Lecture to dive into secrets of Grant Wood


“When Tillage Begins (Breaking the Prairie)” is a mural in Parks Library.

Olivia Ruf

The secrets of Grant Wood will be revealed in a lecture Monday.

A lecture will be given to honor Wood, who is famously known for his painting “American Gothic.”

In this lecture, Sue Taylor, professor emerita of modern art history at Portland State University, explores the coded visual motifs and private messages Wood embedded in paintings, drawings and prints, participating in a kind of gay semiotics that eluded censorship while ingeniously signaling his difference, according to the University Museums website.

The lecture will take place 6-7 p.m. Monday in Room 2019 of Morrill Hall.

“For more than half a century after his death in 1942, art historians would characterize Grant Wood discreetly as a ‘shy bachelor,’ whose curious ‘eccentricities’ were more or less accepted in his Iowa community,” according to the University Museums website. “The artist had coped with hostile suspicions by means of humor, irony and necessary deceptions in life and in art.”

The program was made possible by the Kathy and John Howell Art Enrichment Program, with additional support from Jason D. Kogan.

Taylor’s visit was made possible through the support of the Grant Wood Art Colony at the University of Iowa. The Colony celebrates the life and legacy of Wood, Iowa’s most famous artist, through fellowships, symposia and outreach. Taylor’s book “Grant Wood’s Secrets” continues a tradition of excellent scholarship of this important regionalist artist.

Some of Wood’s work is showcased on Iowa State’s campus, particularly in Parks Library. Wood’s work is displayed in the Grant Wood Heritage Area, located in the foyer, and on the walls of the stairway leading up to the upper lobby, which was part of Parks’ original building. 

The murals located in Parks library are some of Wood’s largest murals. 

The Grant Wood Foyer, located behind the cafe in Parks Library, is a popular place for students to study while they appreciate Wood’s massive murals displayed on the walls. In the foyer is Wood’s agrarian-themed mural, which is titled “When Tillage Begins (Breaking the Prairie).” 

Wood’s murals depict scenes of agriculture, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, aeronautical engineering, civil engineering, home economics, veterinary science and ceramics. 

Wood was an Iowan Regionalist Artist who was born in 1892 and died in the year 1942. He and a few other artists are known for creating the art movement known as regionalism. This art movement focuses on rural areas while turning away from European modernism and urban abstractions, to embrace the heartland in art. 

A cleaning and restoration of the murals was completed by conservator Margaret Randall Ash in September 1974. Funding for the project was provided by the Iowa State Class of 1959 and a matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Under the university’s system for regular preservation maintenance of art works, Ivan Hanthorn, former head of the Library’s Preservation Department, removed the accumulation of remodeling dust in 1988.