Credit Line: Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Charles E. Friley. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
Three horses stand in a snowy field behind a barbed-wire fence. Also, present at the foot of the nearest horse are rabbit tracks. Purposefully, Wood inserted these tracks in his composition to symbolize a Darwinian survival of the fittest, the cycles of life, and the continued endurance and vitality of Iowans in harsh national times.
"While springtime, summer, and fall prevail in most of the farm pictures, in a few drawings and lithographs made in the late 1930's corresponding to a period of domestic stress and departmental strife at the University of Iowa, Wood does allow the winter season--cold, dark, and barren--to enter his landscapes. The raw forces of nature strip the trees and blanket the ground, sharpening the contrasts and deepening the shadows...Ponderous frozen corn shocks and rigid horses stand planted in deep snow on bleak prairie fields under dark skies." (Dennis, James. "Grant Wood." Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1986. p. 201-202).
Wood dedicates this particular lithograph at the bottom, "To Dr. and Mrs. Charles E. Friley, with sincere regards of Grant Wood." This print is dedicated to the Friley's in appreciation of Dr. Friley's financial involvement in the process and completion of the WPA murals in the Iowa State College Library. Friley was the President of Iowa State College from 1936 to 1953 and picked up where former ISC President Raymond Hughes left off by advising Wood until the completion of the murals.
Grant Wood was born in Iowa in 1891 to a Quaker family. He lived in Iowa until his death in 1942 except for three overseas trips to Europe. In 1934, he became the director of the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) in Iowa, and professor of art at the University of Iowa, Iowa City. Wood is best known as a pioneer in the artistic style known as Regionalism, specifically Rural Regionalism.
This enigmatic print executed in the winter that Grant Wood became seriously ill, presages his death in February a year later. Wood often used the horse in his compositions, recognizing the pivotal but waning role this animal played in the advance of American civilization, and specifically the settling and economic development of the Midwest.
However, the dark, featureless figures posed before a threatening winter sky leaves the viewer eerily chilled. The artist's intent remains a mystery to this day. A psychological manifestation of his not yet diagnosed pancreatic cancer might be an explanation.
Throughout most of his career, Grant Wood remained loyal to the regionalist principle, depicting the people and places that surrounded him. His idealized interpretations of farmland and farm folk sustained the myths surrounding agrarian life, making no reference to the hardships associated with living off the land. Spring, summer and fall were typically the seasons of choice. However, in the 1930s during a period of personal stress, Wood did include winter in his repertoire of landscapes.
The winters in Iowa can be bitterly cold and dreadfully long, and in February it has become monotonous. The three horses depicted in this work stand rigid against the biting wind that whips their manes and tails. The sharp angles and severe color contrasts attest to strong cutting winds.
Wood was the twenty-fourth cooperating artist with Associated American Artists, a New York organization formed to promote American art. As part of his agreement, Wood produced four lithographs a year, marketed nationally through the organization’s catalogs. Editions of the lithographs were limited to 250, and February was the part of the series he produced for 1941 sales. This print was signed and presented to Dr. and Mrs. Charles B. Friley by Grant Wood. Friley was the president of Iowa State College when Wood completed his public art commissions for the institution.