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A friend who had not seen John Steuart Curry since he was a potent footballer at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pa. 15 years ago would hardly recognize him today. Apple-cheeked, fat, bald, he now weighs 187 pounds, lives quietly in Westport, Conn. He is so sensitive about his art that he frequently decides to give it up. But Curry is generally considered the greatest painter of Kansas and of the circus in the U. S. His two most famed works Tornado (see reproduction) and Baptism in Kansas won him important critical accolades in Chicago and Manhattan but only served to irritate his fellow Kansans who felt that such subjects were best left untouched. In 1932 John Ringling gave him permission to follow the "Greatest Show on Earth." The result was a spectacular group of canvases showing herds of elephants, the Flying Codonas, the Wallenda Family, Baby Ruth, the fat girl, etc.
Curry's art is simple and dramatic. Whether he likes it or not no Kansan who has looked at his State or been to a circus can fail to recognize the authenticity of Curry's subjects. Latest Curry is a two-panel mural for the Westport High School. In Comedy Artist Curry has included himself and his wife, has gaily jumbled Charlie Chaplin on roller skates, Mickey Mouse, Mutt ;; Jeff, Shakespeare's Bottom, Will Rogers, Popeye the Sailor. In Tragedy Uncle Tom prays by the bedside of Little Eva, Hamlet sulks, Lady Macbeth sleepwalks, Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, Eugene O'Neill scowl, Aerialist Lillian Leitzel drops from her circus partner's arms to death.
The chief philosopher and greatest teacher of representational U. S. art is Iowa's chubby, soft-spoken Grant Wood? Like Benton, Grant Wood studied in France, turned out his share of Blue Vase, Sorrento, House in Montmartre, Breton Market. But in 1929 he radically changed his style. From his palette issued a series of rolling, tree-dotted Iowa fields done in a flat, smooth manner. His landscape of West Branch, Iowa (FORTUNE, Aug. 1932) got the birthplace of Herbert Hoover almost as much public attention as the infrequent visits of that President. Wood's credo: U. S. art suffers from a "Colonial attitude" to Europe, a feeling of cultural dependence upon the older continent. To combat this attitude Wood hose irony. His American Gothic (see reproduction) and his spectacular Daughters of Revolution, three prim spinsters against a background of Washington grossing the Delaware, were his first attack. This year, what most critics consider his most important painting. Dinner 'or Threshers (see reproduction), won no prize at the Carnegie International it Pittsburgh but was voted third most popular by the public. Simple and direct, he picture bears as genuine a U. S. stamp as a hotdog stand or baseball park.
Shy Bachelor Wood, 42, hates to leave his native Iowa where his fellow-citizens have been buying his pictures and singing his praise almost since he began painting. He is often convinced he is a better teacher than painter. In Munich. once mastered in a few weeks the technique of glass painting when German artists insisted on making a bearded Civil War soldier (for a Cedar Rapids memorial window) look like Christ.