Off the Wall

Off the Wall showcases pieces from our permanent collection individually so you can learn a little bit more about the pieces in our museum one at a time.

*****

Lady in Blue
Mauricio Lasansky (1914-2012)
Intaglio on paper, 1967. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. J.F. Paulson. 1967.6

Mauricio Lasansky was an innovative printmaker equally well-known for a series of drawings depicting the horrors of Nazism.

Lasansky was born in Argentina of Eastern European Jewish parents.  He came to the United States on a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1943 and spent a year carefully examining more than 100,000 works in the print collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York.  In 1945, Lasansky accepted a teaching position at the University of Iowa where he established a printmaking department that quickly gained international attention.

As a master of printmaking technology, Lasansky along with his students pushed the limits of the medium.  He was known for the grand scale of his images and the complex layering of multiple techniques in a single work.  His largest prints required as many as 60 different plates to make up the different sections of the image and many trips through the press.  He devised a recipe for paper that could withstand the repeated stress his methods required and had it specially milled in France.

Lasansky remained the head of the Art and Art History Department at the University of Iowa until he retired in the mid-1980s.  His legacy as an educator can be seen in the many strong printmaking departments his students established at other universities.  Lasansky became a citizen of his adopted country and died in 2012 at the age of 97 at his home in Iowa City.

*****

The Watcher
Marvin Cone (1891-1965)
Oil on canvas, 1947. Museum Purchase with funds from the Roy B. Johnson Memorial. 1976.1

Born in Cedar Rapids, Marvin Cone grew up with fellow Iowa artist Grant Wood.  The two remained great friends and painted together throughout their lives.  In 1920s, they studied current painting trends in France and during the Great Depression established the short-lived Stone City Art Colony in eastern Iowa.  Cone graduated from Coe College in Cedar Rapids in 1914 and taught French there from 1920 to 1934, when he established the art department and continued his long teaching career.

Cone is known for his series of paintings of Iowa farmhouse interiors.  He created the realistic but mysterious room in the The Watcher by playing with perspective and color.  A portrait of Cone’s Uncle Ben, whom he remembered as a grim and quiet figure, hangs crookedly on a wall overlooking two half-opened doorways adding to the painting’s intrigue.

*****

The Sea
Armin Hansen (1886-1957)
Oil on canvas, not dated. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Donald Winston. 1978.3.6

Armin Hansen, native of San Francisco, is prominent American Painter of the En plein air school, best known for his marine canvases. En plein air is a French expression which means “in the open air”, and is particularly used to describe the act of painting in the outside environment rather than indoors (such as in a studio).  His father Hermann Hansen was also a famous artist of the American West.

At the Mark Hopkins Institute Armin Hansen studied under Arthur Frank Mathews from 1903 to 1906. Arthur Frank Mathews (1860-1945) was an American Tonalist painter who was one of the founders of the American Arts and Crafts movement.  Moving to Germany, Hansen became the student of Carlos Grethe at the Stuttgart Royal Academy and also studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, Munich. He also had exposure to the art centers at Paris, Amsterdam and Brugges. Wishing to see the world through marine eyes, he became a deck hand on a number of commercial vessels, one being a Norwegian steam trawler.

After his studies in Germany, Armin Hansen taught at the University of California, Berkeley and in 1913 moved to paint in Monterey, a budding art colony of the era. In this period he utilized both painting and etching techniques in the style of Impressionism. He was a founder of the Carmel Art Association and became enamored of creating marine scenes, particularly involving man’s relationship with the sea. In 1914 he produced his Self Portrait.

In the 1930s Hansen’s paintings become more intense and use of light more pronounced. One of his masterpieces of this era was Sardine Barge circa 1933, which appropriately is in the permanent collection of the Monterey Museum of Art.  Later in Monterey Hansen led a group of artists in opposing a plan to remove Fisherman’s Wharf as part of a grandiose redevelopment scheme. Fisherman’s Wharf is an historic wharf in Monterey, California. Used as an active wholesale fish market into the 1960s, the wharf eventually became a tourist attraction as commercial fishing tapered off in the area.  The wharf was an important subject of their art, besides the fact that Hansen identified with the simple life of a fisherman. These artists were considered a Bohemian group, living in the St. Peter’s Gate area of Monterey, but amazingly they prevailed against bigger business interests.

