Wednesday, February 02, 2011

My Dream of Grant Woods Pie

Last week Sherry's latest batch of cool "Stuff#21" sent me on a chain of hypertext links that led me back home again, literally and symbolically. Starting close to home with Kentuckian Wendell Berry, Sherry found Berry and Bob Dylan together in a blog post at The Art of the Rural. Now, I was once a Dylan fan, and I still remember ALL the lyrics to "Highway 61 Revisited," but I fell out with Bob when I was a senior in college. I was driving south on Iowa Route 169, just outside of Adel, when "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" came on the radio. "...You just kinda wasted my precious time," Bob sang, as I'd heard him do so many times before, but this time, something dawned on me. "You whiny, self-centered S.O.B.!" I said, perhaps even aloud, as I switched off the radio. If only there were less of my own "precious time" between insight and understanding, I might have avoided some not-so-great life-choices. Still, it was a start.

As I moved from my own farm-girl epiphany to other posts at The Art of the Rural, I learned that Charlie Louvin had passed, Hamper McBee is on the You-Tubes, and there's a lady living in the "American Gothic" house, hellbent on saving the world through pie.

Beth Howard's blog is The World Needs More Pie, and of course, she's right. She says of herself:

I was born in the neighboring small town of Ottumwa, a place I never thought I'd return to because it seemed so "backwater," but now Ottumwa is where I do all my shopping, go to movies, and on the rare occasion, grab a burger at the classic 1930's diner, The Canteen in the Alley. I left Iowa to travel the world, I've lived in places including Nairobi, Stuttgart, New York and most recently Portland, Oregon. And now...Eldon, Iowa. It's like Grant Wood said, "I had to go to France to appreciate Iowa."

Now, I have a few reservations about an Iowan who calls Ottumwa, Iowa (population 25,000) a small town. Cromwell (population 120), where I went to school, is a small town. Eldon (population 1000), where the pie-evangelist lives in the house Grant Wood painted, is a small town. Ottumwa is one of the big towns on the Burlington Northern Line, which ran through My Antonia and A Lost Lady and Creston (population 7500), the semi-big town where my parents bought groceries and I went to high school. Still, she might have been addressing New Yorkers, so I'll let that slide.

Ms. Howard has a whole media empire at her The World Needs More Pie, but I'm mostly hung up on the connection in my memory between Grant Wood and pie. I did my undergraduate studies at Iowa State University, which was adorned with quite a bit of WPA art. The library had a set of Grant Wood murals. I thought they were spectacular and strange, and I spent quite a bit of time looking at them, particularly the Agricultural Arts and Home Economics Arts panels. I have a vivid memory of a huge, columnar woman wearing a perfectly smooth gingham apron in a kitchen, with a spherical cooked fowl and a geometrical pie on a table. However, a look at the Web page Grant Woods murals at ISU shows no such image of a Grant Woods-painted pie. The columnar apron is there alright, but I guess I hallucinated the turkey and pie. (The dorm food was really bad.)

I guess it took Beth Howard to complete my dream of Grant Woods pie.

No comments: