John Bloom: Visions of Iowa


A native of Iowa and resident of Davenport, John Vincent Bloom (1906-2002) drew inspiration from his immediate surroundings and personal experiences. In so doing, he has left a lasting impression of the small rural communities scattered across the Iowa landscape and the lives sustained by the predominantly agrarian economy. Bloom’s singular interest in depicting local, American subject matter reflects his life-long commitment to Regionalism. Popular during the years of the Great Depression, Regionalism eschewed the abstraction introduced by the Parisian school of art in favor of a more naturalistic and easily recognizable style and subject matter. Striving to create art that was uniquely American, Regionalist artists shunned the frenetic lifestyle of the metropolis and focused on depicting the American heartland. In this respect, Regionalism was very much a product of its times, reflecting and reacting to the unease and instability felt by the nation in the wake of the Great War. Reassuring images of rural America validated the worth and power of a nation struggling with economic hardship and political instability.

Bloom was introduced to Regionalism in 1932 when he participated in Grant Wood’s Stone City Art Colony and School, an institution aimed to further Regionalist philosophy. His work with Grant Wood continued when the latter spearheaded the Public Works of Art Project (P.W.A.P) for the state of Iowa. Funded by the federal government to help alleviate the economic crisis, the P.W.A.P. created jobs for unemployed artists by commissioning large-scale murals and other decorations for public buildings. Intended to both improve the physical appearance of the buildings and edify local citizens about their traditions, these murals served the needs of many. Bloom assisted Wood in painting murals for the Des Moines Public library and Iowa State University library before receiving the commission to design and paint a mural for the new post office of DeWitt, Iowa. Completed in 1937, the mural Shocking Oats was followed by another government-funded project for the Tipton post office, the mural Cattle of 1940. Opportunities however soon ran out and Bloom had to turn to commercial design to earn a living. After retiring in 1969, Bloom returned to painting murals, basing his compositions on the drawings developed in the 1930s and 1940s. Thus many of his later murals make reference to agrarian practices of the past.

As an artist who experienced the Great Depression and participated in Roosevelt’s work projects, many of Bloom’s images feature human figures toiling in the fields or engaged in various household activities. Comprised of murals, sculpture, easel paintings, prints and preparatory drawings, the images in this exhibition offer a glimpse into the lives of working men and women during the Depression. Often turned away from the viewer or absorbed in their own thoughts, Bloom’s figures represent the experiences of everyman and resonate with the viewers of today.