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'American Gothic' Artist Grant Wood

Updated on September 9, 2014

Grant Wood - American Artist

Grant Wood may not be the best known American artist in history, however his iconic creation American Gothic is certainly on of the best known pieces of American artwork ever. Wood was a simple and humble man from Iowa, who enjoyed teaching and lecturing on the topic of painting and art. Grant Wood died at the age of 50 in 1942, and although none of his other paintings gained him the accolades that American Gothic did, he will always hold a important piece of art history.

U. S. Government public domain photo courtesy americanart.si.edu

Wood Quote

"All the good ideas I ever had came to me while I was milking a cow." - Grant WoodQuote via screenwritingfromiowa

Brief Grant Wood Bio

When Grant Wood was still a young boy, his family relocated to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, after his father died in 1901. Grant soon began to work in a local metal shop as an apprentice. After his high school graduation, Grant began attending an art school in Minneapolis in 1910, and returned a year later to teach in a one-room schoolhouse. In 1913 he enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and did some work as a silversmith.

In the 1920s, Grant made four trips to Europe, where he studied many styles of painting, especially impressionism and post-impressionism. But it was the work of the fifteenth-century Flemish artist Jan Van Eyck that influenced him to take on the clarity of this new technique and to incorporate it in his new works. From 1924 to 1935 Wood lived in the loft of a carriage house that he turned into his personal studio at "5 Turner Alley" (the studio had no address until Wood made one up himself). In 1932, Wood helped launch the Stone City Art Colony to assist artists in getting through the Great Depression. He emerged a big supporter of regionalism, speaking throughout the U.S. on the genre.

In 1934, Grant became a painting instructor in the School of Art at the University of Iowa. During that period, he oversaw mural painting projects, tought students, produced a variety of his own works, and became a integral part of the University's cultural community. On February 12, 1942, one day before his 51st birthday, Wood died at the university hospital of liver cancer.

The estate of Grant Wood went to his sister, Nan, the woman portrayed in American Gothic. When she passed away in 1990, her entire estate, along with Wood's personal mementos and much of his artwork, became the property of the Figge Art Museum in the Iowa town of Davenport.

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In 1930, Wood noticed a small white house built in the Carpenter Gothic architectural style in Eldon, Iowa. Wood decided to paint the house along with the kind of people he thought would live in the home. He recruited his sister Nan to model the woman, dressing her in a colonial print apron mimicking 19th century Americana. The man is Wood's dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The tri-pronged hay fork is also seen in the stitching of the man's overalls and in the Gothic window of the house. Each aspect was painted individually, and the models sat apart and never actually stood in front of the home.

The Painting was initially shown in 1930 at the Chicago's Art Institute. It won a $300 prize and made news stories across the nation, bringing Wood instant fame. Since then, it has been copied and satirized endlessly for cartoons and advertisements.

Many art critics had positive opinions about the artwork, and most deduced the painting was meant to be a satire of rural Americana. It was viewed as part of the trend toward an increasingly critical depictions of small-town America. Grant largely downplayed this interpretation, and with the Great Depression now in full force, the work came to be the iconic depiction of the strong-willed American pioneer spirit.

Public domain photo courtesy Wikimedia

january grant wood
january grant wood

January--1941

Public domain photo courtesy Wikimedia

The Iowa State Quarter

The Iowa quarter design features a one-room schoolhouse with a teacher and students planting a tree, and the inscriptions "Foundation in Education" and "Grant Wood." The design is based on Arbor Day, a painting by Grant Wood, who was born near Anamosa, Iowa. He spent his career as a proponent of small-town values, which he celebrated in the iconic images of plain small-town plain folk.

U. S. Government public domain photo courtesy Wikimedia

Spring in the Country--1941

Public domain photo courtesy justice.gov

Wood was an active painter from an extremely young age until his death, and although he is best known for his paintings, he also worked in ceramics, wood, lithography, ink, metal, and charcoal.

Young Corn--1931

Public domain photo courtesy USA.gov/johnson-county.com

Thoughts on Wood? - Let your voice be heard here!

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    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I have to be more aware of his work when I visit museums.

    • David Stone1 profile image

      David Stone 3 years ago from New York City

      I've enjoyed Grant Wood's work in museums. He's an original and makes a very clear statement.

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 5 years ago

      I love American Gothic and Grant Wood. Thanks for an informative lens, which I'm including on my Iowa Quiz lens (in progress).

    • iijuan12 profile image

      iijuan12 5 years ago from Florida

      Great lens! I just came across it when looking for resources related to my lens on Iowa for Teachers and Travelers https://hubpages.com/education/learning-about-iowa . Liked.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 5 years ago from Colorado

      I remember seeing a Grant Wood mural in the post office while growing up. I'd hate to think that American Gothic is satirical. As one who grew up in Wood's home state, I would want this painting to be respectful of people who live in the Heartland. After all, the people I knew there were such hard-working, good, and decent individuals. Appreciated this opportunity to learn more about Grant Wood. Thank you.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 6 years ago from Central Florida

      I've always admired his rural scenes. I'll feature this in What Was Life Like in the 1930s.

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 6 years ago

      Very informative lens on Grant Wood. 5* Thanks

    • blue22d profile image

      blue22d 6 years ago

      I really like The Perfectionist. Something about her smile. Nice lens and good to see Grant Wood appreciated. Squid Angel blessing to you.

    • Demaw profile image

      Demaw 6 years ago

      Very famous painting. It seemes to depict no nonsense people who despite hard times would continue to persevere.

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

      MargoPArrowsmith 7 years ago

      I am an Iowan born and raised and forever in my heart although now long gone. I loved this. So much I didn't know about Wood. Thanks and thumbs up!

    • profile image

      ohcaroline 7 years ago

      Excellent article on Grant Wood. As a former midwesterner, I am very familiar with the scenes he depicted. I learned a lot from this article.

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 7 years ago

      I know Grant Wood well - actually worked for a time at Grant Wood Area Education Agency in Cedar Rapids. Enjoyed learning more - thanks.

    • WildFacesGallery profile image

      Mona 7 years ago from Iowa

      A very nice lens. As an Iowa native I know plenty about this artist and am also a fan of his work. :)

    • Rachel Field profile image

      Rachel Field 7 years ago

      Great lens and good to learn a little more abouit Grant Wood and American Gothic - love that he used his dentist as a model!