116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Like her contemporary Grant Wood, Eve Drewelowe painted with a regionalist eye.
Unlike Wood, who painted the rolling hills of his native Jones County, Drewelowe, who grew up in New Hampton in northeast Iowa, turned her artistic eye to the mountains and scenes around her in Boulder, Colo. She moved there shortly after marrying Jacob Van Ek, who became dean at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Drewelowe made her own mark in academia in 1924, becoming the first person — male or female — to graduate from the University of Iowa with a Master of Arts degree in studio arts.
Blessed with a much longer life than Wood, who was born in 1891 and died in 1942 on the eve of his 51st birthday, Drewelowe, who lived from 1899 to 1988, focused on the regionalist view from the 1930s to ’50s, then branched into abstracts through the 1980s.
Vivid colors are the hallmark of her work in both realms, but a new exhibition of her works at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art will feature 23 of her regionalist works. They will be on view from Saturday, May 14, 2022, through Aug. 28, in the back gallery on the second floor.
What: “Eve Drewelowe: Painting Her Way”
Where: Second floor back gallery, Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, 410 Third Ave. SE
When: May 14, 2022, to Aug. 28, 2022
Hours: noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday; noon to 8 p.m. Thursday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
Admission: $8 adults; $7 ages 62 and up, and college students; $4 ages 6 to 18; free ages 5 and under
A prolific artist, Drewelowe produced more than 1,000 works in her lifetime. The Cedar Rapids exhibition, on loan from the University of Iowa School of Art and Art History, will mostly feature oil paintings, but also a couple of watercolors and pen-and-ink drawings.
“She reminds me of Thomas Hart Benton,” said Kate Kunau, curator at the Cedar Rapids museum. “There’s a lot of torsion and swirling movement in her landscapes. She uses really bright, saturated colors. It’s just really fun to look at her work — it’s super dynamic and vibrant.”
And it’s worlds away from her Iowa roots.
“It’s very definitively Boulder,” Kunau said. “You can definitely pick out the Flatirons (rock formations) in Boulder in some of her work. She traveled in the West — the Grand Tetons in Wyoming are in there. She and her husband traveled really widely, actually. They went on around-the-world tours a number of times, but I focused on her domestic landscapes in Colorado.”
It also dovetails with the museum’s ongoing Grant Wood and Marvin Cone first-floor gallery exhibitions.
The title, “Eve Drewelowe: Painting Her Way,” reflects not only her artistry, but the way she lived her life and the reason she could create such a huge body of work.
“She has a fascinating life,” Kunau said. Charles Atherton Cumming, one of her UI professors, “encouraged her not to get married. He was really concerned she was going to get married — she was going to be a wife and mother, and that was going to be her career.
“But she chose very well. Her husband, Jacob Van Ek, was really supportive. They never had children, but because he became a dean at UC Boulder, this was certainly that time — and I’m not saying that time has passed — when the wife of a dean was really counted on for a lot of unpaid labor of throwing parties and having receptions, and doing all this ‘social’ work.
“So she was super busy, and deeply resentful of all of the unpaid work required of her. She always dealt with health issues, and she had a major health event in the late 1930s, and it eventually required emergency surgery at Mayo Clinic,” Kunau noted. “When she was recovering from that, she made the decision like, ‘I’m not going to do this anymore. I’m going to live my life for me. I’m not going to be a professional dean’s wife.’
“So when she recovered from that, that was really what she did. She retired from her life as the wife of a dean and devoted the rest of her life to making art.”
One of her paintings in the Cedar Rapids exhibition — “The Gold Gown,” 1940, oil on canvas — gives a glimpse of her “dean’s wife” days.
“I think it was when they were having a reception at their home, as deans would have done,” Kunau said. “And she made that gown herself. Her mother was a seamstress.
“The UI still has that gown. We considered getting it for exhibition,” but realized that wouldn’t be practical. ”Older textiles are just really delicate,“ Kunau added.
While Drewelowe didn’t find the fame of other regionalist artists like Wood, Benton and John Steuart Curry, the UI’s art history building has a gallery dedicated to her, as well as a digital collection of her work, with 703 objects available for viewing online at digital.lib.uiowa.edu/islandora/object/ui%3Adrewelowe.
The first page that pops up shows the depth and breadth of her artistry, from pen-and-ink drawings of a house in Boulder and boats in China, to abstract paintings, her view of the Taj Mahal, and figure drawings and paintings.
“She’s definitely not a household name, but I think her artwork is really deserving of more attention than it’s gotten,” Kunau said. “She was a woman working in the early- to mid-20th century, and that was a difficult time to be a woman artist.
“Her decision to ultimately decide that, nope, her art was important, and her art was worthy of her own time, and that was more important than doing all of this unpaid labor as a wife. I think that’s really fantastic, and I think her story is really significant.”
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