CEDAR RAPIDS — As an artist, Marvin Cone apparently had unfinished business when he died in 1965 at age 73.
Clouds and doors are among the subjects for which he is best known. But peeking around the doorways of his mind was an ongoing fascination with figuring out how to paint ghosts.
“Haunted: Marvin Cone’s Ghosts,” a new exhibition of his spectral studies, opens Saturday (9/14) and continues through Dec. 8 on the second floor at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.
In tandem is a 1 p.m. program Saturday (9/14) on “Paranormal Case Files of the CRMA.” This free lecture, by Greg Reisner of the Johnson County Paranormal Team, will float listeners through a typical case — as well as the historical hauntings at the museum and his team’s findings collected during their investigation.
The team went through the old and new sections of the museum, “and did find some things,” said Kate Kunau, the museum’s associate curator, who pulled together the ghostly Cone exhibition. It will stand alone until Oct. 5, when it becomes a companion to the main-floor exhibition titled “Up All Night: The Art of the Dark,” exploring how artists have depicted night and darkness over the past 500 years.
A few staff members have encountered some paranormal phenomena in various parts of the building, too, Kunau noted, from seeing something out of the corner of an eye, to putting something away, then finding it back out — with no obvious explanation.
She, however, hasn’t had such an experience there.
“I don’t know if the ghost thinks I’m too blase,” she said. “I’d be open to it, should any choose to hang out. But no, I’ve tragically never had the experience.”
As much a mystery is Cone’s fascination with apparitions.
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“I don’t think a lot of people know about this particular section of Marvin Cone’s work,” Kunau said. “It’s interesting because within Marvin Cone’s career, he tended to go through a subject until he felt like he had come to the end of it, and then moved on to something different.”
He resurrects his ghostly explorations, however, in the 1940s, ’50s and beyond.
“Toward the end of his life, he’s still kind of working through this theme, which I think is really interesting,” Kunau said. “So he wasn’t done with it somehow. He had unfinished business.”
A 1914 Coe College graduate, the Cedar Rapids native was teaching at his alma mater when he took the 1938-39 year off for what today would be considered a sabbatical. Sponsored by a group of local businessmen, Cone created a studio in the historic Granby Building. It was built the year he was born — 1891 — and still stands at the corner of Second Street and Third Avenue SE downtown.
“And that’s where things like his moody interiors start, and his interest in the doorways and stairs,” Kunau said. “But something else that came out of that were these really interesting ghosts. It’s difficult to paint a ghost, and as I was researching this, ghosts don’t really appear in Western art. They’re very, very infrequent in fine art. They show up in illustration, obviously, but they’re somewhat more common in Asian art — Japanese art has ghosts.
“But in Western art, until you get to 19th century illustrations of Shakespeare, like Hamlet’s father on the parapet, ghosts don’t show up, so (Cone) didn’t really have a precedent for how he was going to depict these ghosts in his work.”
Museum visitors will see not only finished paintings by Cone, but drawings that show him trying to figure out how to portray transparent ghostly figures.
Several works include an ominous spectral figure Cone calls Uncle Ben. Another grouping features a severe-looking Victorian woman.
Kunau came across the works while going through the museum’s storage space.
“I just thought, what a weird and interesting little section of his career that I don’t think people know a lot about. ...
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“It turned out really, really cool,” Kunau said of the exhibition, mostly culled from the museum’s collection, but including two pieces on loan from Coe College.
“It felt like a good fall exhibition. It’s kind of haunting and ominous and a little bit creepy, so I think it’s really going to be cool and atmospheric, and I’m excited that we’re doing it.”
WHAT: “Haunted: Marvin Cone’s Ghosts”
WHERE: Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, 410 Third Ave. SE
WHEN: Saturday (9/14) to Dec. 8; noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday; noon to 8 p.m. Thursday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
ADMISSION: $7 adults, $6 ages 62 and over and college students with ID, $3 ages 6 to 18, free ages 5 and under and museum members
PARANORMAL CASE FILES OF THE CRMA: 1 p.m. Saturday (9/14). Have you ever wondered what paranormal investigators do? What tools they use? How they analyze the evidence they collect and make sense of it? Join paranormal investigator Greg Reisner of the Johnson County Paranormal Team as he walks you through the process of a typical case. Plus, explore some of the historical hauntings associated with the museum’s property, and examine some of the evidence collected by Reisner’s team during their investigation of the museum. Free; may not be suitable for young children.
ART BITES: “Haunted, Marvin Cone’s Ghosts.” Associate Curator Kate Kunau leads a pre-Halloween discussion of ghosts in Marvin Cone’s series of paintings; free.
TORCHLIGHT TOURS: 6 p.m. Oct. 11. Docent-led gallery tour in the dark by the light of (electric) torchlight. Highlighting the exhibitions “Up All Night: Art of the Dark” and “Haunted: Marvin Cone’s Ghosts,” get a unique view of the artwork and a deeper look into the artists’ perspectives; $15.
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: Family Fun Day, 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 18. Celebrating the fall exhibitions with a laser light show after dark. Dress in costume for tricks and treats such as make-and-take masterpieces that glow under black light, scavenger hunts, and make-and-take night-owl projects; free.