116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
“This could be fun,” a Gazette editorial stated in February 2001 about the “Overalls All Over — An American Gothic Happening” public art project planned for the summer.
The project placed 30 statues, based on Iowa artist Grant Wood’s famed “American Gothic” painting, around Cedar Rapids. The fiberglass statues, decorated by local artists, had clever names and costumes.
The 6-foot-tall statues were a fundraiser dreamed up by the Cedar Rapids Convention and Visitors Bureau and The Renaissance Group. Money was raised from the sale of the statues, sponsored by civic organizations and business, and from the auction of the decorated statues at summer’s end. Proceeds went toward improvements at Greene Square and local art scholarships in Grant Wood’s honor
The concept was borrowed and adapted from Chicago, which had “Cows on Parade,” and from Cincinnati, which had “Big Pig Gig” in 1999. The Cedar Rapids project was the first to use human figures.
After the statues were dressed and decorated, they were weather treated with two or three coats of polyurethane sealant spray at Prime Auto Collision Center in southwest Cedar Rapids.
They were placed around the city June 7, each one bolted to a 350-pound concrete base.
Twenty-nine of the 30 statues were covered with tarps until a mass unveiling the next day. The 30th statue was in Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, part of a display of urban sculptures from around the country.
A map was created to help people find each of the 29 statues.
Almost immediately, stories about the public art exhibit popped up all over the country via the Associated Press and USA Today, helping bring tourists to Cedar Rapids.
The public art display drew an estimated 360,000 people to downtown Cedar Rapids in its more than three-month run.
The Convention and Visitors Bureau reported an increased number of visitors at several local attractions, including the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library and The History Center.
The display was not without incident.
On June 11, someone tried to separate the black-leather-clad male half of the motorcycle pair, titled “Vroom!mates,” from its pedestal.
On June 18, the figure titled “Raising Local Interest Overall,” sponsored by Guaranty Bank & Trust, was damaged when vandals tried to break it and steal the cash visible in the sculpture’s midsection. The same statue originally held a bouquet of dollar bills. Those were stolen almost immediately. They were replaced with fake cash.
In all, seven of the statues had been vandalized in the first week. Sponsors asked the public to help keep an eye on the statues but then hired a private security firm for the summer, with no further vandalism.
“I think (the vandalism) was more of a nuisance than anything else. We hired on a part-time artist to fix the little things,” Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Matt Krug said. “In Omaha and St. Louis, they hired a couple of full-time artists who were repairing things all the time.”
Sale of sculptures, 9/11
In August, the public was able to bid on the statues that had not been sold. Asking price: $5,000.
One sculpture, titled “Fields and Dreams,” was designed by artist Dana Noble of Iowa City for Linn County and reflected Wood’s work and his love for Iowa. It was placed on permanent display at the county’s administrative office building in southwest Cedar Rapids.
The bidding ran through Sept. 17 with an auction planned in October for any unsold statues. Those plans were scuttled after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
The 19 unsold statues were placed in storage at The Renaissance Group’s office in downtown Cedar Rapids and then moved to Westdale Mall store windows in February 2002. The sculpture that had been in Chicago was brought home and added to the Westdale display.
The Grant Wood Tourism Center in Anamosa bought one of the statues. When nine statues were still unpurchased in July 2002, the Anamosa City Council and the Jones County Tourism Assocation considered buying the rest for $1,000 each.
The public art project won a Community Award from the Iowa Arts Council for 2001.
In 2003, another public art project — “Fly Wright — Just Plane Art” — put up 30 decorated replicas of the Wright Flyer to celebrate the 100th anniversary of manned flight. It ran from June 6 through Sept. 29.
Another “Overalls All Over” project in 2016 honored the 125th anniversary of Grant Wood’s birth.