Saturday, April 26, 2014
240 Art Building West
I am very pleased and excited to welcome you to the Grant Wood Symposium and Fellows Exhibition. On behalf of the University of Iowa, I extend greetings and welcome to all our speakers, our Grant Wood Fellows, visitors from around the state, and everyone else attending this important symposium. We are bringing together scholars from all over the United States to examine the art and the times of Grant Wood, and what better place to do that than the University of Iowa, where Wood himself served on the faculty of our School of Art and Art History?
The University of Iowa is an institution that is proud of its national and international status, but it is also one that is deeply grounded in our home state. Our character comes from the Iowans who support us, yet our achievements are often accomplished by faculty, staff, and students who originally come from all corners of the globe as well as here at home.
Grant Wood deeply understood this interplay between the region and the wider world, and he founded his theory of art upon it. When he was announcing the aims of the Stone City art colony, he said, “If American art is to be elevated to the stature of a true cultural expression, it cannot remain a mere reflection of foreign painting.  A national expression . . . must take group form from the more genuine and less spectacular regions.  It is our belief that a true art expression must grow up from the environment itself.  Then an American art will arrive through the fusion of various regional expressions based on a thorough analysis of what is significant to these regions.”
Over the years, we have seen how the University of Iowa stays grounded in our locality, yet practices an expansive vision that touches on matters of national and international significance. That’s a great tribute to the legacy of Grant Wood, and in fact, that is exactly what Grant Wood is all about. And that is reflected so well in this symposium and this gathering of such distinguished scholars and artists.
Grant Wood is part of another important legacy in the visual arts that is also reflected in this symposium and exhibition. Recently, we completed demolition work around the former Art Building complex just across the street from where we are gathering here in the much more recent and international-award-winning Art Building West. A victim of the 2008 flooding on our campus, the older art building is the one in which Grant Wood had his studio and where he taught. Now, for the first time in decades, after removing water-damaged wings and additions, it once again looks much the same as it did in Wood’s time. And the significance of this building goes beyond the presence of Grant Wood himself. Built in the middle of the Great Depression, the old Art Building was the first of its kind to bring together the study of art history with studio practice, a model called the Iowa Idea, and an idea in which Wood himself played a significant part. As John Beldon Scott, director of our School of Art and Art History has said, the building, designed by then-campus architect George Horner, drew inspiration from a 16th-century Italian villa and is one of the most important pieces of architecture on campus beyond the Pentacrest.
As I said, the reminder of this building’s important legacy also relates to this symposium and exhibition because this program, too, advances the tradition of the Iowa Idea. It not only brings together scholars in exploration of Wood’s legacy, but it also showcases the artistic creations of our Grant Wood Art Colony Fellows. This unique fellowship program has attracted worldwide attention.  It brings beginning and mid-career artists to our campus for independent research and creation, as well as teaching. The Fellows serve as Visiting Assistant Professors in the School of Art & Art History and the Division of Performing Arts. As you know, recent work of these talented artists is currently on exhibit in the Levitt Gallery here in Art Building West.  I offer my congratulations to our Fellows, Esther Baker-Tarpaga, Kristina Paabus, and Eric Sall.
Together, the symposium and the fellowship program demonstrate the living legacy of Grant Wood on the University of Iowa campus. In addition to welcoming you, I also want to extend my great thanks to Jim Hayes and Kim Callaghan, chair and vice-chair of the Colony’s advisory board; the entire advisory board; John Beldon Scott; and everyone else involved in organizing this wonderful program.
Thank you for coming, enjoy your visit to our great university and wonderful community, and please accept my very best wishes for a productive, enlightening, and inspiring gathering.