Happy Birthday, Grant Wood
“All the good ideas I ever had came to me while I was milking a cow.”
Grant Wood’s American Gothic is arguably the most recognized painting in 20th-century American art. It comes from the environment in which Grant Wood was raised: the rural American Midwest. The story behind the painting goes back to August 1930 when he was visiting Eldon, Iowa. He was drawn to a small white house, which became the background. His used his sister, Nan, as the model for the woman and his dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby for the man. While there may be a presumption that this is a husband and wife, in reality the couple is father and daughter.
Art has a way of weaving ideas into the fabric of cultural experience. When Grant Wood entered American Gothic into a competition at the Art Institute of Chicago, the judges viewed it as a “comic valentine.” One savvy patron, however, recognized the painting’s merits and convinced the Art Institute to purchase the painting. From that point, the painting went viral, with images circulating in the Chicago Evening Post, New York, Boston, Kansas City and Indianapolis. While Iowans did not fully appreciate the grim-faced couple, art critics Gertrude Stein and Christopher Morley gave their endorsement.
Another reminder that art cannot be contained or structured – art has a life of its own.