Grant Wood is one of my favorite American artists – he’s the fellow who painted American Gothic. Today, it’s one of the most recognized paintings in the country.
Wood spent most of his life in the state of Iowa. He was born in Anamosa (east-central Iowa) and lived in nearby Cedar Rapids from 1901-1934.
A few years ago I visited the American Gothic house in Eldon, Iowa (see June 2016 post) and recently decided it was time to continue on the Grant Wood trail by visiting his studio in Cedar Rapids.
The American Gothic-themed rest stop, just a few minutes outside of Cedar Rapids, lets you know you’re entering Grant Wood territory. Most rest stops are fairly institutional looking and don’t require much attention, but this one was different. I wanted to stay and look around.
The Grant Wood Studio is close to downtown and has been open to the public since 2004. The building was a carriage house on land originally owned by the Douglas family (they were one of the founders of Quaker Oats). The stately Douglas mansion was completed in the 1890s and is located close to the carriage house.
In 1923, the property was sold to John Turner and his son, David, and they opened a mortuary in the Douglas mansion. Grant Wood was commissioned to redesign the home for the funeral business. The Turners also invited Wood to build a studio and living space on the unused second floor of the adjacent carriage house. His address became 5 Turner Alley.
The studio is cozy and interesting. Our guide was very good, and we learned about Grant Wood’s life and his art. It was here that Wood created his most well-known paintings including American Gothic, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, and Daughters of Revolution. He lived at the studio from 1924-1935.
Wood added several unique features to the space – my favorite was a hood over the fireplace made from a galvanized farmer’s basket.
The entrance door is also clever. It’s a copy of the original that is now in the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. Wood had a lot of visitors, so he made the door with a pointer that he could spin to indicate what he was doing at the moment. The choices were: “In,” “Out of Town,” “Taking a Bath,” or “Having a Party.”
After touring the studio we stopped at the impressive Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. It’s a combination building of the old Cedar Rapids Public Library and a 1989 addition. The exhibit space is still small compared to some art museums, but the galleries and displays are outstanding.
They boast the largest collection of Grant Wood paintings anywhere. We enjoyed looking at his work and that of other Midwest artists. I liked Woman with Plants that Wood painted in 1929. It’s a portrait of his mother, and she’s wearing the same brooch that his sister, Nan, would wear a year later in American Gothic.
After looking at the art work, we visited the museum store located in the former public library wing. They have quality merchandise and friendly staff.
Bonus Stop: Czech Village
Cedar Rapids is also known for its Czech Village. Immigrants from Eastern Europe began arriving in the 1850s, and today their descendants carry on traditions in a restored section of town.
We had lunch in the neighborhood at a restaurant called the Village Meat Market & Café. They offer traditional Czech food including goulash made from a very old recipe. Another popular menu item is beignets (French, not Czech, but very good – the restaurant owner had spent some time in New Orleans.)
Cedar Rapids is a large city with a small-town feel and interesting attractions throughout the community. You’ll enjoy a visit!