American Regionalism

Along with Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood, our next two artists, John Steuart Curry, of Kansas, was one of the major figures in the American Regionalist movement. These three artists, all from the Midwest, illustrated the rural and agrarian life of the world around them and almost no collection in this area is without at least one of their works. Unlike the other two Regionalists, however, Curry was not much for the power and politics of art, but rather a purveyor of art to the common man. His images were largely popular during the Great Depression as the general population had become disenfranchised with the promises of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. The charming scenes of the American heartland helped to encourage and distract those fallen on financial hardship. Curry was made most famous by his mural works in the Kansas State Capitol which were commissioned by newspaper editors and were eventually left unfinished after a legislative committee barred a multitude of incorrect or controversial details from being included in the designs. Despite nationwide popularity, his home state was less than impressed by his renditions of typical Kansan life, and many expressed that they were embarrassed by the stereotypes being perpetuated in his works.

The print in our collection is part of a larger body of work illustrating scenes from a big tent circus act. This desperate moment in a trapeze show is caught in the artists' illustration much as the desperation of the Dust Bowl raged across the Midwest in the mid 1930's.

Thomas Hart Benton has been a strong, and sometimes controversial, figure in Missouri state history. He was born in Neosho, Missouri in 1889 to an influential family of politicians. His father was a lawyer and had been elected to Congress four times, but it was his mother's encouragement towards the arts that led him down his path to success. Although he is admired and recognized as a native of Missouri, he travelled for a good portion of his life to study art, but his homeland always influenced his work.

He left home to attend Chicago Art Institute in 1907 and then went on to Paris two years later. His mother supported his pursuit of art, emotionally and financially, as he continued to work and make connections in Europe. He moved to New York City in 1913 and was shortly thereafter serving in the Navy during World War I. His station was in Virginia, and his mission was to draw the camouflaged ships as they entered the harbor, He credits this as being one of the most important things he had ever done for himself as an artist.

The piece in our collection entitled Goin' Home emphasizes Benton's frustration with his position in the art world at the time. He felt he had alienated himself from his community of artists for remaining apathetic about politics and his style had lost its novelty in Paris. This sense of alienation led him to leave New York for Kansas City, Missouri in 1935 and began teaching at the Kansas City Art Institute. This exposure to rural America revitalized his Regionalist zeal and he produced some of the greatest works of his life. It's as if Benton, much like the farmer left for home and never looked back.

Easily one of the most well-known Regionalists, Grant Wood was born four miles east of Anamosa, Iowa in 1891. His family moved to Cedar Rapids in 1901 after the death of his father. He became an apprentice at a local metal shop that same year, and after graduating high school in 1910 he left for art school in Minneapolis. After returning home to teach in a one-room schoolhouse for two years, he enrolled in the Chicago Art Institute. He travelled to Europe in the 1920's and studied the contemporary styles of painting, but it is said the Northern Renaissance artist Jan Van Eyck was most influential to Wood's style. When he wasn't travelling, Wood was often painting in the attic of a carriage house he had converted into a living space and studio in Cedar Rapids. The living space and studio are preserved in period display today and can be toured.

The pieces in our collection are two lithographs, one of which is personally inscribed to Arthur Mooney, and display the smooth and whimsical style that Wood uses to illustrate his scenes towards the end of his tragically short career. Wood died of pancreatic cancer one day before his 51st birthday in 1942.

Elizabeth "Betty" Carney was a teacher, a painter, and a printmaker from Minnesota. She studied art at Minneapolis and graduated from Fontainebleau School of Fine Arts in France with a degree in Fresco. This image, Italian Fishermen was exhibited first at the Minnesota State Fair in 1939 and indicates the strong influence of the Regionalist style during the time. The smooth planes of gradient and almost cartoonish figures resemble the work of other artists of this time and place in art history.

Name: The Missed Leap | Date of Print: 1934 | Type of Print: Lithograph | Artist: John Steuart Curry | Nationality: American | Artist Life Span: 1897-1946

Name: Goin' home | Date of Print: 1939 | Type of Print: Lithograph | Artist: Thomas Hart Benton Curry | Nationality: American | Artist Life Span: 1889-1975

Name: Honorary Degree | Date of Print: 1939 | Type of Print: Lithograph | Artist: Grant Wood | Nationality: American | Artist Life Span: 1892-1942

Name: Tree Planting Group | Date of Print: 1939 | Type of Print: Lithograph | Artist: Grant Wood | Nationality: American | Artist Life Span: 1892-1942

Name: Italian Fisherman | Date of Print: 1935 | Type of Print: Lithograph | Artist: Betty Carney | Nationality: American | Artist Life Span: 1912-1995