Arts

Grant Wood Art Colony settles in at University of Iowa

Program gains director; Pilcher has ambitious vision

These cherry red houses are part of the Grant Wood Art Colony in Iowa City. Grant Wood Fellows live in two of the four Burlington Street houses near the home that artist Grant Wood lived in and restored in Iowa City. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
These cherry red houses are part of the Grant Wood Art Colony in Iowa City. Grant Wood Fellows live in two of the four Burlington Street houses near the home that artist Grant Wood lived in and restored in Iowa City. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — The Grant Wood Art Colony at the University of Iowa was born in 2009, but has grown up a lot in the past year.

Housed inside a cluster of four cherry red houses along Burlington Street, the colony in January moved under the supervision of the Provost’s Office of Outreach and Engagement. Before that, it had been part of the School of Art and Art History and the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development.

And in February, the colony’s board of directors hired the first full-time executive director — Maura Pilcher, who formerly worked at Brucemore in Cedar Rapids. Pilcher said moving under the provost’s office made a lot of sense because the colony wants to reach out to disciplines other than art, such as performing arts and writing.

“We want to get Grant Wood’s legacy out throughout Iowa, the nation and the world, ultimately,” Pilcher said.

Every other year, the colony hosts a symposium, during which scholars are invited to link the legacy of Grant Wood to the present day. The next one is scheduled for next fall.

And each year, the colony hosts three fellows in the areas of printmaking, painting and interdisciplinary performance — dance, music or theater. All three fellows are required to teach classes, give “shop talks” and do a presentation of some sort at the end of the school year.

Pilcher has put a lot more emphasis on Wood’s legacy with this year’s crop of fellows — Printmaking Fellow Terry Conrad, Interdisciplinary Performance Fellow Christopher Jette and Painting Fellow Neal Rock.

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The three recently toured sites associated with Wood in Eastern Iowa, such as the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, which has a permanent display dedicated to the Anamosa-born artist; Wood’s former studio in Turner Alley; Brucemore, where Wood decorated a sleeping porch; and Stone City, where Wood created his own art colony in the 1930s.

“If nothing else, I want them all leaving as cheerleaders for Iowa and cheerleaders for Grant Wood,” Pilcher said.

Before coming to the University of Iowa, the Welsh-born Rock said he knew of Wood, “but I knew nothing about him.”

Since then, Rock said he’s learned that Wood wasn’t just a painter but designed “a whole way of living.”

“He was a painter, teacher, organizer and designer, and it was nice to know about those lesser known attributes,” Conrad added.

THE LEGACY

The colony in many ways owes its existence to Jim Hayes, who has lived in Wood’s former Iowa City home at 1142 Court St. since the late 1970s, and who donated the Burlington Street houses to the university. He hosted the first Grant Wood symposium on his front lawn in 2009, and shortly thereafter came up with the idea of creating a permanent artist colony near his home.

“I think he (Wood) would be very pleased with the colony and how we’ve progressed so far,” Hayes said.

Hayes said the fact the colony is involved with a number of disciplines is the perfect extension of Wood’s legacy because he was a “very multidisciplinary guy.”

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“Reaching out, expanding, Grant Wood was that way,” Hayes said. “He was always pushing the envelope on creativity and collaboration.”

Hayes has agreed to donate his home to the university after he dies, and he hopes the fellows will feel free to walk the grounds and draw inspiration. “My hope is the house will be used by the university for such things as temporarily housing visiting dignitaries or small meetings,” Hayes said. “I can see a lot of activity, a lot of energy here with the arts and with creative concepts of one kind or another, whether it be writing, literary arts, performance art, visual arts.”

The colony’s fellows and offices currently take up just two of the Burlington Street houses, but there are plans to extend into all four. There also are plans to add a fellowship in public art and to have up to seven fellows at a time, instead of three.

Right now, yellow tape and orange construction fences surround the houses. An ornate fence and gate is being erected to better visually unite the space.

Joni Kinsey, a professor in the university’s School of Art and Art History who is on the colony’s board of directors, said other plans are in the works, including perhaps hosting researchers or artists in residence and making the university a destination for those interested in Grant Wood or his contemporaries.

“We really want to enhance his legacy by moving things into the future,” Kinsey said. “Over time, as more attention gets paid to what’s going on, when more people get involved, there’s going to be a developing groundswell of we hope patrons, contributors that can help fund new activities.”

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