Grant Wood (American, 1891–1942),
Stone City, Iowa
oil on wood panel, 30¼ x 40, 76.84 x 101.6 cm
Gift of the Art Institute of Omaha, 1930.35; Art © Estate of Grant Wood/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
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Grant Wood, along with Missourian Thomas Hart Benton and Kansan John Steuart Curry, was one of the Regionalist triumvirate. An ardent promoter of humble, hometown values, Wood was born to Quaker parents on a small farm near Anamosa, Iowa. This upbringing would be the basis of his iconic images of small-town, plain folk and verdant Midwestern vistas.
First trained in Minneapolis and Chicago art schools, Wood's early works combined a bright Fauve palette and a loose, impressionistic style — the result of a 1923–24 trip to Italy and Paris that included study at the Académie Julian. However, Wood was by nature a meticulous craftsman and found greater inspiration abroad in the clear, miniaturist detail of such fifteenth-century Flemish masters as Hans Memling and at home in the porcelain designs of Willow Ware. After about 1928, he developed a stylized, hard-edged realism perfectly blended with his observant and sometimes wry characterizations of rural life. His accessible, representational paintings showed reassuring American subjects tied to enduring myths about the perfection of agrarian life. Intentionally aimed at an isolationist-minded, Depression-era audience, Wood's work found in the local scene a means of expressing nationalistic sentiment.
Stone City, Iowa was Wood's first major landscape, painted in the same year as his now famous American Gothic. At the height of his style, Stone City is also the epitome of the dialogue about change that was often threaded through Wood's traditional subjects. Understood in this tranquil, idealized scene of life in harmony with nature was the knowledge that Stone City itself reflected the transitions brought about in a rural community by industrialization. Located on the Wapsipinicon River twenty-six miles from Cedar Rapids, Stone City was a boomtown gone bust: built on the success of its limestone quarries and laid to rest by the development of Portland cement. The land, Wood seems to suggest, has gone back to a purer purpose of grazing animals and growing crops. Wood's interest in the village continued, and it became the site of a summer artist's colony which he ran from 1932 to 1933.