Born in Dunavant, Kansas on November 14, 1987, John Steuart Curry became the youngest member of the famed "Benton-Wood-Curry trio" of Regional Painters of the early 20th century American Scene Movement. Curry was a descendant of many generations of famers, whose American ancestors originally were from Scotland. Some of them immigrated to South Carolina, and later followed "the line of the frontier into the Mississippi Valley." The first born of five children, Curry said of his childhood: "I was raised on hard work and the shorter catechism — up at four o'clock year round, doing half a day's work before we rode to town on horseback to our lessons." From a young age, he was constantly drawing, an activity encouraged by his mother, who arranged art lessons for him from age 12. She also gave him his first glimpse of the Old Master painters through reproductions of their work she had collected on her honeymoon.
Curry spent the summer as a railroad section-hand. His earnings provided him with enough money to buy a suit of clothes so that he could go to Kansas City and attend the Art Institute. A month later he moved to the Art Institute of Chicago, and remained there for two years, supporting himself by sweeping floors and working as a bus-boy in the cafeteria. In 1918 he enrolled at Geneva College, and spent the following five years training to earn his money as an illustrator of "blood-and-thunder" scenes for a popular western story magazine. In this capacity, he worked for illustrator Harvey Dunn in New Jersey from 1919 to 1926. In 1927, Curry spent a year in Paris studying at the Academie Julian, which reinforced his independent nature. He was much more impressed by the paintings of Rembrandt and Rubens than by the modernist American painters, many whom were adopting the 'isms' of abstract styles of French contemporary artists such as Picasso's Cubism and Ernst's Surrealism.
After returning to America, in 1928 Curry painted his first painting from memory that soon became famous, "Baptism in Kansas," purchased by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who was one of his key benefactors. Baptism had launched his career as a regionalist. In 1930, he had his first one man exhibition, held at the Whitney Studio Club, and was received enthusiastically by critics. Curry later taught at the Cooper Union and the Art Students League. The United States Government selected him to paint murals for the Department of Justice and the Department of Interior buildings in Washington, D.C. He was appointed Artist-in-Residence in the College of Agriculture , University of Wisconsin, in 1936.
Curry gained national reputation for his Kansas rural scenes of people terrorized by natural phenomena such as tornadoes, drab farm-house living conditions, religious gathering such as prayer meetings and baptisms, and spirited animals who got out of control. He was also especially focused on people who were down to earth, plain spoken and who were self reliantly making a living through hard physical labor and challenged by harsh weather. He created many murals dealing with land settlement and themes of justice. His work hangs in the Metropolitan Museum and he ranks with the top United States artists. He has shown in the Whitney Museum of American Art and the in the Chicago Art Institute.