Roy R. Behrens is Professor of Art and Distinguished Scholar at the University of Northern Iowa. He has taught graphic design and design history for nearly 45 years at American colleges and universities. He has published seven books, hundreds of journal and magazine articles, and has been featured in interviews on NOVA, National Public Radio, Australian Public Radio, BBC, Iowa Public Radio and Iowa Public Television, as well as in documentary films. He has been a nominee for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Design Awards, has received the Iowa Board of Regents Faculty Excellence Award, and has been described by Communication Arts magazine as “one of the most original thinkers in design.” His most recent book is Frank Lloyd Wright and Mason City: Architectural Heart of the Prairie (in press 2016).
Remembering Iowa’s Buffalo Bill: Never Missed and He Never Will
William F. Cody (1846-1917), better known as “Buffalo Bill,” was born near Le Claire, Iowa, in Scott County, just north of Davenport. By the end of his life, he had become what some have called “the most famous American in the world.” He had been a Pony Express rider, an Army scout, a buffalo hunter for the railroad, and the founder and central attraction of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, which traveled throughout the U.S. and in Europe for thirty years. This talk is an overview of Cody’s life, both tragic and heroic. It was tragic because of the role that he played in the near extinction of the American Bison (he himself is said to have shot nearly 3000 buffalo in eight months), and, even more deplorable, in the subjugation of Native Americans. If his life was heroic, it was because of his later support of the rights of Native Americans, his friendship with many of them (most notably with Sitting Bull), and his link with such colorful characters as Annie Oakley and Wild Bill Hickok. As a Wild West performer, it is thought that Cody probably played to a collective audience of more than 50 million, including at various Iowa towns. This is a face-paced and entertaining 45-minute talk, illustrated by projected vintage photographs, film clips and animated graphics.
Frank Lloyd Wright—Or Was He Wrong?
There is a story (true or not) that Frank Lloyd Wright once testified in court that he was the world’s greatest living architect. “I had no choice,” he later explained, “I was under oath.” During his extended lifetime (he lived into his nineties), Wright and his architecture were far less admired than today. He was almost always controversial, as much for his single-mindedness and his point-blank way of speaking as for his architectural achievements. Regrettably, these same aspects tend to distract our attention from a full, more complete understanding of the traditions that Wright had inherited from the Victorian era, and in turn the amazing influence he had on younger architects in the twentieth century. Where did Wright come from, philosophically? What architectural and design traditions contributed to his professional development? What were his most basic ideas on form, function, the use of materials, and the environment? Was he right about architecture, and about the intrinsic connections between human beings and their earthly surroundings—including the houses in which they reside? This is a thought-provoking, 45-minute presentation, richly illustrated by scores of historical images of his life and the iconic objects he made.
Looking Closer at Grant Wood: What Did He Do, and How Did He Do It?
Grant Wood’s famous painting, American Gothic, has been described as equivalent to Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of Mona Lisa. The attention given to that single work, however justified, too often prevents us from focusing on Wood’s other accomplishments. How was he trained as an artist? What influenced him? Who in turn did he influence? What did he really achieve in his life? This 45-minute slide presentation is a visual and verbal analysis of Wood’s artistic legacy, illustrated by dozens of examples of his drawings, prints, paintings and other artworks, including those less widely known. Among the highlights are rare historic photographs of Wood, his students, and his Regionalist contemporaries, accompanied by eyewitness stories about his creative process, his methods, his failings, his sense of humor, and the growth of his basic beliefs about art.