Old Gold: Historic Art Building to see new life
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(Editor’s note: The Old Gold series provides a look at University of Iowa history and tradition through materials housed in University Archives, Department of Special Collections.)
Something brave and stalwart infiltrates the 1936 Art Building on UI’s west campus. Its construction was completed at the height of the Great Depression, by any measure a statement of resolve at a time of economic austerity and hardship.
And then, seven decades later, came the Flood of 2008. The Art Building sustained major damage, but remains standing today, waiting patiently, it seems, for its next chapter as one of the university’s signature landmarks.
Old Gold is unsure what he admires most about this longtime fixture of the Iowa River’s west bank: its Georgian architecture featuring brick trimmed with Bedford stone, or its longevity despite challenges thrown its way.
Regardless of the reason, Old Gold appreciates the university’s decision to save and eventually repurpose the Art Building under terms of a 2012 agreement with FEMA as post-flood recovery continues. Officials have recognized the historic value and beauty of the structure and are taking steps to ensure its continued presence, despite construction of a new art building scheduled to begin soon on a site less than three blocks west of the original site.
Though completed in 1936, the Art Building’s origins can be traced nearly a quarter-century earlier, when Edward P. Schoentgen of Council Bluffs, Iowa, a member of the state Board of Education (now Board of Regents), announced his vision of a fine arts campus along the west bank of the river. In 1932, Schoentgen’s vision began to take shape with announcement of plans to construct what would become a campus of a half-dozen buildings devoted to the fine arts. Plans were prepared by George L. Horner, the university’s architect, and Rufus H. Fitzgerald, head of the School of Fine Arts, in consultation with Schoentgen.
A UI painting class shown in the 1938 brochure Art: Bulletin of the University of Iowa. Image courtesy of “Art Building” folder, Campus Buildings and Grounds Vertical File (RG 01.15.02), University Archives, UI Libraries.
Following its dedication, the building acquired a long line of distinguished occupants, beginning with Grant Wood, the renowned artist who joined the UI art faculty in 1934. Wood taught classes in mural design and maintained a studio there. Unfortunately, the 2008 flood—and others in intervening years—has ruled out continued use of the building as a place of instruction and creation of art. Other uses of the building are being contemplated for the future.
What’s next? While its post-1936 additions will be removed, the original 1936 footprint will remain, once again opening the building’s face to the Iowa River. And a new vision may take hold, just as Edward Schoentgen’s did, beginning a century ago.