The Los Angeles school district owns more than 50,000 works of art. Philadelphia’s school district has 1,200. And the Cedar Rapids district owns more than 500 pieces of art.
The Cedar Rapids collection got its start more than a hundred years ago as a memorial for teacher Euphemia B. Grother, who died at age 36 in 1912.
Euphemia was born in Cedar Rapids on Jan. 28, 1876, She was raised mostly by her mother, Jane Henderson Grother, after her father, William, died when Euphemia was 4. She, her sister and her two brothers lived with their mother in a home on 17th Avenue SE.
She was one of 40 students to graduate June 6, 1895, from the old Washington High School, across from Greene Square. Among her fellow graduates was Rex Conn, future Gazette farm editor and Linn County extension director until he retired in 1969.
In 1896, Euphemia began teaching at the old Jefferson school on A Avenue and Eighth Street NE.
When Van Buren school, at Third Street and 14th Avenue SW, was remodeled, Euphemia began teaching third grade there in 1902. And there she stayed.
Euphemia belonged to several clubs, including the Jolly Club, devoted to musical study, and a history club based at Van Buren.
Her life wasn’t without challenges. In 1909, she had to commit her brother, John, to the asylum at Knoxville, as a “habitual drunkard.” The court ordered that he stay at the hospital for a year.
She once had problems with her throat, undergoing surgery, and was still bothered by it occasionally.
On Saturday, Sept. 28, 1912, she had a cold but continued with her usual schedule. She went to school on Monday to teach. On Tuesday, Oct. 1, she was considerably worse and was taken to St. Luke’s Hospital, where she died at 8:30 a.m. Oct. 2. She was 36.
The funeral service for the beloved teacher was held Oct. 4 at Sinclair Memorial Church, where Euphemia had been a member since childhood. Her favorite hymns and songs were sung by the Imperial Male Quartet and tenor Bruce Metcalf. First Presbyterian Church’s Edward R. Burkhalter, Eugenia’s lifelong friend, paid tribute to her life and work.
Following the funeral, Euphemia’s friends formed a committee to collect money for a memorial. Committee members were Jennie E. Post, Adeline Montillon, Margaret Stookey, Mrs. Arthur Baird and Mrs. P.A. Hromatko.
They settled on buying a painting, “An October Day,” by artist Theodore C. Steele of Indianapolis, “a world-class artist whose works were exhibited at the Paris Exposition,” The Gazette reported. Cedar Rapids residents likely saw Steele’s works in 1911, when his paintings were among those exhibited at the Cedar Rapids Public Library.
Steele’s painting was chosen, The Gazette reported, “because it suggests the outer life in beautiful October, when Miss Grother felt nature was always at its best.”
“An October Day” was hung in the main corridor of the Van Buren school building and, with mellow lights shining on it, was dedicated on April 20, 1913.
It was the first piece of professional art to be hung in a Cedar Rapids school.
Van Buren school closed in 1970 and was razed in 1971 to make way for Interstate 380. The new Van Buren school opened in August 1970 at 2525 29th St. SW.
The Steele painting — and others owned by the school district — were placed in storage at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art in 1970, when concerns arose about their security. By then, the collection had grown to include works by artists Grant Wood, who taught at McKinley in the 1920s, Edwin Bruns, Marvin Cone, Mauricio Lasansky and Carl Van Vechten.
More than 20 years later, the district began returning art works to the schools after a collection management policy was developed.
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“An October Day” hung for a while at the Educational Service Center but is now back in storage at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.
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