In 1939, Grant Wood unwittingly caused a scandal with his lithograph Sultry Night, an image of a naked farmhand cooling himself at a trough. When Associated American Artists attempted to market the print through its catalogue, the U.S. Post Office banned it from the mail as obscene. Now, after decades in obscurity, the oil painting that Wood had created of this image has surfaced in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where Jackson’s International Auctioneers is brokering its private sale by an anonymous owner.
However, the work is missing its nude. After the postal ban, Wood excised the offending figure, added two cows, framed the remaining fragment, and sold it to a friend in Wisconsin. Valued at $1.2 million, the legendary picture was a topic of much talk among Wood enthusiasts who gathered in Iowa City, Apr. 13–14, for the Grant Wood Symposium at the University of Iowa.
Wood taught at the university from 1934 until his death in 1942. The biennial symposium is a project of the school’s new Grant Wood Art Colony, which includes an artist fellowship program, established after the promised bequest by Iowa City attorney James Hayes of his historic house—the stately Federal-revival-style residence once owned by the artist—and adjacent properties. Grant Wood Fellows are given housing at the colony as well as studios, stipends, and culminating exhibitions, timed this year to coincide with the symposium, which draws a national audience.
At the symposium, the University of Iowa Libraries and the Figge Art Museum in Davenport announced their launch of the Grant Wood Digital Collection, a website that will offer virtual access to the Figge’s Grant Wood Archive, including scrapbooks assembled by Nan Wood Graham (the female model for American Gothic) to chronicle her brother’s career.
Another site, maintained since 2002 by Mount Mercy College in Cedar Rapids, is devoted to artists who studied or taught at the Stone City Art Colony, which Wood established in 1932 during the Great Depression (http://projects.mtmercy.edu/stonecity/project.html). A bold experiment in regionalist art, the cash-strapped colony lasted only two summers. The website documents the colony itself as well as the subsequent careers of its artists, with biographies, bibliographies, and sample images.
Works by many of the Stone City Art Colony alumni will be on view June 10 at the 40th Annual Grant Wood Festival in nearby Anamosa, the town where Wood was born.