Who Am I? Exhibition
Memorial 2, 1950
Marvin Cone (American, 1891–1965)
Oil on linen canvas
Purchased from Winnifred Cone with funds from Iowa State University Foundation. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
The artist paints, not to imitate nature, but to express individual ideas he feels himself....Art is lots more fun if you don't demand the paintings look like the real things. Nature is terribly chaotic and wasteful. The artist see this and takes the bewildering matter and puts it in order, giving it meaning.
Art rearranges nature. What you leave out is often more important than what you put in, because the fact focuses emphasis on what you do put in.
Every painting must have good design. It is fundamental in art, all kinds of art, and in painting it must be color, line and tone.
Excerpt from Grant Wood and Marvin Cone: Artist of an Era, 1987 by Hazel B. Brown.
I was in seventh grade when I first “met” Marvin Cone… well, I didn’t actually “meet” him in the literal sense, but in my impressionable eighth grade mind, he “spoke” to me. You see, I grew up with the legacy of Grant Wood and Marvin Cone and I spent many hours in art classes in the Little Gallery which was connected to the Cedar Rapids Library. In the Library area, my friends and I loved climbing the circular iron stairways to the upper bookshelves, pretending to study but really just an excuse to see our friends… and sometimes we did “research” and read. It was a magical space… shelves, books, stained glass ceiling, light filtering from all directions from the high windows across the way. Even now, I close my eyes and there I am.
But back to the Little Gallery part of my story… The Little Gallery was Marvin and Grant’s world. For most of their Cedar Rapids exhibitions, it was in this space they exhibited their latest artworks. The Gallery was a long narrow room with tall windows anchoring each end. Light danced in from the avenue on the front and the alley at the rear, much as it does in this painting and much as it does in my memories. Even in the 1960’s, the walls were still lined with their originals. So accessible were the paintings that you could get as close as you wanted to examine just how the artists applied their paints. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some of my nose prints on those paintings today. Nothing was off limits for us during our classes. I don’t recall the teacher’s name, but I still remember my art buddies and me even then spending time discussing the art surrounding us and idolizing the creators.
Then one day, a man wended his way among those of us sitting on the floor drawing our little hearts out. As I recall, he stopped above me and stared at my drawing. (Maybe I only imagined this or maybe that is how I wanted it to happen.) I don’t think he said anything, but knowing he was there watching me draw was as though God himself shown his light on me. As quietly as he entered, Marvin Cone turned and descended the stairs. I just knew he must have been admiring my work and imagined myself having a conversation with him someday. I assumed that day would never come. Cone died two years after “our meeting”.
Fast forward twenty years to 1986 when Winnifred Cone, Marvin’s wife, donated about 100 works of art to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. In my role as art appraiser through the Corner House Gallery my husband, George, and I established in 1976, I was invited to spend days harbored in the vault of the Museum, sorting through all those marvelous drawings and studies that Winnie had so devotedly cherished, valuing them for donation and “conversing” with Marvin. It was one of the highlights and honors of my career… time once again to spend so close to history, but more intimately, “talking” with one of my idols.
The conversation finally happened.
Janelle V. McClain
Art Consultant and former gallery owner