Born in De Witt, Iowa, John Bloom would become a prominent figure among the Eastern Iowa Art community. Bloom moved to Davenport where he attended St. Ambrose University for two years and studied at the Tri-City Art League School. After two years he enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1926. During his third year at the Art Institute, Bloom taught first-year drawing and composition classes. Bloom finished his studies at the Art Institute School in 1930, the same year Grant Woods American Gothic became a world sensation. For him, the ‘30s would be a decade of intense artistic creation.
In the summer of 1932, Bloom joined the Stone City Art Colony upon a special invitation from Grant Wood. As a student of Wood at the Stone City Art Colony and later his colleague in mural painting, Bloom felt Wood’s influence in his palette and style. For the library murals at what is now Iowa State University, Wood and his assistants used the palette of Antlers Zorn, the Swedish artist: cadmium red light, yellow ochre, black and white. Bloom still favors those colors with a few additions. Grant Wood made us see Iowa on his terms. John Bloom gives us an even closer sense of place in his scenes at Fejervary Park, the Davenport levee and Crystal Lake. He shows us the way we were in the years of the Great Depression.
Bloom’s Burial, an oil painting which won a prize in the 1932 Iowa Art Salon, caught Grant Wood’s attention, and the result was the fruitful Stone City association. Inspired by his grandmother’s funeral, the grave¬side scene is a composition including two nuns embracing in sorrow, their wimples forming a pattern of doves’ wings.
Although Bloom’s work may not have the bite of Grant Wood’s controversial Daughters of Revolution, his wry observations of the human condition have a good-natured edge: parallel pregnancy of simian and human in Monkey Island, the woman in a fur coat slumming in Auction at Johansons, the ladies blocking the church door to gossip in After Church. That church is St. Joseph’s in DeWitt, and the boys trying to get around the blockade are the young John Bloom and his brother.
He won prizes for oils, black and white works and woodcarving in the Iowa Art Salon between 1932 and 1936 and awards for oils and drawings in the Tri-City Artists Exhibit, Davenport from 1929 to 1935. In 1936, Bloom did the drawing for the Walgreen mural by Helen Hinrichsen, another student of Grant Wood. That mural is now permanently installed at Davenport Museum of Art. Bloom’s oil painting of surgeons at work, Operation, won a first prize at the Iowa State Fair and was shown in an All Iowa Exhibition at Carson Pirie Scott & Company, Chicago, in 1932. He also exhibited at the Art Institute’s International Water Color Show.
His success in obtaining the contract for a mural in the DeWitt post office late in 1937 may have encouraged him to set a wedding date with Isabel Scherer, a young artist he had met in the romantic setting of Stone City’s painted “gypsy’ wagons. Married in September of 1935, they lived a bohemian idyll in a 26-by-50-foot room with a 16 -foot ceiling in the old Masonic Temple building at Third and Main streets. Davenport.Three sons, Jerry, Tom, and Charley, were born to the Blooms, occasioning several moves to larger quarters. Needing reliable support for his young family, John Bloom entered the hidden years of his artistic development. He worked four days a week as an industrial designer, devoting the weekends to lithography. He bought a press for S25 from a printing company that went out of business and found some lithograph stones for S5, however the enterprise was not profitable. Bloom picked up some illustrating work at the Rock Island Arsenal and served as the cheering section for Isabel’s rising fortunes as a Sculptor.
Retiring from commercial art in 1969 gave Bloom time for wood carvings, as he stalked the family cats to capture their sinuous grace. He also added to the fat sketchbooks he had been filling for decades. Wearing dark glasses and a hat pulled Iow to hide his eves, he sketched Quad Citians at ease on the levee: lovers lounging on the grass, old men playing checkers, bicyclists, and riverboats.
As lean and intense in retirement as he had been in his youth, John Bloom was an avid walker, and his eyes were constantly busy, storing up the look of things. After David Losasso opened his Mississippi Fine Art Ltd. in the Village of East Davenport in1981, Bloom formed the pleasant habit of dropping in to see the art. When Losasso asked to see his own work, he brought in some lithographic prints he had done in the 1940s. Losasso encouraged him to create more and put him in touch with Leslie Bell of the St. Ambrose University art faculty for help with the printing. In November of 1984, a solo exhibit of Bloom’s work, old and new, opened at Mississippi Fine Art, and the John Bloom renaissance was underway.
Losasso was instrumental in obtaining a mural commission from University Hospitals. Iowa City, and cleared a room of his upstairs gallery for Bloom to use as a studio. Two murals for Davenport Bank and Trust Company followed. Creating lithographs from paintings and paintings from drawings, John Bloom found a new acceptance for work that had stood the test of time. He won first place for Auction at Johnson’s in the Davenport Museum of Art’s 1986 Quad Cities Art Showcase, had a solo exhibit at the Muscatine Art Center and the Clinton Art Association and was represented in the 1987 Rock Island Fine Arts Exhibition.
Preceded by his wife in 2001, John Vincent Bloom passed away the following year on May 21, 2002. He was bestowed an Honorary Doctorate degree from St. Ambrose University. Bloom was a talented artist, sketcher, lithographer, painter and carver. He was fascinated by the natural world around him. A beloved personality, Bloom will be remembered by his wonderful collection of art left behind.