Grant DeVolson Wood was born February 13, 1891 near Anamosa, Iowa.
After his father died in 1901, the nine year old and his family moved Cedar Rapids.
Soon thereafter, to help support the family, Grant began as an apprentice in a local metal shop and began to recognize his interest in art.
In 1901, after graduating from high school, Grant enrolled in art school in Minneapolis. His money ran out, so one year later Grant returned, taking a job as a teacher in the local one-room schoolhouse.
Grant saved money, and by 1913, he had saved up enough to enroll at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He continued to work his way through art school as a silversmith.
When World War I broke out, Grant served in the army as a camouflage painter.
Grant returned to Cedar Rapids after the war, and got a job as a Junior High School teacher.
Between 1920 and 1928, while on break from teaching, Grant traveled to Europe four times where he studied many styles of painting, especially Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. Grant was particularly influenced by 15th century artist Jan van Eyck. In 1924, Grant painted his Spotted Man, and completed the Little Chapel Chancelade in 1926.
Grant earned extra income by hiring out his talents to many Iowa businesses. This included painting advertisements, sketching rooms of a mortuary house for promotional flyers and, in one case, designing the corn-themed decor (including chandelier) for the dining room of a hotel.
In 1928, Grant made a trip to Munich to oversee the making of stained glass windows he had designed for a Veterans Memorial building in Cedar Rapids.
Grant returned to his loft, where he lived above a carriage house that he had turned into his personal art studio, and painted his Woman with Plants in 1929.
Grant focused his work on the figurative painting of rural American themes in an aggressive rejection of European abstraction.
1930 proved to be a very productive year for Grant Wood. He completed his paintings Stone City and Arnold Comes of Age.
However Grant’s best work is his 1930 painting American Gothic.
Grant was quoted in this period as stating,
“All the good ideas I’ve ever had came to me while I was milking a cow.”
Grant had noticed the Dibble House, a small white house built in the Carpenter Gothic architectural style in Eldon, Iowa. Wood decided to use the house as a backdrop for his painting American Gothic.
American Gothic has become one of the most famous paintings in the history of American Art, and one of a handful of images to reach the universally recognized cultural icon status.
Grant’s American Gothic is comparable to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream.
Grant entered his painting in a competition at the Art Institute of Chicago. The judges deemed it a “comic valentine,” but a museum patron convinced them to award the painting the bronze medal and $300 cash prize. The patron also convinced the Art Institute to buy the painting, which remains there today.
The image soon began to be reproduced in newspapers, first by the Chicago Evening Post and then in New York, Boston, Kansas City, and Indianapolis.
Art critics who had favorable opinions about the painting, such as Gertrude Stein and Christopher Morley, assumed the painting was meant to be a satire of repression and the narrow-mindedness of rural small-town life.
It was also seen as part of the trend toward increasingly critical depictions of rural America, along the lines of Sherwood Anderson’s 1919 Winesburg, Ohio, Sinclair Lewis’ 1920 Main Street, and Carl Van Vechten’s The Tattooed Countess in literature.
However, Grant received a backlash when the image finally appeared in the Cedar Rapids Gazette.
Iowans were furious at their depiction as “pinched, grim-faced, puritanical Bible-thumpers”.
One farm wife threatened to bite Grant’s ear off.
Grant Wood protested that he had not painted a caricature of Iowans but a depiction of Americans.
Grant Wood’s actual inspiration for American Gothic came from Eldon, located in southern Iowa, where a cottage designed in the Gothic Revival style with an upper window in the shape of a medieval pointed arch, provided the background and also the painting’s title.
Grant decided to paint the house along with
“the kind of people I fancied should live in that house.”
American Gothic shows a farmer standing beside his spinster daughter, in the traditional roles of men and women.
The figures were modeled after Grant’s dentist and his own sister, Nan.
Grant dressed Nan in a colonial print apron mimicking 19th century Americana.
Grant’s sister Nan insisted that the painting depicts the farmer’s daughter and not wife, disliking any suggestion that it was the farmer’s wife, since that would mean that she looked older than Nan preferred to think of herself.
Grants’ dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby was from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The three-pronged hay fork is echoed in the stitching of the man’s overalls, the Gothic window of the house and the structure of the man’s face symbolizing hard labor.
Each element was painted separately; the models sat separately and never stood together in front of the house.
However, with the onset of the Great Depression, American Gothic came to be seen as a depiction of steadfast American pioneer spirit. Another historic interpretation is that the painting is an ambiguous fusion of reverence and parody.
In 1932, Grant helped found the Stone City Art Colony near his hometown to help artists get through the Great Depression.
Grant became a great proponent of regionalism in the arts, lecturing throughout the country on the topic.
Grant taught painting at the University of Iowa’s School of Art from 1934 to 1941.
During that time, he supervised mural painting projects, mentored students, produced a variety of his own works, and became a key part of the University’s cultural community.
On February 12, 1942, one day before his 51st birthday, Grant Wood died at the university hospital of pancreatic cancer.
Now WE know em