Laural Ronk, executive director of the Council Bluffs art council, agreed the search for Grant Wood artifacts has become a sort of detective work. She and Dick Miller, chair of the Grant Wood Conservation and Special Projects, have run into different kinds of people, they told the group in Eldon, and shared some of the stories of their persistence: The lawyer who had a fragment of the mural hanging in his bathroom, the realtor who wants $10,000 for her fragment but has had no takers and the banker who, after talking with the group over a period of time, said he realized history would be better served if the Council Bluffs group had his fragment.
“Ernie Buresh… never told me no. But he never said yes, either,” Miller said. “One day he told us, ‘You deserve it more than I do.’”
Since that time, he let the project leaders take his large fragment of the mural and has become a friend to the Council Bluff’s Art Council and the Grant Wood Conservation group.
The mural is coming together, and the portion that has been restored hangs in the county courthouse.
The group has made another friend, too, they said: The staff of the local newspaper, The Daily Nonpareil of Council Bluffs. Miller and Ronk said the paper was, and still is, enthusiastically supportive of the project to put the “lost” mural back on a wall in their town. People reading the articles have sent thousands of dollars in support, and word has got around about the search for pieces of their giant puzzle.
Ronk said besides the obvious places like Iowa and Nebraska, they’ve received fragments of the mural from Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. They just got a call from a donor in South Dakota.
Miller isn’t shy about talking to people, especially about Grant Wood, said Ronk. And that friendly, talkative nature may be another reason for the group’s success. Miller asked the current owners of the Chieftain Hotel building if they could come poke around.
The owners agreed. Talking to current residents of what is now a retirement home, the preservation volunteers learned of “some things you should see.”
When they climbed up into the drop ceiling, they discovered 46 feet of poetry hand painted by Grant Wood. The New York Times covered the discovery.
“It’s exciting learning about Grant Wood’s connection to another part of Iowa,” said Teubel.