studied the work of the French Barbizon painter Jean Francois Millet. Wood's depiction of the agrarian laborer differs from Millet's in that the Iowa farmer is heroically portrayed as master of his domain rather than as a downtrodden peasant worker of the land, as in Man with Hoe.
Grant lived on his parent's farm until age ten when his mother was forced to sell it after her husband's untimely death. These formative agrarian years provided significant inspiration for Wood's art.
Shrine Quartet, 1939, lithograph, Gift of Dr. Randy & Cathy Lengeling, 99.12.14
Drawing from his experience as a member of the Masons, Wood produced this print as a male counterpart to his female parody Daughters of Revolution.
As Sinclair Lewis satirized aspects of Mid-western life in the literary work Main Street, Wood affectionately satirized in art. Wood illustrated a special edition of Lewis' classic in 1937. Although a loyal American, Wood artistically criticized groups overly patriotic, to a fault.
Fertility, 1939, lithograph, Gift of Dr. Randy and Cathy Lengeling, 99.12.
With its burgeoning barn and densely packed cornfield, this stylized farmscape is a testimonial to the agricultural productivity of Iowa. However, Grant Wood also suggests that Regionalism is a fertile philosophy for artistic growth, as evidenced by the numerous references to Gothic Architecture: the farmhouse is the same Carpenter Gothic house from American Gothic, the barn's Gothic vault, and the corn leaves form arched tiers reminiscent of a Gothic church.
The development of the Gothic arch provided a boon to European architecture and competition between rival cities led to magnificent edifices that stand to this day. Similarly, as Wood proposed in his essay Revolt Against the City, "the hope of a native American art lives in the development of regional art centers and the competition between them."
Wood used the Gothic arch as a symbol in his work for the regionalist philosophy.
Approaching Storm, 1940, lithograph, Gift of Dr. Randy and Cathy Lengeling, 99.12.
Approaching Storm is the only print Wood completed in 1940. An end to the Depression approached and world war loomed on the European horizon. Grant Wood and Regionalism received criticism for being too dated, nationalistic, and unable to respond to America's new global mission. At least one critic accused Wood of being Fascist. Wood reacted to this and argued that Regionalism expressed,"...the picture of a country rich in the arts of peace; a homely, lovable nation, infinitely worth any sacrifice necessary to its preservation."
Wood adapted his style to the changing times. In Approaching Storm, he atypically referred to the harshness of the Midwest weather, a topic frequently used by fellow regionalist John Steuart Curry. Wood continued to reduce and simplify his subjects in the style of Seurat, making them appear sculptural.
It is likely that these thunderheads represent more than the approach of World War II, but also Wood's personal conflicts with his critics and his ongoing stormy tenure as professor in Iowa City.
December Afternoon, 1941, lithograph, Gift of Dr. Randy & Cathy Lengeling, 99.12.18
The Midwest winter, although often cold and harsh, can also provide memorable opportunities for recreation. In this work, Wood's horse is no longer a beast of burden but rather an animal of entertainment, when hitched to a seasonal sleigh.
This print was the last in his incomplete calendar series and the last of his lithographs published by AAA for sale to the populace. Not surprisingly, this image has graced the front of many holiday greeting cards since its publication in 1941.
February, 1941, lithograph, Gift of Dr. Randy & Cathy Lengeling, 99.12.17
This enigmatic print executed in the winter that Grant Wood became seriously ill, presages his death in February a year later. Wood often used the horse in his compositions, recognizing the pivotal but waning role this animal played in the advance of American civilization, and specifically the settling and economic development of the Midwest.
However, the dark, featureless figures posed before a threatening winter sky leaves the viewer eerily chilled. The artist's intent remains a mystery to this day. A psychological manifestation of his not yet diagnosed pancreatic cancer might be an explanation.
March, 1941, lithograph, Gift of Dr. Randy and Cathy Lengeling, 99.12.16
Grant Wood intended and nearly accomplished representing all the seasons and months of the year with his lithographs. March represents the last month of winter.
This work is considered a classic in American printmaking. The zigzagging road leads the viewer, in the company of a horse drawn wagon, up a steep country lane, against a cold wind that appears to be tilting the buildings as well as the tree. Once again, Wood uncharacteristically portrays inclement weather in his work.
Wood used a favorite design system in March: the rule of thirds. He would divide the edges of the work into thirds, make diagonals from these points, and place important elements on these lines.
Family Doctor, 1941, lithograph, Loan of Dr. Randy and Cathy Lengeling, 99.12.19
Abbott Laboratories of Chicago commissioned Family Doctor as gifts for physicians. Wood used Dr. A. W. Bennett, his own personal physician and friend as a model for the work. This is considered Wood's last artistic work. When Wood became ill in November 1941, Dr. Bennett referred him to University Hospitals. Inoperable pancreatic cancer was found. Grant Wood signed these lithographs in his hospital room, where he died on February 12, 1942, two hours short of his fifty-first birthday.
Grant Wood's last composition is perhaps his most closed and focused, showing a doctor's healing hands with the tools of his trade on a 3:00 AM house call.
General Practitioner, Wood's other mature work of similar composition, appeared as an illustration for the Limited Editions Club of Sinclair Lewis' Main Street.
Sultry Night, 1937, lithograph, Gift of Dr. Randy & Cathy Lengeling, 99.12.04
The New York postmaster refused to send this controversial work through the mail and thus only one hundred were made, and sold over the counter. This is his only "regionalist" nude. Wood achieved the etching-like quality in this print by using a dental tool to scratch through the greased pencil, which he previously drew on the stone plate.
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