Grant Wood’s artworks have always held a special place in the hearts of Midwesterners – they capture the land and the people Wood knew best, hard-working men and women of 20th century rural America. We see his visions as a memorial to the American working class and generations of collectors have established a strong market for his iconic views of rolling hills and hearty farmhands.
The Veterans Memorial Building in Grant Wood’s hometown, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, boasts a towering landmark to his artistic achievement, a 24-foot tall stained glass window – the largest in the United States in 1929 at the time of its inception. The window features a central figure of a Lady in Mourning, modeled after the artist’s sister and sitter for the iconic painting, American Gothic, Nan Wood. The figure is flanked by life-size soldiers from the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish American War and the First World War. It is the only known stained-glass window designed by Wood.
On May 12, Leslie Hindman Auctioneers will offer Grant Wood’s personal 48-page sketchbook embellished with over 70 preparatory drawings and studies for the Memorial Window. Wood has signed the cover of the small journal and an inscription from the artist’s sister, signed and dated May 1, 1946, confirms: “This book was the property of Grant Wood. It contains sketches and ideas for the stained glass memorial window he designed for the memorial building in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The sketches were made in 1929.” There are no known sketchbooks attributed to Wood in institutional or private collections, and the auction house is confident it will exceed its $40,000-60,000 presale estimate.
The sketchbook outlines Wood’s progression of ideas for the central female figure, the four soldiers, and the layout as a whole. One discarded idea shows a Madonna-like figure in the form of a pieta, holding a dead soldier and filling the entire window like an altar piece. Another shows the figure of Justice holding scales, and another Victory with her winged cap. Other drawings echo Papal tombs and Greek architecture. “The sketchbook is unprecedented,” says Director of Books of Manuscripts, Mary Kohnke, “It shows the artist struggling with issues of perspective, draping, the female and male forms, and even the use of Roman numerals, which he rearranged to fit in the allotted space. We are very excited to have the opportunity to present this exciting item to the public.”
The auction will take place on location at 1338 West Lake Street in Chicago on May 12. The item will be available for public viewing Wednesday, May 8, 10am-5pm, Thursday, May 9, 10am-5pm, Friday, May 10, 10am-5pm and Saturday, May 11, 10am-3pm. For additional information, please contact Mary Kohnke at 312.334.4236.