Hanging in the office of Cedar Rapids Main Street, located at the edge of the city’s historic Czech Village, is a reproduction of a painting by local artist, Marvin Cone.
“Little Bohemia Tavern” was inspired by the actual Little Bohemia Tavern, which is located at the corner of 2nd Street and 16th Avenue SE.
According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, “the corner tavern was one of the first encountered by thirsty workers leaving the Sinclair meatpacking plant” after it opened in 1935. It became an icon when Marvin Cone painted it in 1941. The 1883 building was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.
After the New Bohemia neighborhood was flooded in 2008, Coe College and the Marvin Cone Art Club commissioned a reproduction of the 1941 painting, with proceeds from its sale supporting flood recovery.
Marvin Cone is an accomplished artist in his own right, but never became quite as famous as his good friend, Grant Wood, who painted “American Gothic.”
Cone was born in Cedar Rapids and lived there most of his life. He graduated from Washington High School in 1910. Cone graduated from Coe College in 1914 and traveled to Paris, where he did work as an interpreter.
He served in the Iowa National Guard’s 34th Infantry Division, during which time he won a training camp design competition with a “Red Bull” insignia that the unit wears to this day.
After his return to the United States in 1919, Cone helped to found the Stone City Art Colony along with Grant Wood. (The Colony was headquartered in the large, limestone mansion of the Green Estate, overlooking Stone City.)
Cone became a professor at Coe College in 1919, where he taught French and was responsible for starting the Art Department.
Most of Cone’s paintings can now be seen at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. Some of his sketches can also been found in the permanent collection of the University of Northern Iowa Gallery of Art in Cedar Falls.
Cone believed that nature was a “vehicle for revealing certain truths.” He once said that the purpose of art is not to reproduce life, but to present an editorial, a comment on life.
“The artist does not set out to imitate nature. What would be the purpose of that? Let the camera with its clever mechanism imitate. Art, such as poetry, music, and painting, is simply a portion of the experience of the artist. When we actually see ideals, they become real to us. Art traces an abstraction and makes it audible or visual. It symbolizes the whole of life. We believe in something we can see.”
Cone’s painting of Little Bohemia says a lot about the neighborhood. The artist did an excellent job of creating a scene that depicted the simple, yet busy, lives of the people who thrived in that neighborhood in the 1940’s. The tavern was a meeting place, not only for the workers, but for the entire community. It helped to establish a culture that is still alive today.
Though the Flood of 2008 devastated the downtown neighborhoods of Cedar Rapids, the entire district is coming back, even better than it was before.
The painting not only serves as a reminder of what the neighborhood once was, but what it will be again.