Monday, November 21, 2011

Jim Aylesworth - A Day in the Life of an Author -- Exploring Grant Wood Country

Jim Aylesworth spent a couple of days visiting with boys and girls in the Des Moines (Iowa) area.  Those visits included appearances at the South East Polk High School (Pleasant Hill, Iowa) where he was hosted by Carol Van Hook, a super librarian who knows how to energize readers.  During one session at the high school, the secondary students buddied up with first graders who heard Jim's presentation together and then went to lunch together before returning back to their classes/school.  The next day, Jim appeared at Capitol View Elementary where Margaret (Maggie) Kigin had made all the arrangements for a spectacular day with young readers.
Since Jim had to travel back to Chicago via I-80, he was able to stop in route back home, to spend a day in Cedar Rapids exploring one of his favorite artists, Grant Wood.  The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art    possesses the world's largest collection of works by Grant Wood. Despite the fact that Wood's most famous painting, American Gothic, is owned by the Chicago Art Museum there is much to see in Cedar Rapids.  The Grant Wood Gallery is filled with his well-known works as well as earlier works that show a much more impressionistic style.  We didn't take any pictures in the gallery (although non-flash photography is permitted) but did spend some time after the gallery tour, in the gift shop.
The gift shop featured a book illustrated by Cedar Rapids resident Jeni Reeves - a notable children's book illustrator.

In addition to the Grant Wood Gallery we were able to view
Seeing and Remembering: Portraits and Their Stories.  We were also able to view the work that was part of the traveling exhibit -- An American Masterpiece: Charles Willson Peale's George Washington

Jim and Donna Aylesworth explored
the gift shop before we left for the
Grant Wood Art Studio.
And then we did move on to the Grant Wood Studio location.
Grant Wood designed and decorated the nearby Turner Funeral Home in return for life time use of an apartment above the funeral home's carriage house.

The studio was a very interesting space. Grant Wood lived there from 1924 to 1935, a few years before his death. For most of those years his mother and his sister lived there with him. His mother had a room that was partially closed off with a tin panel (punched with a tulip pattern that was repeated in several places throughout the studio). At night another panel swung up to close off the top portion of the doorway to give her some privacy. The doorway could also be closed off when Grant Wood had other activities in the studio and his mother might have wanted to be away from the "public" activities. He and his sister each had trundle like beds that pushed under some upper cabinets that served as storage and the sides of a make-shift stage when his actor colleagues put on theater productions (the forerunner of Theater Cedar Rapids). There was a very small kitchen and Wood put in a brick fireplace -- topped with a bushel basket. He utilized every space and corner of the snug apartment making use of space under the eaves to store his art work in pull out drawers/bins. The bins slide back under the eaves to conceal the work and appeared only as a door in the room when visitors were present. His sister Nan lived there during much of the time that her husband was hospitalized for TB in Oakdale (approx. 20 miles south).

Before leaving town a drive-by of the Veteran's Memorial Building to see (at least from the outside) the superb stained glass window designed by Wood in the pre-WWII days - -a window honoring the veterans that served our county.  Grant Wood was commissioned to design and supervise the construction of the 25 foot tall window.  The piece was commissioned in 1927 by the Veterans Memorial Commission of Cedar Rapids— Woods home town.  The window, currently worth $3 million,  was damaged in the 2008 flood, and has been totally restored by Glass Heritage - skilled crafts people in Davenport, Iowa.
Glass Heritage cleaned and releaded the thousands panes of glass and reinstalled the window in 2011.

The day concluded with a traditional German dinner at the Ronneburg Restaurant in Amana (Iowa)

and then Jim and his wife Donna went on to stay at the newly renovated Zuber's Homestead Hotel.

A day in Iowa with Jim and Donna Aylesworth.

If you are interested in inviting Jim Aylesworth for an author appearance  please contact us at McBookwords.  He often speaks in schools with young readers, and at all types of groups that are interested in books and good reading.

Enjoy your reading and exploring YOUR community --
McBookwords has a dozen or more authors that speak with young readers.  If you would like to investigate having an author visit your school or library -- for an author appearance please contact us at McBookwords.  Each of these authors often speak  in schools with young readers, and at all types of groups that are interested in literacy and  books.