Artist in Iowa

By DARRELL GARWOOD
DARRELL GARWOOD first became interested in Grant Wood in 1934 when he was a student at the University of Iowa where Grant Wood, painter of “American Gothic,” and “Daughters of Revolution,” was a member of the art faculty. And until Grant Wood’s death in 1942, Darrell Garwood collected and noted information about him. Now, in Artist in Iowa, he has assembled this material, fortified it with prodigious research and instinctive craftsmanship, and written one of the most fascinating and readable books in all American art chronicling. It is a book which is as carefully and artfully constructed as one of Wood’s portraits or landscapes. Like Wood’s paintings, it could have been produced only by an American about an American.
Artist in Iowa is not a critical biography of Grant Wood or the story of his life except in the sense that biography is inevitably the story of a life. It is a portrait of Wood, Wood’s family, and Wood’s neighbors in Wood’s own style — personal, instinctive, simple but exhaustively detailed from original and living sources, with all superfluities discarded, homespun. Iowa and the Midwest are implicit in its every stroke. It is a portrait painted with sympathy rather than the hero-worship we might expect. When Wood has been especially difficult to understand in some human equation, Mr. Garwood gives all the factors of that equation.
And as a biographer he is particularly fortunate here, for he has talked and lived with many of the people who knew Wood —people in Cedar Rapids, Stone City, Waterloo (Iowa), Anamosa, Antioch, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York. The book is filled with American names, American faces, and American situations. The figure which emerges from all these conversations with the original participants, from all the visits to “where it really happened,” is as usual as one’s next-door neighbor puttering around his henhouse in a pair of old overalls, and as rare as a herd of wild bison suddenly roused on Cedar Rapids’s streets.
Artist in Iowa is a book for people interested in people, a book for people interested in America. It shows an artist at work as a human being among human beings; it takes the reader into the artist’s workshop, mind, and heart without gossip, without prying. Without waving any flags, it is as American as butternuts and Iowa “where the tall corn grows.” Norton, $3.50.
LEO LERMAN