Until his retirement in 2018, Roy R. Behrens was Professor of Art and Distinguished Scholar at the University of Northern Iowa. He had taught graphic design and design history at UNI and other schools for more than 45 years. He has published seven books, literally hundreds of articles in journals and magazines, and has appeared in broadcast interviews on NOVA, National Public Radio, Australian Public Radio, BBC, 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 in 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 (2016).
Iowans in New Mexico: The Newcombs and the Navajos
Around 1907, in advance of New Mexico's statehood, three brothers from Manchester, Iowa moved to the vicinity of the Navajo Indian Reservation, near Gallup and Santa Fe. For the next thirty-odd years, the Newcomb brothers (Charles, Arthur, and Earl) worked for, owned or managed remote trading posts on the vast reservation. Newcomb, New Mexico bears their name. Two of them married two sisters from Manchester (Madge and Isabel Pentony), while the third married a Wisconsin teacher (Franc Johnson Newcomb) who became a leading authority on ceremonial sandpainting and helped to establish the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. For decades, the Newcomb brothers and their wives lived among the Navajo, learned to respect their traditions and actively promoted handcrafted native arts and crafts. They later wrote insightful books about their years as Navajo friends and neighbors. Roy R. Behrens (the speaker) is descended from the Pentony family, and as a child he frequently overheard stories about his New Mexico relatives. This is a fast-paced 50-minute talk about the Newcombs, the Pentonys, and the Navajos, illustrated by rare archival photographs.
Depression-Era Public Art and the WPA
The acronym WPA refers to a government program that began in 1935 as the Works Progress Administration and was renamed in 1939 as the Works Projects Administration. As part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, it was a massive and daring attempt to repair the hardships brought about by the Great Depression. It provided government funds to hire millions of unemployed to work on public projects, including the construction of public buildings, roads, bridges and parks. It also built dams to provide electricity to remote areas. It was partly controversial because it hired unemployed artists (who created government murals in newly-built post offices), writers, photographers, musicians, actors and other performers. Archeological diggings were funded and former slaves were interviewed in efforts to unearth the past. It was also controversial because it was a volatile time in the country, and the segments sometimes disapproved of the subjects and styles of the final results. This is a 50-minute talk (illustrated with historic photographs and art) about the successes and failures of the WPA, including Iowa's public art.
Frank Lloyd Wright - Or Was He Wrong?
In a courtroom appearance, Frank Lloyd Wright is said to have claimed that he was the world's greatest living architect. "I had no choice," he later explained, "I was under oath." During his extended career (he lived into his nineties), Wright and his architecture were far less admired than today. He was almost always in the news, as much for his single-mindedness, his marital infidelity, and his curmudgeonly manner of speaking as for his architectural feats. Regrettably, these same aspects tend to divert our attention away 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, 50-minute presentation, richly illustrated by scores of historical images of his life and the iconic objects he made. The speaker is the author of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mason City: Architectural Heart of the Prairie (2016).