*****

Michigan J. Frog
Chuck Jones (1912-2002)
Animation cel (original hand painted with hand-made background), 1980.
Gift of the Clark Family in honor of Beje Clark. 2006.1

Charles Martin “Chuck” Jones was an American animator, cartoon artist, screenwriter, producer, and director of animated films, most memorably of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts for the Warner Bros. Cartoons studio. He directed many classic animated cartoon shorts starring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, Pepé Le Pew, Porky Pig and a slew of other Warner characters.

Jones was born on September 21, 1912 in Spokane, Washington. He later moved with his parents and three siblings to the Los Angeles, California area.

In his autobiography, Chuck Amuck, Jones credits his artistic bent to circumstances surrounding his father, who was an unsuccessful businessman in California in the 1920’s. His father would start every new business venture by purchasing new stationery and new pencils with the company name on them. When the business failed, his father would quietly turn the huge stacks of useless stationery and pencils over to his children, requiring them to use up all the material as fast as possible. Armed with an endless supply of high-quality paper and pencils, the children drew constantly.

Jones joined Leon Schlesinger Productions, the independent studio that produced Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies for Warner Bros., in 1933 as an assistant animator. In 1935, he was promoted to animator.

During World War II, Jones worked closely with Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, to create the Private Snafu series of Army educational cartoons. Jones later collaborated with Seuss on animated adaptations of Seuss’ books, including How the Grinch Stole Christmas! in 1966. Jones directed such shorts as The Weakly Reporter, a 1944 short that related to shortages and rationing on the home front. During the same year, he directed Hell-Bent for Election, a campaign film for Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Jones created characters through the late 1940s and the 1950s, which include Claude Cat, Marc Antony and Pussyfoot, Charlie Dog, Michigan J. Frog, and his three most popular creations, Marvin the Martian, Pepe LePew, Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner. Jones remained at Warner Bros. throughout the 1950s, except for a brief period in 1953 when Warner closed the animation studio. During this interim, Jones found employment at Walt Disney Productions, where he teamed with Ward Kimball for a four-month period of uncredited work on Sleeping Beauty (1959).

In the early 1960s, Jones and his wife Dorothy wrote the screenplay for the animated feature Gay Purr-ee. The finished film would feature the voices of Judy Garland, Robert Goulet and Red Buttons as cats in Paris, France. Jones moonlighted to work on the film, since he had an exclusive contract with Warner Bros. When Warner Bros. discovered that Jones had violated his exclusive contract with them, they terminated him.

With business partner Les Goldman, Jones started an independent animation studio, Sib Tower 12 Productions, and brought on most of his unit from Warner Bros. In 1963, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contracted with Sib Tower 12 to have Jones and his staff produce new Tom and Jerry cartoons as well as a television adaptation of all Tom and Jerry theatricals produced to that date. In 1964, Sib Tower 12 was absorbed by MGM and was renamed MGM Animation/Visual Arts.

As the Tom and Jerry series wound down Jones produced more for television. In 1966, he produced and directed the TV special How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, featuring the voice and facial models based on the readings by Boris Karloff.

Through the 1980s and 1990s, Jones was painting cartoon and parody art, sold through animation galleries by his daughter’s company, Linda Jones Enterprises.

Jones died of heart failure on February 22, 2002.

