These Five Museums Put the “Culture” in “Agriculture”

It’s a lot more than just “tractor art”

Reynolda House Museum of American Art
Reynolda House Museum of American Art Courtesy Reynolda House Museum of American Art

American artists have long been drawn to agrarian subjects in their work, from Winslow Homer in the 19th century to the 1930s Regionalism movement, which included painters like John Steuart Curry and Grant Wood, the creator of the often imitated American Gothic.

This fall, museums around the country will celebrate when art meets ag, whether through special exhibitions or art spaces wholly dedicated to agriculture-inspired art. Here are five. 

Bone Creek Museum of Agrarian Art

Bone Creek, in David City, Nebraska, bills itself as the nation’s only agrarian art museum. Opened in 2008 to showcase the work of artist Dale Nichols (1904-1995), a well-known Regionalist painter who was born in David City, it has since grown to highlight mostly contemporary artists. According to curator Amanda Mobley Guenther, agriculture is still a relevant subject for artists all around the country, and the museum’s seven shows each year are more than just “tractor art,” she says. This fall’s exhibitions include “Corn: /Korn Exhibition” and “Donna Walker: Modern Color Fields.”

Museum hours: 10am-4pm, Wed-Sat; 1pm-4pm Sunday. Admission: free

Reynolda House Museum of American Art

September 9 through December 31 the Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is showing “Grant Wood and the American Farm,” which explores the importance of farming through the eyes of American artists from 1850 to 1950, including, obviously, Grant Wood, and also Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam, Thomas Hart Benton, Arthur Dove, Charles Sheeler, and Andrew Wyeth. The museum sits on a property that was once the home and experimental farm and dairy operation of Katharine Smith Reynolds, wife of tobacco magnate Richard Joshua (R.J.) Reynolds. The exhibition is built around the 1936 Wood painting “Spring Turning,” which features farmers plowing their fields. (Wood’s painting “American Gothic” is housed at the Art Institute of Chicago and rarely loaned out.)

Museum hours: 9:30am-4:30pm, Tue-Sat; 1:30-4:30pm, Sun. Admission: $14 for adults, children 18 and under are free. 

Oregon State University

For more than 30 years, the curators of Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences’Art About Agriculture program have collected, curated, and shown the works of Pacific Northwest artists through their yearly traveling exhibit. This year, the theme of the tour is Agriculture of the American Landscape, and it will head to four Oregon cities through the summer and fall. Plus, this is the first year Art About Agriculture was able to secure dedicated gallery space to showcase the program’s permanent collection. You can check that out at the College of Agricultural Sciences building on the University’s Corvallis, Oregon, campus. 

Check website for more information on hours and admission.

The Santa Paula Art Museum

Every year, the Ag Art Alliance at the Santa Paula Art Museum in Ventura, California, hosts an exhibit titled “Art About Agriculture” to celebrate the “citrus capital of the world’s” agrarian past, present, and future. Sound familiar? It was directly inspired by the Oregon State University program. The Ag Art Alliance show began nearly a decade ago and now draws artists from around the country. The next show runs from November 12 through February 28, 2017. “The arts are one of the best ways to build awareness of all the complex issues facing agriculture and lead to a more informed population making informed decisions,” says John Nichols, who curates the exhibit with Gail Pidduck. 

Museum hours: 10am-4 pm, Wed-Sat; 12pm-4 pm, Sun. Admission: $4 for adults, $3 for seniors, and free for students and members.

The Shelburne Museum

The 45-acre estate that makes up the Shelburne Museum, in Shelburne, Vermont, comprises 39 classic New England buildings, which house the vast collection of American art and artifacts collected by founder Electra Havemeyer Webb. Through October 30, Shelburne is featuring the work of beloved American folk artist Anna Mary Robertson Moses,better known as “Grandma” Moses, who spent her life on farms and began painting rural scenes in New York and Virginia in her late 70s. The exhibit, titled “Grandma Moses: American Modern,” features many of Moses’ agrarian works in the context of modernist works that were being produced at the time. 

Museum hours: May 1-October 31: 10 am-5 pm, daily. January 1-April 30: 10am-5pm, Wed-Sun. Admission: $24 for adults, $22 for seniors, children under 5 are free. 

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