Story of the Studio

Grant Wood’s home and studio was located at 5 Turner Alley from 1924 to 1934. Near downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the studio is owned and operated by the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, which houses more than 200 pieces of his artwork—the world’s largest collection.

Wood’s Cedar Rapids studio is the second floor of a late 19th century carriage house. The modest red brick and wood building sits next to a large, elegant mansion that once housed one of Cedar Rapids’ most prominent families.

It was in the Studio that Grant Wood painted one of his most famous works of art, American Gothic—a work that was shown at and purchased by the Art Institute of Chicago in 1930 for $300.

Wood, who was born in nearby Anamosa, Iowa, lived primarily in Cedar Rapids from 1901 until 1934. After graduating from high school in 1910, Wood studied briefly at the Minneapolis School of Design, Handicraft and Normal Art and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. From 1913 to 1915, Wood lived in Chicago, working for a while as a designer at Kalo Silversmiths Shop, the important arts and crafts silversmiths.

After a stint in the Army (1917-1918) Wood returned to Cedar Rapids and began painting seriously and teaching art in the Cedar Rapids Community School District.

His long-time patrons, John B. Turner and his son David Turner originally offered the carriage house loft to Wood in 1924. The Turners had underwritten trips for Wood to study art in Europe in 1920 and 1923-1924, and they owned a number of the resulting paintings.

When they purchased the Douglas Mansion with the intention of converting it into a funeral home, they commissioned Wood to redesign the mansion’s interior for its new function.

It was at this time that the Turners also gave Wood permission to convert the unused upper floor of the rear carriage house into a studio and residence. The lower floor served as a garage for business vehicles and equipment.

“The studio is a work of art in itself,” says Terry Pitts, Executive Director of the CRMA. “Wood designed and built the interior. There are only a handful of historic artist’s studios in America that bear such an intimate relationship with an artist who lived and worked there.”

Wood designed and built a compact studio and living space of approximately 975 square feet under the sharply angled roof.

A private bedroom, a tiny kitchen, and bathroom take up less than a quarter of the total space, leaving a large flexible area for living, entertaining, and painting.

Wood’s paintings and tools of the trade were stored behind a wall that could be rolled out on hidden wheels to reveal storage racks.

Two rollway beds could be pulled out from beneath a pair of storage cupboards and a bedroom was instantly created with a curtain.

Visitors to the studio were greeted by a door on which Wood could spin a pointer to indicate his current status-“In,” “Out of Town,” “Taking a Bath,” or “Having a Party.” The door and other artifacts from the studio were donated to the CRMA decades ago and some will be on display at the studio.

The Studio reflects Wood’s interest in architecture and design and his deep roots in the arts and crafts movement. Famous for wearing farmer’s bib overalls, Wood created the interior of his studio by combining aspects of a humble arts and crafts-style bungalow with a simple European peasant’s lodgings-complete with exposed wooden beams, crude wooden floors, roughly textured walls and ceiling, and built-in niches for flowers, art, and artifacts.

Wood envisioned the Studio as the centerpiece of a community arts district and he allowed it to be used for amateur theatricals put on by members of what is now Cedar Rapids’ resident theater company, Theatre Cedar Rapids.

Wood left the studio at 5 Turner Alley in 1935 upon receiving a teaching position at the University of Iowa and moved to Iowa City.

In 1978, Turner Mortuary was sold to Cedar Memorial Funeral Home, Inc. The mansion and carriage house were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

In addition to American Gothic, Wood created many of his most famous paintings in this studio, including Woman with Plants, 1929 (CRMA), Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, 1931 (Metropolitan Museum of Art), Daughters of the Revolution, 1932 (Cincinnati Art Museum), and Dinner for Threshers, 1934 (de Young Museum). These works made Wood an internationally famous artist and linked him with several other prominent Midwestern painters-notably John Steuart Curry and Thomas Hart Benton-who became known as Regionalists.

 View some of the Grant Wood works owned by the Cedar Rapids Museum of art in the Grant Wood Gallery.