Grant Wood was featured on the CBS Sunday Morning Show yesterday. If you are like me the Grant Wood painting you are most familiar with is American Gothic. I was surprised to learn that the models for the painting were Grant Wood’s sister Nan and his dentist Dr. Byron McKeeby. For some reason I had assumed they were a real husband and wife. Nan later insisted that her brother meant this to be a portrait of a father and daughter. One detail I had never noticed is how the image of the pitchfork in the man’s hand is repeated in his overalls. The plants on the porch of the house behind the couple in American Gothic are the same as the one in his mother’s hand and just behind her in this portrait Grant Wood painted of his mother called Woman With Plants. The plant in her hand is called mother-in-law’s tongue and the plant behind her is a beefsteak begonia. Also notice that the cameo his mother is wearing in this painting looks very similar to the one his sister is wearing in American Gothic. Their aprons and sweaters are also of a similar style.
The house Wood used as a model for his painting is now a national historic site. It is in Eldon Iowa and was built by Charles Dibble in 1881. Grant Wood was driving through Eldon Iowa with a fellow painter in 1930, saw the house and sketched it. Later he created the portrait with his models in his Cedar Rapids Iowa studio. The top window of the house looks like a church window and was ordered by the original owner from the Sears catalogue. About 15,000 people a year visit the home and many pose for a photo in clothing similar to that worn by the couple in the original painting.
Dave and I saw American Gothic when we visited the Art Institute of Chicago a number of years ago. There are questions about what kind of message Grant Wood was sending with this painting. Was it a satire of rural small town American life? Was it a mourning portrait? Wood’s father died when he was only ten years old. Was it a symbol of the steadfast American spirit?
Interestingly in March when we were in Portugal I tried my hand at doing a quick sketch version of my own of American Gothic for one of my daily art exercises.
The CBS Sunday Morning Show segment was terrific and I learned so much about Grant Wood’s life and later checked out more than a hundred paintings of his on the Wiki Art site. He created many other portraits besides American Gothic. This one called Plaid Sweater is one of my favorites. Grant Wood was a fascinating man and artist even though most folks only know him because of American Gothic.