The Ottumwa Courier

Wapello County

April 15, 2013

A Grant Wood mystery

ELDON — The people of Eldon may have found a sister city through a common trait: A connection to Grant Wood.

A small group from Council Bluffs was in Wapello County on Sunday, talking to a crowd at the Eldon Public Library about the search for a Grant Wood mural.

The Chieftain Hotel of Council Bluffs no longer houses old-fashioned businessmen in their freshly pressed topcoats. But it does sit at the center of a mystery about artist Grant Wood. And the people who have the American Gothic House in their backyard were fascinated.

“It’s a tie-in for us,” said Nancy Teubel, an art enthusiast who moved from Eldon to Fairfield several years ago. “Sometimes, it feels as though the corners of the state are not connected.”

She said Grant Wood is a subject she loves to learn more about.

Holly Berg, administrator of the American Gothic House Center, said they and the Ottumwa Area Arts Council are always looking for interesting connections to share about Grant Wood.

“Council Bluffs was kind of a missing piece of the puzzle,” Berg said. “Years ago, Eldon was like that, too. It’s interesting to see how they’ve developed [their Grant Wood] connection.”

In the 1970s, the new owners of the Chieftain, a retirement home company, decided they couldn’t spend $100,000 to remove and preserve an important “corn room” mural by Wood. So they allowed the public to bring sharp objects to cut away pieces of the mural. And the public took them up on the offer. The mural was cut into an unknown number of pieces and was dispersed across an unknown geographical area, gone, seemingly, forever.

Until some caring, persistent and creative history buffs at the Council Bluffs Council for the Arts decided that the single piece of the mural they owned would look a lot better with the rest of the Wood painting around it. Their investigation started years ago and is still ongoing.

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