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Cone, Marvin Dorwart
(October 21, 1891–May 18, 1965)

–artist and professor of art—was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the son of Harry D. Cone, a jeweler and silversmith, and Gertrude (Dorwart) Cone, a homemaker. Although he traveled extensively in the United States and Europe, Marvin Cone always considered Cedar Rapids his home.

    Educated in the local public schools, Cone showed considerable skill in art and drawing at an early age. As a result, he was introduced to another student, Grant Wood, who attended a public school on the other side of Cedar Rapids. The two remained fast friends until Wood's untimely death in 1942.

    Cone attended Coe College, graduating in 1914; he then enrolled in the Art Institute of Chicago, where he studied for the next three years. After enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1917 and training in New Mexico, he served as a translator for General Hubert Allen in France. A postwar grant allowed Cone to spend four months studying art at the École des Beaux Arts in Montpellier, France. While there, Cone received an offer to teach French and drawing at his alma mater.

    In the summer of 1920, Cone and Wood studied in France and Belgium. They attended the Olympics in Antwerp, but spent more time in art galleries and museums. On the trip back to the United States, Cone and Wood met Winnifred Swift, who would later become Cone's wife. During the 1920s, Cone established a pattern of teaching French at Coe, with occasional trips to France for more study.

    In the summer of 1932 Cone and Wood established the Stone City Art Colony near Anamosa, Iowa. The colony brought together a group of regionalist artists to work and share ideas. Although the colony survived only two summers (1932 and 1933), the experience proved stimulating for Cone, and he painted what is acknowledged to be his best work up to that time.

    Cone's growing reputation as an artist led to his promotion to professor of painting at Coe in 1933, a position he maintained until his retirement in 1960. In addition to teaching, Cone continued to perfect his craft, and his paintings were highly prized within the Cedar Rapids community.

    In 1938 the Cedar Rapids Art Association sponsored Cone for a sabbatical year to devote to his painting. Although he traveled to Mexico for a few weeks, he spent most of the year in a studio in downtown Cedar Rapids. Cone completed 40 paintings that year, and the association sponsored an auction of those paintings that brought Cone's friends– including Grant Wood–back to Cedar Rapids.

    Cone's reputation as a regionalist painter of note continued to grow as his work was included in exhibitions across the country in the 1940s and 1950s. In the 1940s, for example, Cone's work was included in shows in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, among other cities. His work Dear Departed was one of 260 selected from 5,000 entries for a "Paintings of the Year" exhibit in 1946.

    Cone was passionate about his art, but he also had a deep love for the city of his birth. In that regard, Cone worked tirelessly to establish an art museum in Cedar Rapids. It would be a place to hang the permanent collections of the Cedar Rapids Art Association and host temporary exhibitions of important works by Iowa artists, such as Grant Wood. Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to see his dream fulfilled.

    Cone retired from teaching in 1960 and gave up his office at the Cedar Rapids Art Association in 1963. His health began to decline shortly thereafter, the result of a brain tumor. Surgery could not abate the progress of the disease, and he died on May 18, 1965.

    Cone's legacy continues in Cedar Rapids through memorial collections of his work. The Coe College Art Gallery is named for his wife and contains the largest permanent installation of Cone paintings in Iowa. A major gallery at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art also is named in Cone's honor and displays a significant collection of his work.
Sources In addition to 60 of his paintings and other artwork, the Cone family also left seven boxes of Cone's papers and other items to the Coe College Archives, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The Special Collections Department, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, also has a small collection of Cone memorabilia. Several biographical and historical studies are worthy of note: Hazel Brown, Grant Wood and Marvin Cone: Artists of an Era (1972); Joseph S. Czestochowski, Marvin D. Cone: An American Tradition (1985); and Joseph S. Czestochowski, The Art of Marvin Cone (1985).
Contributor: Timothy Walch