Nude Painting That Irks Locals in Iowa Town Is Removed From Gallery Window

Hugh Stumbo has removed his controversial painting. Photo: KCRG.

When 83-year-old artist Hugh Stumbo hung his painting showing a naked woman’s torso in the window of his Tipton, Iowa, gallery, he was prepared for complaints, but not a personal phone call from the police chief asking him to take it down.

Stumbo, who once taught art education at the University of Iowa, began work on the painting in 1969, filling in the second half in 1980. The finished work juxtaposes the “dark side of life, focusing primarily on guns, sex, and violence against women” with the “idyllic side of a rural setting,” featuring the Old Cedar Bluffs church and a fisherman, he told the Quad City Times.

There are no city ordinances that prevent the display of nude artworks, the officer admitted when relaying the request. Nevertheless, the mayor, Shirley Kepford, had received complaints and wanted the painting removed from the Stumbo Galleries window.

Hugh Stumbo.  Photo: Barb Ickes.

Hugh Stumbo.
Photo: Barb Ickes.

The tiny eastern Iowa town, home to just 3,200 people, is about to celebrate its 175th anniversary. Tipton is expecting large crowds on its main street during the upcoming festivities, creating an added incentive for the local government to keep explicit artwork out of public view.

“I could see why people are concerned, with children and everything on the street,” Kepford told local KCRG. Complaining townspeople had told her “this was not the kind of art that they wanted to see.”

After thinking it over, Stumbo decided to comply with the request, feeling that defending his right to display the work wasn’t worth upsetting town officials and his neighbors.

Hugh Stumbo has employee temporarily cover his controversial painting.  Photo: screenshot, KCRG.

Hugh Stumbo has employee temporarily cover his controversial painting.
Photo: screenshot, KCRG.

Kerri Smith, a local business owner, is pleased that the work is no longer on display, telling the Times that “I have small children, and I’ll do anything to protect my kids. I believe in God.”

Others take a different view of the situation, like Tipton resident Norma Eiler-Bounk. “Only in small-town Iowa could people object to that painting,” she said to the Times. “The cops and mayor showed how small-minded and provincial small towns can be.”

(On the contrary, there have been similar controversies over nude photos on New York’s Lower East Side and a window sign advertising an “Art Porn” show in Savannah, Georgia.)

Though Stumbo has backed down, he doesn’t feel that his work was inappropriate. “It seems to me we have to make room for that sort of thing,” he told KCRG. “If we’re going to have a gallery, we have to accept what artists do.”

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Article topics