Friday, April 20, 2018

More Grant Wood, Artist and Union Suit Fan 

Shortly after my last posting, April 4, 2018, featuring the union suit artwork of Grant Wood, my good friend, Sam from northern lower Michigan emailed me to say:

"check out the following  {Grant Wood - 100 paintings - WikiArt.organd look for SAVAGE IOWA." 

So I did, and what I found brought a smile to my face. It seems that ole Grant Wood created a drawing in 1923 featuring three Indians, a Pioneer Woman, a Clothesline, and four Long-handled Union Suits.

Click or Tap to Enlarge
Grant Wood, Untitled, from suite "Savage Iowa" (Clothesline), 1923, pencil and wash on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

Gift of Park Rinard, 1995.86.3 

Just imagine the pioneer woman on the mid-western plains of Nebraska or Kansas or Iowa hanging out her husband's long underwear on the clothesline to dry. Since his union suits are dark colored in this depiction they are probably red ones. The long johns, brightly colored against the drab, barren plain, must have easily caught the eyes of the Indians.

One uses a tree branch to steal one of the union suits right from under the unsuspecting wife's nose.

Another has already pulled a union suit from the clothes line, has draped the arms of the underwear over his shoulders, and is looking down on the unusual garment. He must have thought, "What on earth is this?!" Perhaps he already had ascertained that it is something to be worn. Possibly he had previously seen the farmer run to the outhouse early one morning in just his long underwear or perhaps working in the fields sans shirt.

And the more observant viewers have already glimpsed four feathers of a third Indian hiding behind a bush carefully pulling another of the man's union suits out of the clothes basket for closer inspection.

Do you suppose the Indians pulled on the long underwear, properly buttoning them up? If worn continuously, did they figure out the reason for the rear drop seat? Or, did they discard the union suits at the first opportunity determining that the effort of putting them on just wasn't worth all the trouble? Did the woman discover the thievery and chase the Indians away causing them to drop her husband's union suits in their haste. Or did she faint dead-away? Did the husband return from his fields just in time to rescue his wife and his underwear?

The great thing about art is that as you study the work, the more you see thereby allowing you to conjure up circumstances that the artist may or may not have intended. For many, placing oneself within the picture helps the piece come alive.

At the very least, it can be surmised that evidence from at least three works of art featuring union suits by the renown American artist, Grant Wood, indicates that he most certainly was a twentieth century Union Suit Fan!

Added April 22, 2018:
This note from my "go-to-guy," Sam of northern lower Michigan, a man who can barely tolerate red union suits.

"Chris, you did a good job with “savage Iowa” and now some thoughts from the east. I am sure if the only thing that got me though an Iowa winter was a loin cloth and a blanket I believe I would be tempted to snare me a wool union suit to get me out of the wind, rain and snow.

Now I say wool because of your thinking that the suits in Wood’s drawing might be red. The red dyes of the late eighteen hundreds would not be absorbed in a vegetable fabric only an animal based therefore some manufactures of woolen garments, as a gimmick to show that they were making the real thing, dyed their long underwear red. That practice soon died out as you can tell by looking in any old catalog (check those Canadian catalogs) although Duofold for a long period made “Sun Valley Reds” for a select market.
The first time in my 78 years I came in contact with red union suits was in the mid 1970s when L.L.Bean added them to their stock. This was also when Duofold started moving to the S, M, L, XL sizing of their product. Obviously, the idea got wheels. DAMIT!

Getting back to Grant Wood and his proposed “The Bath” and his search for a red union suit, they were just not readily available, and his proposed idea was dropped because as  I have found on the net that the idea caused some discussions that Mr. Wood had an unnatural interest in men’s undergarments and maybe his manhood was in question. ...Sam"

Thanks, pal. As always, Sam knows what he is talking about and his commentary makes a good argument. In my world I am going to continue to think of that underwear on Wood's clothesline as red, my favorite color of union suits! Besides, what about all those western movies and television shows I love. The cowboys are nearly always wearing red union suits! And, we all know Hollywood takes great pride in accuracy right down to a guy's underwear ....Chris


  1. I will have to take an exception to your statement that Hollywood has great accuracy, for example,John Wayne's last movie "The Shootist" J.B.Books comes riding into town reading about the death of Queen Victoria, an event that took place in 1901, yet later in the movie J.B. is seen wearing a lapped seat union suit. Now let us consider, the Cooper Underwear Co in 1910 introduced the Kenosha Klosed Krotch union suit which was the introduction of the vertical lapped seat. J.B. Books aka John Wayne should have been wearing a drop seat because what he is wearing has not been invented yet.

    sam from upper lower

  2. You're right again, Sam. I know that you know that my statement regarding Hollywood accuracy was written with my tongue firmly in cheek and my union suit buttoned all the way up to my neck. ...Chris

  3. They changed out fall - spring uniform at work. We used to wear long sleeved shirts with ties and dress pants. Now we will be wearing golf shirts. Now I can't wear my unionsuits to work. I love my unionsuits. I can't find short sleeved ones.