John Steuart Curry was born in Dunavant, Kansas in 1897. He showed an interest in art at a young age, and attended the art intstitutes of Kansas City and Chicago. Early in his career he worked as an illustrator, and in 1926 he went to Paris to study fine art. In 1926, Curry met Thomas Hart Benton who, along with Grant Wood, become known as the Midwestern Regionalists. These men were all painters who were from the Midwest, and who had studied art in cosmopolitan settings including Europe and New York City. They shared the rural Midwest as subject matter, and believed in painting that which they knew. They were in opposition to abstract modern art, which they felt to be a European contrivance which did not reflect American sensibilities.
This paper will situate Curry within the tradition of Midwestern pastoralism. It will explore how Curry’s paintings and his ideas reflect the Midwestern pastoralism as defined by William Barillas. After an overview of Curry and Midwestern pastoralism generally, I will move onto a discussion of Curry’s time as artist in residence at the University of Wisconsin’s College of Agriculture. The College of Agriculture is significant it the tradition of Midwestern pastoralism, and Curry’s position as artist in residence within the College of Agriculture’s own traditions will be considered. I will consider the history of the University of Wisconsin, the College of agriculture, art, American agriculture, and rural culture. All of these strands will be woven into an argument which will explain the significance and relevance of Curry’s time at the University of Wisconsin as it relates to the Midwestern pastoral tradition.