Iowa History Daily: On December 11, 1885, influential Iowa author Jay G. Sigmund was born on the bank of the Wapsipinicon in Waubeek, Iowa. Known for his poems and short stories focused on the Wapsi Valley, Sigmund influenced the later work of artist Grant Wood and Iowa Writers’ Workshop founder Peter Engle.
After growing up northeast of Cedar Rapids and attending Central City High School, Sigmund relocated to the seat of Linn County to take a job in the insurance business. Rising to Vice President of the Cedar Rapids Life Insurance Company, Sigmund went on to operate the Minnesota Mutual Life Insurance Company in Cedar Rapids with his son James.
Although insurance paid the bills, Sigmund shined as a poet and writer of short stories. With early publications in local papers leading to his first book of poetry in 1922, eventually his work found publication in important magazines and literary journals including John T. Frederick’s “The Midland.” Known for a direct style which embodied the depth of rural experience, Sigmund’s work endures to provide insights into Iowa’s past.
In the early 1920s he struck up a lifelong friendship with Paul Engle after the then high school student published several pieces which caught Sigmund’s attention. Later in life, Sigmund befriended Wood, and gained credit for helping influence the artist’s interest in regional subjects. Dead of a gunshot wound from a hunting accident at only 51, Engle’s work faded from the consciousness of many. However, in 2018: Barbara Feller published a book “Road to Waubeek: Discovering Jay G. Sigmund,” chronicling the importance of Sigmund of Wood, Engle, and Iowa culture broadly. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar