Lilies of the Alley

We just got back from a three week long sojourn in the US, where we spent most of our time in Iowa. During this amazing season, we had the chance to visit a gallery which houses some works by my favorite artist, whose name you might not have heard of. Some of his best work acts as a metaphor for what it is the Church should be about.

Grant Wood is my favorite for a number of reasons. I like him primarily because he is playfully impish. He has an unabashed love for the US, and not only the US but also for Iowa, a part of America which is not often associated with a high appreciation for art and culture. (Thought that is a mistaken lack of association.) I also like him because he is ‘my’ artist. By that I mean that I found him, or put more precisely, nobody told me to like him. He was the first artist I was not assumed to need an appreciation for and so one might say he was a part of my taste forming years in which I recognized the things I like, such as reading Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, both of whom share the impish quality. Other examples include Art Nouveau and the olds school Betty Boop.

Wood is unpretentious, a character treat I am sure he picked up from the native straight talking German stock who make light of those that pretend a bit too much about who they are. A reminder we all need, and I am happy to say, I need it more often than many others.

But it is pretense that Wood plays with, or rather I should say he pretends. He is part of the style of Regionalism, which is a part of the American realist modern art movement popular int he 30s during the Great Depression. Perhaps one of the most hopeful paintings and at once a comment on American society of the time is The Adoration of the Home. It gives body to the aspiration to own a home. However, it is the playfulness of the Lilies of the Alley which seem well before their time. He recycled old pieces of metal and put them together to form flowers coming out of a flower pot. They are dated at 1925.

It is this sort of playful pretend nature, not as aspirational as The Adoration, but much rather imaginative and redemptive. It is this part of Grant Woods work I find most appealing and it is this part of his work which works as a metaphor for what I believe the Church should be about. The image is an act of redemption. It is the Spirit that binds these strange parts together to form a flower acceptable to be a Lily of the Alley. I don’t know if Grant Wood was a Christian. However, the Lily of the Valley, mentioned in the second chapter of Solomons Song, is an image which depicts Jesus, the love of the story. I like to think that Woods Alley might be a helpful way of looking at his bride groom. Or, just forget about the whole thing and enjoy the smileyness of  Woods creation.

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