Do You Know What’s Inside This Flower? George Washington Carver Mentors a Young Henry A. Wallace, 2015
Rose Frantzen (American, b. 1965)
Oil on panel
Commissioned by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and University Museums with funds generously provided by Marcia and Jim Borel (class of 1978). In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
Supplementing the tradition of formal portraiture within the Art on Campus Collection, which began in the 1930s, the dual portrait painting was commissioned to memorialize a pair of notable alumni from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences: George Washington Carver (c. 1860–1943) and Henry A. Wallace (1888–1965). The painting celebrates Carver, the first African-American student and then first African-American faculty member at Iowa State. Carver became a prominent scientist known nationally for his research in botany and agriculture. Carver was also celebrated for his great dedication to educating farmers in practices such as crop rotation and uses for lesser utilized plant varieties. His work in education allowed his research to have great influence around the world. Carver’s passion in sharing knowledge strengthened his mentorship of a young Henry A. Wallace while Carver was still a student at Iowa State College (now University). As a child, Wallace accompanied Carver on his walks around campus, and Carver’s willingness to teach Wallace fostered a deep interest in plants that continued throughout Wallace’s life. Wallace later graduated from Iowa State College in 1910, and became the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture (1933–1940) and Vice President (1941–1945). Wallace credited his interest in agriculture to Carver.
Her in-depth research into the relationship between these two influential men informed the visual information included in Frantzen’s painting. Carver is pictured educating, a core aspect of Carver’s identity, for which he was passionate about and known for during and after his lifetime. The young Wallace appears entranced, his eyes opened to the inner workings of agriculture. Placing this scene within Iowa State’s campus, Frantzen includes Botany Hall (now Catt Hall) in the background. In the foreground swirls of knowledge funnel down into the earth, including notes directly from Carver’s master’s thesis. Imagery such as geraniums, genetic information, and more descend into the soil of Iowa State’s campus. Never forgetting Carver and Wallace’s lasting impact to farmers and crops for generations to come, the landscape features crops that no doubt benefitted from the work of these two men. The poignant double portrait celebrates two great alumni and their individual achievements, but also the power of knowledge and mentorship.