Friday, October 2, 2009

Thank you, Jim, for hosting us today. A visit to this beautiful home—so full of history and heritage—is always a delight. Thank you as well, Jim, for all you have done to make sure Grant Wood’s Iowa City home maintains its historic charm and integrity. We also very much appreciate your generosity in making 1142 East Court Street available for wonderful events like today’s, when we are bestowing a very special honor on one of Iowa’s greatest citizens and one of the nation’s greatest artists.

At The University of Iowa, we do all we can to make sure that we are not just a university in Iowa, but fully The University of Iowa. We are proud of the education, service, and economic development that we provide for the people of the state. But we are also proud of how we help define who we are as Iowans—as a people and as a culture. For that reason, we are honored that Grant Wood is part of our UI legacy. Perhaps more than any other Iowan in history, he has portrayed for all generations after him not only what Iowa looks like, but what Iowa is.

Even people who grow up in Iowa don’t necessarily appreciate the beauty and wonder that we have right here at home. Grant Wood said as much about himself. Regarding the art of his younger years, he said, “My early work is the result of going around that very territory where I lived and not seeing it.” Many of our young people go off to explore the world in their early adult lives, but in so doing come to appreciate what Iowa truly means. Again, Grant Wood himself said, “I had to go to France to appreciate Iowa.” Of course, in knowing Grant Wood as a master stylist, we also know him for his homespun approach. So he also expressed that idea of returning home with typical Midwestern plain-spokenness when he said, “All the good ideas I ever had came to me while I was milking a cow. So I went back to Iowa.”

Today, new generations of Iowans are realizing the same thing. They may not have had their best ideas while milking a cow, but it may have been while they were working at a Casey’s General Store or a John Deere plant in their hometown, looking out over the golden fields of corn at harvest time, studying hard at Cedar Rapids’ Washington High School where Grant Wood himself attended, cheering on the Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium—their best ideas could have happened through any kind of Iowa experience. And when our young people realize this, we do hope they come home back home to our state.

Grant Wood created beautiful images of what that homecoming is all about. Few people, famous or not, have expressed so well the splendor—and sometimes the darker realities—of Iowa for our own people and to the entire world. Although he painted ideal visions, he grounded them in reality and honesty. That’s who Iowans are and what they do—they aspire to high ideals but always remain grounded. Indeed, as one of the master artists of our state, Grant Wood is most deserving of the Iowa Award.

It is a tremendous honor for me to be part of this special event, and it is a great privilege to represent The University of Iowa as an important part of Grant Wood’s legacy. Thank you for joining us today and sharing in this historic moment.