A Day in Cedar Rapids

Yes, I know it doesn’t sound very exciting, but when you’re on a quest for information, you go wherever the next lead takes you.

I was headed back to the Midwest to celebrate my parents’ 65th wedding anniversary last week and took the opportunity to duck over to Cedar Rapids to check out their current exhibition of Grant Wood artwork. Despite their proud display of two of Wood’s better-known oil paintings, Woman with Plants and Young Corn, I was actually more interested in two of Grant Wood’s contributions to the history of Arts and Crafts.

The day after he graduated from high School in 1910, 18-year-old Grant Wood took the train to Minneapolis, where he enrolled in a design class being taught by Ernest Bachelder, who had journeyed out from California to teach summer classes at the Handicraft Guild. Bachelder was a proponent of Arthur Wesley Dow’s new approach to painting, and introduced to Grant Wood those principles which he exercised throughout his career. He also introduced him to Gustav Stickley’s magazine, The Craftsman, which provided him with the ideas and encouragement to later build a bungalow for him and his mother.

Wood returned to Cedar Rapids that fall, where rather than embark on a career as a painter, he began producing jewelry in the Arts and Crafts style. One of his creations was on display in the Cedar Rapids Art Museum (see picture).

A few years later the young man took off for Chicago, where he utilized his jewelry-making experience to gain a position at the Kalo Silver Shop, where he worked in 1913 and 1914. At that time he and Kristopher Haga left Kalo, as many silversmiths were prone to do, and started their own business, the Volund Shop, Volund being the Norse god of metalware.

By all accounts, the two young silversmiths struggled to compete against the larger and well-known Kalo Silver Shop, plus other Chicago-area shops, but did produce a number of respectable pieces. The Cedar Rapids Art Museum did recently purchased one of the finest examples from the Volund Shop, a sterling silver water pitcher which they now have on display (see photograph).

Although his career was cut short at the age of 52 by pancreatic cancer, Grant Wood demonstrated a remarkable ability to work in a number of successful mediums. In 1929 he designed and oversaw the construction of a 36′ x 24′ stained glass window in the Cedar Rapids Memorial Coliseum; in addition to jewelry, he created copper and silver hollowware; he also designed wrought iron gates and fireplaces screens for Cedar Rapids homes; he designed and carved a bench not unlike that done by Dard Hunter while at Roycroft; and, by the way, he knocked out a little painting by the name of American Gothic.

My personal interest is in the 19 lithographs which Grant Wood did between 1937 and his death in 1942, and while the Cedar Rapids Art Museum did not have any correspondence or paperwork that shed any light on his lithographs, I did learn that the University of Iowa does have what I am looking for — I hope.

Until next Monday,

Thanks for stopping by!

Bruce Johnson