Curry, John Steuart, 1897-1946

Alternative names

Hide Profile

John Steuart Curry (1897-1946) was a painter, lithographer, and instructor.

Curry worked as WPA muralist and is famous as one of The Regionalists, along with Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood. He taught at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1936-1946.

From the description of John Steuart Curry and Curry family papers, 1848-1999. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 233006998

Painter, lithographer, instructor.

Born in Kansas; worked as WPA muralist. Curry is famous as one of The Regionalists, along with Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood. Taught University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1936-

From the description of John Steuart Curry and Curry family papers, 1897-1994. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 220175371

Painter, muralist, and illustrator John Steuart Curry is considered one of the three important painters of the American Regionalist movement, along with Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri and Grant Wood of Iowa. Curry was born in north-eastern Kansas in 1897, and grew up on his family's farm. Curry left high school to attend the Kansas City Art Institute briefly, and then studied at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1916 with Edward J. Timmons and John Norton. Curry later spent a year in Paris studying with Basil Schoukhaieff in 1926 and 1927.

Curry began his career as a freelance illustrator in Leonia, New Jersey, under the influence of Harvey Dunn. Curry's illustrations were widely published in illustrated magazines such as Boy's Life, Country Gentleman, and Saturday Evening Post in the early 1920s. He married Clara Derrick in 1923 and lived in Greenwich Village, and then Westport, Connecticut, from 1924 to 1936. Derrick died in 1932, and in 1934 Curry married Kathleen Gould.

Curry's career shifted from illustration to painting during the 1920s and 1930s, bolstered by success in exhibitions and sales. Exhibits included the National Academy of Design (1924), the Corcoran Gallery (1927-1928), a solo exhibition at the Whitney Studio Club (1930), and the Carnegie International Exhibition (1933). Early sales include Baptism in Kansas, purchased by the Whitney in 1930, and Spring Shower, purchased by the Metropolitan Museum in 1932. Curry taught at Cooper Union (1932-1934) and the Art Student's League (1932-1934), and painted his first murals in Westport under the Federal Art Project in 1934.

In 1936, he was appointed artist-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin College of Agriculture as part of a rural art program developed by rural sociologist John Burton. The purpose of his residency was to serve as an educational resource for rural people of the state. Curry stayed in this position until his death in 1946, carrying out the program's mission through lectures and visits with dozens of art and civic groups around the state, and by making himself available to rural artists through correspondence and guidance in his studio. He also helped to organize annual rural art exhibitions for UW's Farm and Home Week beginning in 1940. In return for his work, he was given a salary and a studio on campus and the freedom to execute his own work as he chose.

Under the Federal Art Program's Section of Painting and Sculpture, Curry completed two murals in the Justice Department building in Washington in 1936, Westward Migration and Justice Defeating Mob Violence, and two murals in the Department of the Interior building in 1938, The Homestead and The Oklahoma Land Rush . A design that was rejected by the government for the Justice building, a mural entitled Freeing of the Slaves, was later executed at the University of Wisconsin in their law library. From 1938 to 1940, Curry worked on murals for the state house rotunda in Topeka, Kansas admist a stormy, public controversy over his dramatic depiction of Kansas history. The legislature effectively blocked Curry's completion of the project through a formal resolution not to remove marble that was blocking areas that were part of Curry's design. Infuriated, Curry left the unfinished murals unsigned, and later derided the state frequently for the treatment he received. The Kansas State legislature issued a formal apology and appreciation of the completed murals in the 1990s.

Despite the lack of appreciation of his home state, Curry did receive recognition elsewhere during his lifetime as an artist of national importance. He continued to paint and exhibit in the art centers of the East Coast. In 1941, he won the Gold Medal Award at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts exhibition, and in the 1942 Artists For Victory exhibition, he won the top prize for Wisconsin Landscape . Curry's book illustrations were in high demand, and he contributed to books such as My Friend Flicka, editions of Lincoln's and Emerson's writings, and Wisconsin writer August Derleth's The Wisconsin . A biography of Curry written by Laurence Schmeckebier was published in 1942.

Curry died in 1946 of heart failure. A retrospective that had been planned for the living artist opened less than a month after his death at the Milwaukee Art Institute. His wife, Kathleen Curry, maintained his estate until her death, in 2001, at the age of 102. Additional retrospective exhibitions were held at Syracuse University in 1956 and in the Kansas State Capitol in 1970. In 1998, the exhibition "John Steuart Curry: Inventing the Middle West" was organized at the University of Wisconsin and traveled to the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum and the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art.

