James R. Huntsberger’s Ladies of the Red Hat was inspired by Grant Wood’s biting satire Daughters of Revolution.
Wood took a pointed shot at the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) because of a bitter 1920s controversy over a World War I memorial window he was commissioned to create for his home town Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Wood found the best stained-glass factories were in Germany so he spent considerable time abroad working with German craftsmen to complete the window. When he returned to Iowa to install the window, the members of the local DAR chapter protested that using a window made by America’s enemies would dishonor the memories of the very people it was meant to honor. Cedar Rapids citizens were so divided over this that the window was not dedicated until 1955, thirteen years after Wood’s death. Can you imagine how galling that undedicated window was to Wood and how it would have increased his irritation with the DAR?
In his painting, Wood has chosen three self-satisfied, teacup-raising, well-coifed septuagenarians. That they might have had anything to do with revolution is clearly absurd. The most noticeable element in the painting is the thin, boney hand holding the teacup. The ringless hand suggests a spinster, which, in Wood’s day connoted an unloved (unloving?) woman.
Huntsberger created a light-hearted painting. He substituted three beautiful members of the Wilmington, Delaware “Diva Dolls” chapter of the Red Hat Society for the stern-looking DAR ladies and substituted Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Grand Jatte for Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware. He substituted a martini glass for the blue-willow-patterned teacup! Another significant difference is that JR likes the “Diva Dolls” (and would be happy to share a martini with them) while Wood was peeved with the DAR and probably wouldn’t have shared the time of day with them.
Wood’s message may have been a plea for democracy and a stab at smugness. Huntsberger’s message is to share the pleasure of friendship and enjoy your later years. And there is no need to be dowdy!