Jones was nominated for an Academy Award eight times and won three times, receiving awards for the cartoons For Scent-imental ReasonsSo Much for So Little, and The Dot and the Line. He received an Honorary Academy Award in 1996 for his work in the animation industry. Jones was a historical authority as well as a major contributor to the development of animation throughout the 20th century. For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Jones has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

*****

Azteca Yellow Persian Set with Black Lip Wraps
Dale Chihuly (b. 1941)
Blown glass, 2000. Museum Purchase Funded by Lena Keithahn. 2001.6

Dale Chihuly was born on September 20, 1941 in Tacoma, WA where he graduated from high school.  He had one brother George.  After high school he enrolled at the University of Puget Sound in 1959.  One year later he transferred to the University of Washington in Seattle where he studied interior design, architecture, and glassblowing.  In 1967, he received a Masters of Science in glassblowing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  In 1968, he got his Master of Fine Arts in sculpture at the Rhode Island School of design.

Chihuly is known for his beautiful work with glass sculptures.  Some of his permanent collections are found in Minnesota, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Ohio, New York, Nebraska, Washington, London, England, and many others across the United States.

He has had many exhibits across the globe and this list includes: Italy, Israel, Nederland, Georgia, Missouri, Michigan, Texas, Pennsylvania, New York, and others.  Some of his work covers the ceilings of casinos and hotels around the world, while others are just palm size abstract flowers.

Chihuly uses intense, vibrant colors and linear decoration to bring his work to life; almost all of his works are vibrantly colored.  He is also known for using neon and argon.  Chihuly is best known for using nature and its surroundings as a setting for his pieces, and for creating his pieces as though they are part of nature.  He sometimes entwines his pieces in tree branches and around tree trunks.  He also suspends them in space and floats them in water.

*****

Blue Light
Stephen Green (1917-1999)
Oil on linen, 1994.
Gift of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York; Hassam, Speicher, Betts, and Symons Funds, 1996.

Stephen Greene was born in New York, where he studied at the National Academy of Design from 1935-1936. He continued his studies at the Art Students League, the Richmond Division of the College of William and Mary, and then at the State University of Iowa under Philip Guston. The work of Northern European Renaissance painting and Max Beckmann were also early influences.

Stephen Greene’s 1950s paintings of classic religious themes meld the precision and spirituality of the great Renaissance masters with the moody, stylized symbolism of postwar Existentialism. Of his early figurative work, Greene has stated, “I was essentially involved in a psychological state, a prison-like configuration that mirrored contemporary ideas…In painting the events of Christ’s passion, I, in the twentieth century, was not returning to another period’s aesthetic mode, but dealing with the possible meanings of hallucinations.” Greene universalized his religious themes to speak to a post-war culture of anxiety.

The paintings from Greene’s first three solo shows at Durlacher Brothers (1947, 1949, 1952) are his best-known figurative work. Of the fifteen paintings from the 1952 exhibition, nearly half are in museum collections, including the Tate Gallery, London (The Return); the Whitney Museum of American Art (The Shadow); the Nelson-Atkins Gallery, Kansas City (The Kiss of Judas); and the Art Museum, Princeton University (The Massacre of the Innocents). Greene was selected for the inclusion in the 1955 traveling exhibition organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, The New Decade: 35 American Painters and Sculptors.

*****

Going Home From Church
Anna Mary “Grandma” Moses (1860-1961)
Oil on pressed wood, 1948.
Museum Purchase Using Funds from the Robert and Lois Bergland Acquisition Fund.

Grandma Moses was an American artist known for her pastoral landscape paintings. Years of representing scenes through the flat patterns of cross-stitching, imbued her canvases with naïve perspectives and decorative color schemes. The nostalgic character of Moses’s work reflects her life on farms in rural New York and Virginia. “A strange thing is memory, and hope; one looks backward, and the other forward; one is of today, the other of tomorrow,” she reflected. “Memory is history recorded in our brain, memory is a painter, it paints pictures of the past and of the day.”

Born Anna Mary Robertson on September 7, 1860 in Greenwich, NY, she didn’t take up painting until her late 70s when arthritis made embroidering difficult. In 1939, the New York art collector Louis Caldor stumbled across Moses’s work in a drugstore window while travelling upstate through Hoosick Falls, NY. After inquiring as to who made them, he drove to her farm and purchased 15 of her paintings on the spot. Later that same year, three of the works from Caldor’s initial purchase were included in the “Contemporary Unknown American Painters” exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. This led to a solo exhibition at the Galerie St. Etienne in New York in 1940 and over 100 more shows in the following decades.

