Skip navigation

The University of Iowa Libraries

Special Collections and University Archives

Finding Aid

Marvin Cone Papers
MsC 297
Collection Dates: 1929-1995
.5 linear ft.

Access and Restrictions: This collection is open for research.

Digital Surrogates: Except where indicated, this document describes but does not reproduce the actual text, images and objects which make up this collection. Materials are available only in the Special Collections Department.

Copyright: Please read The University of Iowa Libraries' statement on Property Rights, Copyright Law, and Permissions to Use Unpublished Materials.

Use of Collections: The University of Iowa Libraries supports access to the materials, published and unpublished, in its collections. Nonetheless, access to some items may be restricted by their fragile condition or by contractual agreement with donors, and it may not be possible at all times to provide appropriate machinery for reading, viewing or accessing non-paper-based materials. Please read our Use of Manuscripts Statement.

Acquisition and Processing Information: Gift of Mrs. Marvin (Winifred) Cone in 1974.

Photographs: None

Marvin Cone working on a door painting


Scope and Contents

A collection of biographical materials, clippings, programs, and pamphlets having to do with the artist Marvin Cone.


Biographical Note

Marvin Cone was born in 1891 in Cedar Rapids, the son of a jeweler. He attended Washington High School where he graduated in 1910 in the same class as Grant Wood. He and Wood were friends and they sometimes painted backdrops for the community theater. Cone was active in the Cedar Rapids Arts Association from its beginning in 1906. For a number of years the teenaged Wood and Cone unpacked and hung the exhibitions. Cone graduated from Coe College in 1914 and then attended the Chicago Institute of Art. He enlisted in 1917. At a training camp in New Mexico he designed the insignia for the 34th Infantry division, the Red Bull.  In France he served as interpreter for Brigadier General Hubert Allen. After the war he stayed on in France and studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts at Monpellier.

In 1919 he accepted a post teaching French at Coe College in Cedar Rapids. In 1920, Cone and Wood both went to Paris to paint, where they lived in the Latin Quarter. On the ship the S.S. Grampion on the way home, the two set up an exhibition in the ship's lounge. On this trip, Cone met Winifred Swift of Ontario. The couple was married on August 10, 1921. They returned to Cedar Rapids, where he again taught French at Coe.

Cone served on the faculty at Coe College for over forty years. He gradually shifted from teaching French to teaching art, but did not stop teaching French until 1938. He became a full professor at Coe in 1934. During the 1920s and 1930s he was associated with Grant Wood and they worked together at the art colony in Stone City. He took 1938 off to paint, supported during this year by a group of local residents. He spent the summer of 1939 painting in Mexico. Cornell College awarded him an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts in 1949.

Cone is considered part of the Regionalist movement. George Shane, writing in the Des Moines Register on May 5,1968, said of Cone

Cone was one of the most important Midwest regional painters and, in his interpretation of the Iowa scene in a straight-forward, realistic manner, the best.

He took matter-of-fact things -- old barns or village street corners -- and painted them without becoming photographic or too preoccupied with style. As a comparison, Grant Wood's preoccupation with style made some of his Iowa scenes less successful than those by Cone.

Cone is considered to have gone through several periods in his painting style, broken down roughly  by decade:1930s - barns and landscapes, especially including masterful renditions of clouds; 1940s - circuses; 1950s - empty rooms and doorways, sometimes referred to as haunted hoses; and 1960s - abstract paintings. Quoting again from George Shane:

Although Cone worked with a more muted palette, running to blues and greens in later years, he could bring the full richness of sunlight and all its color to the canvas when he wished to do so. This is especially true in his carnival pictures, where barkers extol the wonders of snake charmers and other oddities of the midway.

Possibly the most evocative of Cone's works are his pictures of empty rooms in old houses, with half-opened doors. . .  In later years, Cone turned from his subjective type of painting and worked mostly in abstract. He took the quiet colors of his old interiors and used them to develop abstract patterns.

Cone remained active in the Cedar Rapids Art Association during most of his life, where he served on the purchasing committee for many years. In addition he had an avid interest in astronomy and kept informed on mountain climbing, though apparently he did not do any. In 1960 $10,000 was raised to relieve Cone of his teaching duties and allow him to paint as an artist-in-residence at Coe. He retired from the faculty of Coe College in 1960. In 1963 ill health prevented his continuing to paint and he died on May 18, 1965. Before Cone died, Coe College had announced the inauguration of two permanent collections -- the Marvin Cone Collection consisting of 22 paintings by Cone and the Marvin Cone Alumni Collection, featuring works of twelve of Cone's students. In 1966 the Cedar Rapids Arts Association named the auditorium gallery in their new art center the Marvin Cone Auditorium. They also established a memorial fund in Cone's name to defray the cost of the new arts center. His obituary in a local newspaper called Cone "a moving spirit in the Cedar Rapids Art Association" and stated that "No one ever did more to popularize art in Cedar Rapids than Professor Cone."


Related Materials

Grant Wood papers

Hazel E. Brown Papers. A friend of Grant Wood and Marvin Cone, Brown published Grant Wood and Marvin Cone: Artists of an Era in 1971.

James Schramm Papers. Correspondence between Cone and Schramm



Box Contents List

Clippings

Exhibit catalogs and pamphlets