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Mildred Pelzer


Posted By: Harvey W Henry (email)
Date: 12/4/2009 at 15:45:23

December 4, 2009
Telling Mildred Pelzer's story

Bob Hibbs
Guest Opinion
Mildred Pelzer. Mildred Pelzer. Who the heck is Mildred Pelzer?
Pelzer -- a skilled artist in oil, pen and ink, and water color works in her own right -- introduced Grant Wood to Iowa City and served as his publicist during the time he created and sold his American Gothic painting.
She is important in Iowa City because of eight large murals she painted for Hotel Jefferson in 1934. They hung in the hotel lobby below its mezzanine for a quarter century, becoming a tourist attraction, as well as greeting locals attending service club luncheons at the hotel.
Her murals offer visual images of pioneer Iowa City before the age of photography. Her husband, Louis, was a history professor at the University of Iowa who developed a national reputation as a scholar of the settlement era of the Upper Midwest, including Iowa. Her historic murals thus carry the added veracity of close consultation with a noted historian.
Louis Pelzer wrote an introductory piece for the murals which was distributed in brochure form at a festive banquet at the hotel unveiling the works in fall of 1934 and by the hotel for years afterward.
She also painted a 10-by-6 mural for Press-Citizen owner Merritt Speidel which he hung in the lobby of the newspaper's new art deco building in downtown Iowa City which opened in 1937. Titled "Symphony of Iowa," the mural now is owned by the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, as are three of her hotel murals, all 1991 gifts by Dick and Ann Mercer Feddersen.
Two other of the hotel murals now hang at Longfellow School in Iowa City courtesy of Iowa State Bank for their restoration during 1970.
One of her many oil-on-canvass paintings graced the front cover of Better Homes & Gardens magazine in July 1934, raising the level of her celebrity to a national scope. She traveled Iowa extensively as chair of the art committee of the Iowa Federation of Women's Clubs giving demonstrations and art lectures.
Today, her oils and watercolors still hang in Iowa City homes, many offering views of bouquets of flowers from phlox to zinnias. A pre-development era landscape of the River Heights neighborhood hangs in one home. A bouquet of phlox oil hangs above the mantle of the historic Rose Hill home of Carl and Janet Goetz.
The tragic side of the Pelzer lives was the loss of their only two children in military service during World War II. Neither of their bodies was ever recovered, so the parents erected a large monument in Oakland Cemetery commemorating their service. Husband and father, Louis, died of a massive heart attack as the war ended, dying "of a broken heart from the loss of his sons," according to a local childhood playmate of the sons who I've quoted in my recently published biography on Pelzer.
Copies of "Historic Scenes by Mildred Pelzer 1934" now are available in Iowa City bookstores, some gift shops and at the Johnson County Historical Society museum across the street from the Marriott Hotel in Coralville.
The society is associated with publication of this book, and net proceeds from sales will benefit it.


Johnson Documents maintained by Cindy Booth Maher.
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