The artist produced around 2,000 paintings before her death at age 101 on December 13, 1961 in Hoosick Falls, NY. Today, her works are included in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Bennington Museum in Vermont.

*****

Squint
Robert Arneson (1930-1992)
Color lithograph on brown paper, 1981.
John and Mary Pappajohn Endowment Fund Purchase. 1986.4

Robert Arneson was born in Benicia, CA in 1930.  Between the years of 1949 to 1951 Arneson was going to the College of Marin in Kentfield, CA.  Three years later in 1954 he received his BA from California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, CA.  In 1958, Arneson got his MFA from Mills College in Oakland, CA.

He is well known for his work in Ceramics.  He is known as using the ceramics as a vital medium for contemporary figurative sculpture.  Many of his pieces of work are found at numerous museums and sites in Hawaii, Japan, California, Ohio, Australia, New York City, Illinois, and many other locations.

One thing that stands out about Robert Arneson is at the Palo Alto Art Center in Palo Alto, CA.  He has over 90 ceramic Marquette’s on display.  They date from 1964 to 1992 and are between 2 to 14 inches in height.  It shows his more expressing nature with clay with these Marquette’s.

In 1985, Arneson was given the Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, RI.  Two years later in 1987 from one coast to another in CA he was awarded again the Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts at the San Francisco Art Institute.  In 1991, he was awarded the Academy-Institute Award in Art and the next year he joined the Fellowship American Craft Council.  In 1992, Robert Arneson died of cancer in Benicia, CA, but will be remembered for his artwork in the world of Ceramicists.

*****

The Train 
Romare Bearden (1911-1988)
Color etching and aquatint on Arches paper, 1975.
Museum Purchase in Memory of Frank and Helen Jeffrey. 2012.1

A lifelong student of literature and philosophy, Bearden worked in a variety of media including a stint as a songwriter.  He is best known for the way he employed collage in unique and innovative ways.

Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, and growing up in New York during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, much of Bearden’s work references his southern childhood and northern upbringing. He made art from observation and memory; the sights, sounds and feelings of his personal history. His art is characterized by images that portray life’s universal journey in terms of authentic black experience.  He found his voice in the imaginative collages he made from 1964 on, using a fragmented style inspired by the rhythms of jazz and assembled using magazine clippings in dreamlike invocations of the myths and rituals of African American life.

Bearden did not take up printmaking until the late 1960s.  Many of his prints are based on existing collages and monotypes.  In The Train he recast a 1964 collage by adding new textures and colors.  This was accomplished by using mesh screens and photography to generate the photogravure plate, which was subsequently cut up so colored areas could be inked separately and reassembled jigsaw style for printing.                            

Bearden’s images abound with affection for his birthplace in the South   For him trains were weighted symbols.  They signified the black migration north after slavery. Charlotte, his birthplace, was a hub for railroads.  “I never left Charlotte except physically,” he said.

The train of this print’s title is a small detail in the upper left, but it nonetheless invokes larger issues of migration and segregation.  As Bearden stated, trains “could take you away and could also bring you to where you were.  And in the little towns it’s the black people who live near the trains.”

*****

Dancing Duos
Bil Baird (1904-1987)
Wood and fabric, 1965. From the Estate of Bil Baird. 1987.6.1-6.3

Mason City is home to many talented residents, several of whom have gone on to famous careers.  One of the most well known is Bil Baird.  Born in Grand Island, Nebraska, his family moved to Mason City when his father was hired to work for the American Crystal Sugar Company located in Mason City.

Bil began to develop a creative passion for puppetry as a child. By age 14 he was creating his own marionettes and putting on puppet shows such as Treasure Island.  In 1921, his life changed forever when he saw traveling puppeteer Tony Sarg perform Rip Van Winkle at the Mason City High School.  Bil immediately knew then this was the career for him.

