GRANT WOOD (1892-1942)


signed Grant Wood and dated c 1936, l.r.--charcoal, pencil and chalk on brown paper
23 7/8 x 18 5/8in. (61 x 47.5cm.)
20 3/8 x 16¼in. (51.7 x 41.2cm.) (sight)
Mrs. Harpo Marx
S. Lewis, Main Street, The Limited Editions Club at the Lakeside Press, Chicago, 1937, p. 282, illus.
J. Dennis, Grant Wood, New York, 1975, p. 124, no. 117, illus.
W. Corn, Grant Wood The Regionalist Vision, New Haven, 1983, pp. 114-116, p. 116, no. 138, illus.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Grant Wood: The Regionalist Vision, June-Sept. 1983, p.116; no. 138, illus.; p. 167, no. 52 (this exhibition traveled to Minneapolis, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Sept. 1983-Jan. 1984; Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Jan.-April 1984; San Francisco, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, May-Aug. 1984)

Lot Essay

In 1936 Grant Wood was commissioned to prepare a series of illustrations for the Lakeside Press's 1937 Limited Editions Club publication of Sinclair Lewis's Main Street. Lewis's novel embodied his own critical, at times even despairing, view of middle America. However, Wood's illustrations, like his paintings, reflect a warmer, more generous acceptance of the foibles and idiosyncracies of his fellow mid-westerners. As was his practice, Wood asked friends to pose as various figures in the novel, and his drawings are characterized by the same attention to details of dress and expression that made his painted observations of rural Americans so sympathetically humorous. As Wanda Corn observes, "Not only do the costumes and props clearly identify each small-town type, but so do their hand gestures and facial expressions, selected by Wood with his usual sensitivity to drama and story-telling." (Corn, p. 114).

Although making only a cameo appearance late in the novel, the character of Honest Jim Blausser was both pivotal to the plot and sufficiently interesting to Wood as "the sort of small-town type[s] that might exist anywhere in provincial America" to merit an illustration under the generic title of Booster.(Corn, p. 114). Lewis describes hÿim as follows:

In early summer began a 'campaign of boosting'. The Commercial Club decided that Gopher Prairie was not only a wheat-center but also the perfect site for factories, summer cottages and state institutions. In charge of the campaign was Mr. James Blausser, who had recently come to town to speculate in land. Mr. Blausser was known as a Hustler. He liked to be called Honest Jim. He was a bulky, gauche, noisy, humorous man, with narrow eyes, a rustic complexion, large red hands and brilliant clothes."

Wood captures Honest Jim, a born leader, divinely intended to be a congressman but deflected to the more lucrative honors of real-estate, gesticulating and speechifying as guest of honor at the Commercial Club Banquet:

Now, frien's, there's some folks so yellow and small and so few in the pod that they go to work and claim that those of us that have the big vision are off our trolleys. They say we can't make Gopher Prairie, God bless her! just as big as Minneapolis or St. Paul or Duluth. (Lewis, pp. 337-338)

Wood's Booster jabs his Masonic ringed hand at us from a podium in front of the American flag, a Moose Lodge pin on his lapel, the personification of evangelical capitalism in small town America.

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