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Studying Oil Painting

From American Gothic to Modern European Styles

Even the most basic studies of oil painting in America must, almost by definition, cover the famous “American Gothic” portrait by the legendary Midwestern painter Grant Woods in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. So that’s where we focus our current efforts with this article. And, as it turns out, Grant Woods and his uniquely American painting have a very strong connection to the memorial industry: The studio where Woods lived and worked for nearly 20 years was on the top floor of a Cedar Rapids mansion-turned-funeral home.

Oil paintings are a large part of the history of many culturesThe owners of Turner Funeral Home (which was eventually purchased by Cedar Memorial, one of the largest, most prestigious funeral homes in America) are perhaps not as well known to students of oil painting as they should be. American art-lovers owe a huge piece of their national heritage to them, in fact. If it were not for their recognition of Woods’ painting talents, and their willingness to support him, American Gothic might have forever remained only in the mind of Grant Woods.

When David Turner, the second generation owner of Turner Funeral Home bought a Cedar Rapids mansion as a new home for his family’s expanding business in 1924, he hired financially struggling high school teacher Grant Woods to do some part-time landscaping work on the land. Impressed by the artistic nature of Woods’ landscaping talents, several in the Turner family began inquiring of his other abilities and soon discovered that he was a masterful, yet undiscovered, painter. Though it was not their intention in buying the mansion, they quickly decided to offer Woods a portion of the building to use, rent free, as a studio and living quarters. Realizing that the offer would allow him to give up his teaching job and devote all of his time to painting (and the study of painting), Woods readily accepted the offer.

Woods went right to work, modifying his new studio into what is now described as “a somewhat genius” manner. He made clever, inexpensive use of the relatively small space creating many hidden areas to store his painting materials and works-in-progress, assuring that plenty of natural light flowed through the studio on even the cloudiest of days, and even creating a comfortable, private living area for his elderly mother. This studio is sometimes considered a work of art in itself, and Grant woods came from humble beginings but became a great artist of our timesome painting experts consider it a worthy topic, in itself, in the study of oil painting. Surely many generations of oil painters will marvel at – and learn from – the unique organizational abilities that the Woods’ studio exhibits. That is why civic leaders in Cedar Rapids have worked over the years to assure that the studio remains in tact and on display for the public to explore.

When Cedar Memorial purchased Turner Funeral Home in 1978, owner David Linge – himself something of a visionary in the funeral business, sometimes earning credit as the person who created the idea of today’s modern, park-like cemetery began plans to preserve Woods’ studio as a museum of some sort. Those plans were complicated a bit because, by then, the building had a number of other tenets whose businesses would be interrupted by the addition of a high-traffic museum. But, finally, in 2002, when the last of these tenets moved out of the building,Cedar Memorial donated the building to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, and the amazing studio where the famous couple in “American Gothic” came to life, remains open to the public for daily tours. American art fans consider this museum a must for any trip involving the study of oil painting.

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