After graduating from High School, Bill enrolled at the University of Iowa.  During this time, he continued to make puppets and put on shows with the university band.  After graduation from the University of Iowa in 1926, he moved to Chicago to attend the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts for a year, and later traveled to Europe.

He returned to the U.S. in 1928 and landed a job in New York with his original inspiration, Tony Sarg.  Prior to Bil, Sarg had been America’s most prolific puppeteer and he worked with Sarg for six years. He created The Bil Baird Marionette Theater in 1934.  The troupe toured, worked clubs and fairs, theaters, and gained momentum.  Hard work and talent paid off for Bil, who was able to make a living and support a family puppeteering.

In addition to storytelling, Baird’s puppets were often featured in the medium of advertising.  From the mid-1930’s till the 1980s when digital effects began to take the place of Baird’s characters, his puppets were associated with a variety of products. Examples of Baird’s clients included large telephone companies for whom “Telezonia” was created.  Chrysler Motors commissioned the “Blockettes” for the 1964/65 World’s Fair.

Baird also created puppets for television shows and movies such as Life with Snarky Parker,  Art Carney Meets Peter and the Wolf, and Davey Jones’ Locker, to name a few.  Baird puppets, regulars on television, depicted events such as the Moon Walk and launching the Gemini Capsule.  Bil’s puppets traveled to many countries such as Russia, Afghanistan, Nepal, and India as representatives of the United States.  The MacNider Museum’s collection of his puppets also includes a national treasure, his most famous work: the 1965 “Lonely Goatherd” in puppets from the Sound of Music.

Within his 50 + year career it is estimated that Bil created more than 3,000 puppets.  A master craftsman, his talents of sculpting, sewing, carving, and manipulation allowed him to create puppets from a variety of materials.  The MacNider’s collection contains over 500 pieces and is the only museum to have a comprehensive collection of Baird’s work.  Many modern puppeteers view Bil Baird as the father of modern American puppeteering, inspiring legions of future puppeteers and artists with his work.

*****

Preliminaries
George Bellows (1882-1925)
Lithograph, 1916.; 1993.001

George Bellows was regarded as one of America’s greatest artists at his untimely death in 1925 at age 42.  His early fame rested on powerful depictions of boxing matches and gritty scenes of New York City’s tenement life, but he also painted cityscapes, seascapes, war scenes, and portraits that addressed many of the social, political, and cultural issues of the day.

Bellows’ boxing scenes are characterized by a dark atmosphere through which the human figures vividly strike a strong sense of motion and direction.  These works capture the passion for boxing that prevailed at the turn of the nineteenth century, reflected also in the writings of Jack London and Theodore Roosevelt’s engagement with the sport as an amateur fighter.  Bellows recorded brawls at the sleazy athletic club located opposite his studio. Clubs such as these evaded a 1900 ordinance outlawing public prizefighting by selling memberships instead of charging admission.  Seizing the essence of raw male aggression in his boxing pictures, Bellows rejected Victorian piety and provoked critical controversy.

Bellows’ paintings and lithographs portraying amateur boxing matches were his signature contribution to American art history.  Exploring the fundamental theme of human violence through one of the most provocative subjects of his day, he created works that were at once timeless and topical.

*****

Campbell Soup Can
Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
Serigraph on paper, 1968. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Robert Brindley. 1970.7

Andy Warhol was perhaps one of the most famous American artists in the genre of pop art.  Pop art is artwork that contains images of popular culture and advertising.  Warhol was born Andrej Varhola, Jr. in 1928 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to immigrant parents from Slovakia, and the youngest of 4 children.  His father worked in a coal mine, giving the children a middle class childhood despite the Great Depression.  In third grade Warhol had complications of Scarlett Fever known as St. Vitus ’ dance which kept him bed ridden for long periods of time.  During this time he became incredibly close with his mother, and spent his days reading pulp novels, collecting movie star memorabilia, drawing, and listening to the radio.  After moving to New York after college, Warhol became a very successful commercial graphic design artist long before he became a pop art icon.  This early training and career as a graphic design artist is clear in his trademark focus on images of popular culture.

