|By TIM ALEXANDER
PEORIA, Ill. — Lakeview Museum’s current art exhibit, featuring the works of rural Illinois artist Alfred Montgomery, has been described as both “corny” and “amaizeing” by gallery patrons, according to Kristan H. McKinsey, the museum’s vice president of collections and exhibitions.
That’s because the paintings of Montgomery (1857-1922) are centered on one common theme: corn. Some of his paintings are simply of one or more of the golden-eared vegetables that represent so much to those who earn their livings on farms in Illinois and the Midwest. Others incorporate farm animals, flour sacks, barrels or other rural items into his scenes. But Montgomery, who called himself “the farmer who paints and the painter who farms,” always gave corn center stage in his still life paintings.
“The paintings are very therapeutic to certain people,” McKinsey said. “Montgomery was known as ‘the corn artist.’ It was said that his paintings are so realistic, a horse would try to nibble it or a bird would fly down and try to get a kernel of corn.”
Described as an eccentric genius and part-time philosopher, Montgomery lived in Bloomington, Ill. between 1893 and 1905 after living in Logan County, Ill. and Webster, Iowa. He obtained a teaching certificate at the age of 16 and taught art in Illinois and Kansas and became a Presbyterian minister before settling in Bloomington. His gift of gab and sales pitches for his paintings were said to have appealed to the working man, helping Montgomery to sell many of his works.
“He was a very good painter who developed a gimmick, for lack of a better word,” McKinsey said of Montgomery, who painted his ears of corn “life-sized” and paid exquisite detail to each kernel.
“He made his living in the rural areas and was popular with seed store owners, farmers and bank presidents.”
Ted Sommer, a retired corn hybrid seed dealer from Pekin, Ill. recently came to see the Montgomery exhibit (titled Corn and More) with his wife, Jo. Sommer, former operator of Pekin’s Sommer Bros. Seed, a Golden Harvest distributorship, said he owned two Montgomery paintings, which hung in his business office and at home.
“I’ve always gotten a lot of comments on them,” Sommer said. “I was always impressed by the uniqueness of the ears, the way he painted the individual kernels with indents. He was very good at the interpretation of the ear.”
Though Lakeview is understandably proud of its Montgomery exhibit, which runs through mid-April, McKinsey said the artist’s works are not extremely rare. She said many are occasionally sold at auction in Lafayette, Ind.
“There are more than you would imagine,” McKinsey said of the prolific Montgomery’s works.
For more on Peoria’s Lakeview Museum and the Corn and More exhibit, contact the museum at 309-686-7000 or see their website at www.lakeview-museum.org
This farm news was published in the March 1, 2006 issue of Farm World.