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Expressions of Home: The Watercolors of Lela Powers Briggs

May 16 - August 30, 2015

Lela Powers Briggs, Coming Home, n.d. watercolor on paper, 15 ½ x 22 ½ in., Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, gift of Roderick and Donald Briggs, 92.10.34.
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The career of Lela Powers Briggs exemplifies the life of many Iowa women artists of her generation. Largely self-taught, Briggs was a keen observer of the world around her and documented her life in a series of paintings and drawings of farm and domestic scenes, animals, historic buildings, landscapes, and portraits.  Although her artistic compass was limited to Iowa and family vacation destinations, her work shows bold explorations of style unusual in the 1930s and 1940s. 

Born Lela Powers in 1896 in Powersville, Iowa, a town her grandfather founded, Briggs’ family moved to Waterloo when her father founded the Powers Manufacturing Company in 1902. Artistically gifted from an early age, Briggs recognized her talent as early as the fifth grade and was determined to pursue professional training. She attended the Art Institute of Chicago from 1916-1917 before a severe illness compelled her to return to Iowa, where she studied at Iowa State Teacher’s College (now the University of Northern Iowa) during her recovery. She and her husband Wilbur spent the first part of their married life in Waterloo, working at Powers Manufacturing Company, where Briggs used her artistic talents create both the covers and illustrations for the company catalogs for over thirty years. While in Waterloo, Briggs helped found the Waterloo Art Association. In 1935, the family moved to a farm near La Porte City, Iowa.

In the summer of 1933, Lela Briggs was part of the Stone City Art Colony, working with Grant Wood, Marvin Cone, and Adrian Dornbush. Energized by her experiences, she began to show frequently at art exhibitions in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. She received honors at the Iowa Art Salon, Iowa State Fair (1935, 1938, 1939), earned a gold medal at the All Iowa Honorary Exhibit (Mount Vernon, Iowa, 1940), and first place honors at the All Iowa Honorary Exhibit in Cedar Falls. Briggs continued to show her work in solo and group exhibitions until her death in 1953. 

This exhibition is drawn exclusively from a large gift of Briggs’ works given to the museum by her sons, Roderick and Donald Briggs, in 1992. 

This exhibition is made possible by Rockwell Collins, the Program Grant Fund of the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, GreatAmerica Financial Services Corporation Donor-Advised Fund at the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, members of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, and contributors to the Museum’s Annual Fund.





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