CEDAR RAPIDS -- Grant Wood opened a window to the world onto the rolling hills and dour faces of his native Eastern Iowa, but one of his greatest achievements opens a window to freedom. And now it will be open to the public as part of the Cedar Rapids Freedom Festival.
" 'American Gothic' is the most well-known work of Grant Wood, because 'American Gothic' can travel. People can go to Chicago and see it. In order to see this, you have to come to Cedar Rapids," Mike Jager, executive director of the Veterans Memorial Commission, says, standing in front of the 20-by-24-foot stained glass window gracing the Second Avenue entrance to the Veterans Memorial Building on May's Island.
- Grant Wood Memorial Window Open House
- 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 1 to 4
- Second Avenue lobby of the Veterans Memorial Building on May's Island, downtown Cedar Rapids
- Admission: Free
- Also: Civil War and Grand Republic of the Army exhibits in the permanent museum galleries flanking the window
It’s a fanfare to the common soldiers and sailors who fought in six wars, from the Revolutionary War to World War I, welcomed home by a larger-than-life angel of peace. Wood, himself, was a World War I veteran and member of the American Legion. In 1927, the Veterans Memorial Commission contracted Wood to design the window for $9,000. He used local men and his sister, Nan, as the models for the various figures.
The window was built in Germany, shipped back to the United States and placed in its permanent home in 1928 -- a home that opened the following year and has been shuttered for repairs since the Floods of 2008 submerged the Cedar River island.
Even though the roiling river didn’t actually reach the stained glass, uncontrolled atmospheric changes indoors and out sent more than 100 cracks rippling through the one-of-a-kind window in the months following the flood. Wading through the insurance and bidding processes, it was another year before repairs could begin on the majestic silent sentinel.
In late 2009, all 57 window panels were removed, one-by-one, packed in Styrofoam-type crash-proof containers and trucked to Glass Heritage in Davenport. Over the course of a year, more than 9,000 individual stained glass pieces were cleaned, restored and reassembled, for about $350,000.
The window was reinstalled in mid-2010 and is now encased in protective frames with shatterproof safety glass and filtered vents, to prevent damage from the “wild temperature changes” that damaged it in the wake of the earlier flood, Jager says.
This wasn't the first time the artwork, now appraised at more than $3 million, sustained damage.
"The window is about 98 percent original," he says. "The protective frame only went on in 1970s."
The building opened in 1929, and over the next 40 years, pieces were shot out, many by people disgruntled by court proceedings inside the stately building. Smog, dirt and soot from steam locomotives, coal burning furnaces and factories in the 1930s and '40s also dulled the window.
"There was no barrier protecting the stained glass," Jager says.
As the building enters the homestretch for renovations, Glass Heritage artisans came to Cedar Rapids the second week of May to conduct routine cleaning and maintenance, getting the window ready for its close-up.
The public will be invited inside the lobby from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 1 to 4, to bask in the vibrant glow as sunlight streams through the revitalized kaleidoscope of colors.
Freedom Festival brings back favorites, adds new events
With Freedom Festival activities right around the corner, here's a preliminary guide to event highlights. Admission is free with a festival button, unless otherwise noted. Check Freedomfestival.com for details, more events and updates.
--- Jump for Freedom DockDogs: June 21 to 23, in front of Linn Hall at Kirkwood Community College, 6301 Kirkwood Blvd. SW. One of last year's most popular additions returns to the festival, with the 2013 Midwest Regional Championships, where canines make a splash as they leap high and far off a dock and into the water to retrieve their toys.
--- Sand in the City: June 21 and 22, NewBo City Market, 1100 Third St. SE. Local teams and professionals create giant sand sculptures.
--- Balloon Glow: 5:30 to 10 p.m. June 25, Brucemore, 2160 Linden Dr. SE. Tethered hot-air balloons light up the front lawn as local band Lonesome Road hits the stage at 7 p.m.
--- Tribute to Heroes Dinner: 6 p.m. June 27, the Hotel at Kirkwood Center; $30. Recognizing this year's heroes: Greg Cantwell, Leland Freie and Jodee Gaines. Reservations: (319) 365-8313 or email Josie@FreedomFestival.com
--- Freedom Festival Parade: 10 a.m. June 29, downtown Cedar Rapids.
--- Music Night at NewBo: 8 p.m. June 29, NewBo Market. Featuring The Nadas and Simpleton & Cityfolk.
--- Patriotic Pops: 4 p.m. June 30, Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE. Music by the Rod Pierson Big Band, with Craig Boche.
--- Movie Night at the Ballpark: 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. July 2, Veterans Memorial Stadium, 950 Rockford Rd. SW. "The Sandlot," projected on the Kernels jumbo LED screen; sit in bleachers or outfield; concessions available.--- July 4 downtown: Pancake breakfast, 8 to 11 a.m., $5 adults, $3 ages 10 and under; Concert on the 4th, 4 to 10 p.m., with local bands Airwaves and Dogs on Skis; 30th anniversary fireworks, 10 p.m.