We drove right past the Grant Wood Studio in downtown Cedar Rapids. Who knew it was tucked above a carriage house behind a former funeral home? But very glad we found it because it was really interesting. We watched a short film about Woods’ life in and around Cedar Rapids and then walked up an outdoor staircase to a small second-floor loft above the carriage house where Grant lived with his mother (and sometimes his sister) and painted some of his most famous paintings, reproductions of which were propped up on an easel in the middle of the main room, a white-walled room with heavy wood beams and lots of natural light flooding in from big windows and a cupola.
We walked a few blocks to the Cedar Rapids Art Museum where we saw some of the paintings Wood painted in the loft – which was pretty cool. We also sawother interesting work including paintings by Wood’s friend/lesser-known artist Marvin Cone and an interesting exhibit of World War I themed paintings done by a 21st century painter.
Cedar Rapids’ indoor public market, Newbo seems to still be doing well (at least it was full of tenants and shoppers/eaters, and it proved to be a good place to pick up a quick bite t before we hit the museum/studio tour).
Dirck was craving a burger so we stopped in Iowa City at Shine’s at about 4 p.m. and found out there’s a Sunday special – until 5 p.m. We each had burgers and fries for $12.73 total. Cheapest dinner we’ve had in a very long time. Maybe ever. The weather was so pretty that we decided to take backroads home, following F52 and a few other remote roller-coaster roads south of Interstate 80. They often struck us as “RAGBRAI roads.” We sometimes lost our way but found cool things including an unusually grant Romanesque church (St. Michael’s Catholic) in the small unincorporated town of Holbrook, circa 1867 (according to the National Historic Register plaque nearby.) Several old gravestones dated back to the 1880’s and most are Irish settlers. More details here.
I’ve been curious for awhile to visit the NewBo market area of Cedar Rapids and so we finally did yesterday. I would have to say that it’s not quite there yet but that’s fine – Des Moines’ East Village wasn’t quite there for several years and then suddenly it is is very much there. The Market – inside a cavernous metal building has food stalls and a few food-related or home-stuffs stores, none that knocked my socks off (but then D. kind of ruined it by reminding me of the truly awesome market we went to in Lisbon – yes, Lisbon, Portugal, last fall…) D. had some okay mexican food. I had okay Korean dumplings. We walkeded past some of the cool old rehabbed buildings near the market in NewBo (New Bohemia) – not much there yet. There’s several restaurants (we’d already eaten) and a few shops (DSM’s Raygun just opened, which should be a draw – except for people in Des Moines and Iowa City who already have their own; there’s a small well-cultivated book store.) There was an antique shop (of sorts) closed on Saturdays at 3 p.m. (Really??)
We wandered over to the neighboring Czech Village – which is sort of like DSM’s Valley Junction area with antique and junk shops, plus a famous old Czech bakery. Didn’t find that much of interest.
We did have a very good meal at Cobble Hill, in an old brick storefront downtown. It’s named after a Brooklyn neighborhood (which my brother used to live in) and did seem to pull off the Brooklyn hip-rustic-make/it/yourself vibe, combined with friendly unpretentious Midwestern service and fresh Midwestern meat and veg used to produce sophisticated one-of-a-kind entrees that usually worked. The chef hails from a restaurant, the Lincoln Cafe, now closed, that we used to enjoy in Mount Vernon, Ia and was recently a Jame Beard semifinalist. My lamb was delicious – served with a salad that had so many notes, favors, ingredients I can’t begin to pull them all apart. Eating it was a bit like a dissection – is that broccoli? this is a weird little shrimp? is this green soft thing the spietzle? The dessert was truly bizarre – an egg-shaped scoop of what we believe was guava sorbet. Deliciously sour. Then a strange pale triangle take-off on an ice cream dilly bar, but with white chocolate outside and an inside that didn’t quite work – it wasn’t quite ice cream, odd consistency and not much flavor, then there were crunchy bits scattered around the plate that looked and tasted like fancy grapenuts and little dabs of purple stuff that was also sour and tasty. On the flip side, I had a deliciously simple homemade pomegranate limeade. And a plate of house-cured meats and veg was full of interesting flavors – my favorite a duck rillette (sp?) spread that was delicious when spread on top of grilled nutty bread with a dried cherry marinated in balsamic vinegar (my best guess here..)
There still isn’t much in Stone City (where Grant Wood once painted) – except some very pretty old limestone buildings including an old “General Store” that’s now a very busy bar and restaurant. We sat on the back patio overlooking the Wapsipinicon River on a beautiful afternoon. Lots of bikers were inside the limestone-walled bar and family groups in the restaurant. We had to stop and visit our favorite state prison/”reformatory” in Amamosa, a bizarrely beautiful old building that, as I recall, was built with the idea that beauty could help reform the worst lawbreakers. The Prison’s museum – another oddity – appears to still be in business although it was closed by the time we arrived.
And who says they don’t have a sense of humor in the small town of Ladora, Iowa: (see below)
As seen in Ladora, Iowa
A long time ago, I visited the sweet little house in Eldon, Iowa that Grant Wood based his iconic “American Gothic” portrait on – but now apparently you can borrow a pitchfork, overalls and glasses when you pose in front of the house, as we all tend to do there. The house is now owned by the Iowa State Historical Society. Other Grant Wood sight-seeing options, according to Iowa Farm Bureau’s Family Living (full disclosure: my husband edits it) include:
– The Grant Wood Studio and Armstrong Visitor Center in Cedar Rapids, open for tours on weekend afternoons.
– The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art which has the world’s largest collection of Grant Wood paintings (but if you want to see “American Gothic” you’ll have to visit the Chicago Art Institute.)
– I didn’t know that Wood designed a sun porch at the Brucemore estate in Cedar Rapids.
– Anamosa has the Grant Wood Art Gallery and Riverside Cemetery where Grant is buried. The 40th Annual Grant Wood Art Festival will be held there on Sunday, June 10, 2012 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. (I thought it was held in Stone City, where Wood ran a summer art school in the early 1930s.)
– For more info on the Grant Wood Trail, which includes 19 sites across Iowa, most free, see: http://www.crma.org (and click on the “Grant Wood” tab.)
Horrors, almost forgot to blog today. Here’s a few more tourism sites on the mend in Cedar Rapids, almost two years after the devastating flood there: Theatre Cedar Rapid, a 1920’s treasure; and Ushers Ferry a historic village that recreates small town Iowa at the turn of the (20th) century. I remember my kids having a good time at this spot when they were little and I was dragging them all around Iowa while researching my travel book Fun with the Family in Iowa.