Story of a Painting – Grant Wood’s “American Gothic”

Posted filed underArt History, Paintings, USA.


No American artwork has been parodied more than American Gothic. Zombies, dogs, Beavis and Butthead, the Muppets, Lego figures, and even Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton have taken a turn with the pitchfork. But the painting itself is no joke -American Gothic is as recognizable as the Mona Lisa and The Scream.

Neatorama had a closer look a the story behind the iconic painting by Grant Wood. Interesting stuff.

Excerpts:
“During the Great Depression, the masterpiece gave hope to a desperate nation, and it helped shape the notion of the Midwest as a land of hard work and honest values. Today, the painting is firmly embedded in our cultural vocabulary. Yet, for all its fame, few people know the story of Grant Wood and how the piece that launched his career also unraveled his life.

That Quirky Wood Kid
In 1929, Grant Wood was a 38-year-old unknown. The artist was living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the attic of a funeral home carriage house. Thought the location may seem morbid, Wood spruced up his home with whimsical decorations. He replaced the front door with a repurposed coffin lid and outfitted the entrance with a dial that indicated if he was in, out, asleep, painting, or having a party. Wood wasn’t the only one stuffed into this loft space: He shared the studio with his mother and sister, all three sleeping side by side on pull-out beds.

Oddly enough, none of this shocked the neighbors. As a closeted gay man, Wood avoided what his sister, Nan, called “any earmarks of the artist.” he dressed exclusively in overalls, a signifier that the painting he did was gritty -man’s work. And he benefited from being a local. People in Cedar Rapids found Wood’s eccentricities charming. Friends shook their heads and smiled when he forgot to pay his bills. They even ignored his flimsy excuses for avoiding marriage. Wood was a lovable bachelor who wanted to take care of his widowed mother, that’s all.”
(…)

About the Photo above: “Wood started by asking his dentist, 62-year-old Byron McKeeby, to serve as the male model. Throughout his life, Wood had suffered from an incurable sweet tooth -he took half a cup of sugar with his coffee, and even poured sugar on his lettuce. Over the years, he spent plenty of time in McKeeby’s chair studying and admiring the dentist’s grim, oval face. Now seemed like the perfect time to paint it. For the farmer’s companion, Wood intended to use his mother, Hattie, as a model. But when he realized that posing would be too exhausting for her, he asked his 32-year-old sister, Nan, to don Hattie’s rickrack-trimmed apron and cameo pin.
(…)

About the reactions: “Some perceived the work as a scathing parody of the Midwest -one outraged farm wife even threatened to bite off Wood’s ear. Meanwhile, Gertrude Stein and other critics praised the painting as a cutting small-town satire, the visual equivalent of Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street. Still others saw the painting as honoring the Midwest and its strong values. As the great Depression bore down on the country, Americans yearned for positive depictions of themselves, and Wood’s work provided the nation with a pair of ready-made secular saints of the American heartland.

Perhaps the strangest reaction, however, was from an audience focused on the age disparity between the husband and wife in the picture. Protests poured in. Nan, too, became increasingly concerned -she didn’t want to be memorialized as “married” to a much older man. So Wood altered his initial stance to claim that the painting depicted a father and daughter. In fact, Wood frequently rewrote the artwork’s history.”

Read the whole story at Neatorama

Videos:

American Gothic Cornflakes

A Tour of the American Gothic House in Iowa

Grant Wood at the University of Iowa Brown Bag Lunch

Joni Kinseyis a faculty member of the University of Iowa School of Art and Art History. Her lecture is based on her research into Wood’s years on the UI faculty. Wood taught painting in the School of Art from 1934 to 1942. This was an important time for the development of the arts at the UI, and included the founding of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Memories of Grant Wood

Told by Don Hanson. Part 2, Part 3