By the 1960’s Warhol was making a serious effort to become a professional artist.  He embraced silk screening, which later became his hallmark.  By 1962 Warhol had his first solo show, and by the mid- 1960’s his iconic images of popular culture such as Coca Cola and celebrities like Marilyn Monroe saw great success in the art world.  Production of the prints took on a “factory” atmosphere, with Warhol even naming his studios “the Factory.”  This mass production for consumers eventually caused Warhol to be criticized; however, Warhol was simply mimicking society, which was in love with mass consumerism.

After Wahol’s death in 1987 the Warhol foundation was created.  It has become one of the largest granting agencies for the arts in the United States.

*****

Boy with Piccolo
John Sloan (1871-1951)
Oil on canvas, 1904. Museum Purchase with a Grant from the Kinney-Lindstrom Foundation. 1985.4

After the invention of photography in the mid-nineteenth century, artists began expanding the way they depicted a human likeness.  John Sloan’s Boy with Piccolo is not a formally composed portrait; instead the artist has captured a happy moment in the life of an ordinary boy.

Sloan’s interest in social reform led him to join with other artists to form a group called The Eight.  These American painters were united in opposition to the conservatism of National Academy of Design and wanted to bring painting into direct contact with life.

Later The Eight formed the nucleus of the Ashcan School, which was active through World War I.  The artists of the Ashcan School rebelled against American Impressionism which was the leading style of American art at the time.  In contrast to Impressionism’s emphasis on light, their works were frequently dark in tone, capturing the harsher moments of life and often portraying such subjects as prostitutes, drunks, butchered pigs, overflowing tenements, boxing matches and wrestlers.

The Ashcan artists were action painters who mirrored the ebb and flow of reality with the flux of their brushwork.  Like Sloan, many were well prepared for this approach, having started their careers as newspaper illustrators.  While they chronicled the lives of poor city dwellers, they were neither social critics nor reformers, but a lively bunch of provincial rebels who created America’s first true avant-garde.

*****

The Clay Wagon
Arthur Dove (1880-1946)
Oil on canvas, 1935. Gift of the Francisca S. Winston Trust. 1965.1

Arthur Dove was the first American artist to paint a completely abstract picture.  He did this around 1910, perhaps a little before the Russian-born Kandinsky’s first abstract compositions. The difference was that Kandinsky’s abstract work happened in the progressive cultural and artistic context of Europe while Dove’s debuted in the general indifference of American taste.  His own reclusiveness contributed to the lack of impact his work had on the national art scene.

Dove’s work was all about nature. He began his art career as an illustrator for the New York press and in 1907 went on a year-and-a-half trip to Europe, spending most of it in Paris. There he fell in with the circle of American expatriate artists. His early work shows the influence of Cezanne and Matisse.  As soon as he got back to the United States he “went native,” as he put it, spending much of his time camping in the wilderness. “I can claim no background,” he once reflected, “except perhaps the woods, running streams, hunting, fishing, camping, and the sky.  After he failed at farming in upstate New York, he bought a yawl on which he lived for seven years, sailing the waters of Long Island Sound along the Connecticut shore. These experiences fed into his work, while isolating him from New York’s small avant-garde circles

In 1913 Dove explained to a friend his process of abstraction (or, as he sometimes called it, “extraction”): the landscape slowly disappears like the Cheshire cat in the tree, leaving the “abstract” form behind.  The first step was to choose from nature a motif in color, and with that motif to paint from nature, the form still being recognizable.  The second step was to apply this same principle to form, so that the actual object disappeared, and the means of expression became purely subjective.  In this way Dove believed he could arrive at “essences” that would transmit his sense of the spiritual in nature which was the deep concern of his art. Such “essences” were shapes that symbolized life forces and organic growth suggesting (he thought) some inner principle of reality.