From the guide to the John Steuart Curry and Curry family papers, 1848-1999, (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Curry, John Steuart, 1897-1946. John Steuart Curry and Curry family papers, 1848-1999. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Curry, John Steuart, 1897-1946. Artist file. Brooklyn Museum Libraries & Archives
referencedIn Christ-Janer, Albert, 1910-1973,. Oral history interview with Albert Christ-Janer, 1964 Mar. 21 [sound recording]. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Curry, Kathleen, 1899-. Oral history interview with Kathleen Curry regarding John Steuart Curry, 1990 and 1992. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf American Artists Group. American Artists Group records, 1934-1965. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Curry, John Steuart, 1897-1946. John Steuart Curry : artist file : study photographs and reproductions of works of art with accompanying documentation 1930?-1990 [graphic] [compiled by staff of The Museum of Modern Art, New York]. Frick Art Reference Library of The Frick Collection
creatorOf Anderson, Don. Don Anderson papers concerning John Steuart Curry, 1942-1973. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Navas, Elizabeth S., 1885-1979. Elizabeth S. Navas papers, 1939-1963. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Navas, Elizabeth S., 1885-1979. Elizabeth S. Navas papers, 1939-1963. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Curry, John Steuart, 1897-1946 : [miscellaneous ephemeral material]. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas J. Watson Library
creatorOf Murphy, Frank, 1890-1949. Frank Murphy autograph book, 1930-1942. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Curry, John Steuart, 1897-1946. John Steuart Curry and Curry family papers, 1897-1994. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Curry, Kathleen, 1899-. Oral history interview with Kathleen Curry regarding John Steuart Curry, 1990 and 1992 [sound recording]. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Curry, John Steuart, 1897-1946. John Steuart Curry printed material, 1919-1963. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Barton, John Rector, 1897-1965. John Rector Barton papers, 1939-1962. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Engle, Margaret D. Margaret D. Engle letters from artists, 1937-1943. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Bassett, Norman, 1891- . Papers, 1932-1956. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn Christ-Janer, Albert, 1910-1973,. Albert Christ-Janer interview, 1964 Mar. 21. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Benton, Thomas Hart, 1889-1975. Review, 1944. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
creatorOf John Steuart Curry and Curry family papers, 1848-1999 Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
referencedIn Curry, John Steuart : Biographical file. Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center
referencedIn Bassett, Norman, 1891-. Norman Bassett papers, 1936-1954. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf John Herron Art Institute. Wilbur D. Peat correspondence, 1929-1936. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Rubenstein, Lewis W. (Lewis William), 1908-. Lewis W. Rubenstein papers, 1923-1993. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Martyl, 1918-. Martyl Langsdorf papers, 1918-1977. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Curry, Kathleen, 1899-. Oral history interview with Kathleen Curry regarding John Steuart Curry, 1990 and 1992 [sound recording]. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Christ-Janer, Albert, 1910-1973,. Oral history interview with Albert Christ-Janer, 1964 Mar. 21 [sound recording]. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Curry, John Steuart, 1897-1946. Clippings about John Steuart Curry, 1935-1947. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Culver, Charles B. (Charles Beach), 1908-1967. Late look at the American Scene Movement and its principle figures / by Charles Culver. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Associated American Artists Records, 1916-1974 Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries
creatorOf Curry, John Steuart, 1897-1946. Letters to Frank Luther Mott. Madison, WI. 1940-1941. University of Iowa Libraries
creatorOf Brinley, Putnam. Daniel Putnam Brinley papers, 1884-1990. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Curry, John Steuart, 1897-1946. Correspondence, 1940-1942. K-State Libraries, Kansas State University, Hale Library
creatorOf Wickey, Harry. Harry Wickey papers, 1918-1973. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf McCloy, William Ashby. William Ashby McCloy papers, 1926-1988. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Whitney Museum of American Art. Whitney Museum of American Art artists' files and records, 1914-1966. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf John Herron Art Institute. Wilbur D. Peat correspondence, 1929-1936. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Diemer, M. E. M.E. Diemer photographs of John Steuart Curry, [ca. 1930s]. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Curry, John Steuart, 1897-1946. John Steuart Curry : [vertical file]. Morris Museum of Art Library
creatorOf Anderson, Don. Don Anderson papers relating to John Steuart Curry, 1942-1973. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Sawyer, Charles Henry, 1906-. Oral history interview with Charles H. Sawyer, 1964. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Maynard Walker Gallery. Maynard Walker Gallery records, 1847-1973. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Sawyer, Charles Henry, 1906-. Charles H. Sawyer interview, 1964 [sound recording]. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith American Art Association. corporateBody
associatedWith American Artists Group. corporateBody
associatedWith Anderson, Don. person
associatedWith Associated American Artists corporateBody
associatedWith Barton, John Rector, 1897-1965. person
associatedWith Bassett, Norman, 1891- . person
associatedWith Benton, Thomas Hart, 1889-1975. person
associatedWith Brinley, Putnam. person
associatedWith Christ-Janer, Albert, 1910-1973, person
associatedWith Craven, Thomas, b. 1889. person
associatedWith Culver, Charles B. (Charles Beach), 1908-1967. person
associatedWith Curry, Kathleen, 1899- person
associatedWith Curry, R. Eugene. person
associatedWith Diemer, M. E. person
associatedWith Dodd, Lamar. person
associatedWith Dunn, Harvey, 1884-1952. person
associatedWith Engle, Margaret D. person
associatedWith Fike, Mildred Curry. person
associatedWith John Herron Art Institute. corporateBody
associatedWith Marsh, Reginald, 1898-1954. person
associatedWith Martyl, 1918- person
associatedWith Maynard Walker Gallery. corporateBody
associatedWith McCloy, William Ashby. person
associatedWith Mott, Frank Luther, 1886-1964, person
associatedWith Murphy, Frank, 1890-1949. person
associatedWith Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Navas, Elizabeth S., 1885-1979. person
associatedWith Nock, Samuel A. person
associatedWith Rubenstein, Lewis W. (Lewis William), 1908- person
associatedWith Sawyer, Charles Henry, 1906- person
associatedWith United States. Dept. of the Treasury. Section of Fine Arts. corporateBody
associatedWith Whitney Museum of American Art. corporateBody
associatedWith Wickey, Harry. person
associatedWith Wood, Grant, 1891-1942. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
United States
Wisconsin
Middle West
Subject
Illustrators--Wisconsin
Muralists--Wisconsin
Illustrators
Regionalism in art
Mural painting and decoration, American
Art--Technique
Art teachers
Regionalism
Art--Study and teaching
Painters
Muralists
Painters--Wisconsin
Painters--Correspondence
Painting, American
Art--American (?)--Reproductions
Art, Regional
Art, American
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1897-11-14

Death 1946-08-29

Americans

Information

Permalink: http://n2t.net/ark:/99166/w64t6p4p

Ark ID: w64t6p4p

SNAC ID: 6714227