Grant DeVolson Wood (February 13, 1891 – February 12, 1942) was an American artist and representative of Regionalism, best known for his paintings depicting the rural American Midwest. He is particularly well known for American Gothic (1930), which has become an iconic example of early 20th-century American art.[1]

Grant Wood
Self-portrait, 1932
Grant DeVolson Wood

(1891-02-13)February 13, 1891
DiedFebruary 12, 1942(1942-02-12) (aged 50)
EducationSchool of the Art Institute of Chicago
Known forPainting
Notable workAmerican Gothic

Early life edit

Grant Wood's boyhood home, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is listed as one of the most endangered historic sites in Iowa.[2]

Wood was born in rural Iowa, 4 mi (6.43 km) east of Anamosa, on February 13, 1891, the son of Hattie DeEtte Weaver Wood and Francis Maryville Wood.[3][4] His mother moved the family to Cedar Rapids after his father died in 1901. Soon thereafter, Wood began as an apprentice in a local metal shop. After graduating from Washington High School, Wood enrolled in The Handicraft Guild, an art school run entirely by women in Minneapolis in 1910.

In 1913, he enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and performed some work as a silversmith.

Career edit

Close to the end of World War I, Wood joined the U.S. military, working as an artist designing camouflage scenes as well as other art.[5]

From 1919 to 1925, Wood taught art to junior high school students in the Cedar Rapids public school system. This employment provided financial stability, and its seasonal nature allowed him summer trips to Europe to study art. In addition, he took a leave of absence for the 1923–1924 school year so he could spend an entire year studying in Europe.[6]

From 1922 to 1935, Wood lived with his mother in the loft of a carriage house in Cedar Rapids, which he turned into his personal studio at "5 Turner Alley" (the studio had no address until Wood made one up).

Between 1922 and 1928, Wood made four trips to Europe, where he studied many styles of painting, especially Impressionism and post-Impressionism. However, it was the work of the 15th-century Flemish artist Jan van Eyck that influenced him to take on the clarity of this technique and incorporate it in his new works.[citation needed] In addition, his 1928 trip to Munich was to oversee the making of the stained glass windows he had designed for a Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids.[7]

In 1932, Wood helped found the Stone City Art Colony near his hometown to help artists get through the Great Depression. He became a great proponent of regionalism in the arts,[8] lecturing throughout the country on the topic.[9] As his classically American image was solidified, his bohemian days in Paris were expunged from his public persona.[10]

In 1934, Wood was offered a position working and teaching in Iowa City as Director of a New Deal Public Works of Art Project (PWAP). While headquartered in Iowa City and associated with the University of Iowa, he assisted other artists and art students in producing a set of murals for Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. Once his PWAP concluded in 1934, the University of Iowa offered a three-year-term as an Associate Professor of Fine Art. He taught painting at the university's School of Art until 1941. During that time, he supervised mural painting projects, mentored students including Elizabeth Catlett, produced a variety of his own works, and became a key part of the university's cultural community.

Work edit

2004 Iowa state quarter honoring Grant Wood. Elements depicted include: the Schoolhouse, teacher and students planting a tree, (caption): "Foundation in Education", and Grant Wood.

Wood was an active painter from an extremely young age until his death, and although best known for his paintings, he worked in a large number of media, including lithography, ink, charcoal, ceramics, metal, wood and found objects.

Throughout his life he hired out his talents to many Iowa-based businesses as a steady source of income. This included painting advertisements, sketching rooms of a mortuary house for promotional flyers and, in one case, designing the corn-themed décor (including chandelier) for the dining room of a hotel.

Regionalism edit

Wood is associated with the American movement of Regionalism, which was primarily situated in the Midwest, and advanced figurative painting of rural American themes in an aggressive rejection of European abstraction.[11]

Wood was one of three artists most associated with the movement. The others, John Steuart Curry and Thomas Hart Benton, returned to the Midwest in the 1930s due to Wood's encouragement and assistance with locating teaching positions for them at colleges in Wisconsin and Missouri, respectively. Along with Benton, Curry, and other Regionalist artists, his work was marketed through Associated American Artists in New York for many years. Wood is considered the patron artist of Cedar Rapids, and his childhood country school is depicted on the 2004 Iowa State Quarter.

American Gothic edit

Grant Wood, American Gothic (1930), Art Institute of Chicago

Wood's best known work is his 1930 painting American Gothic,[12] which is also one of the most famous paintings in American art,[11] and one of the few images to reach the status of widely recognized cultural icon, comparable to Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and Edvard Munch's The Scream.[1]

American Gothic was first exhibited in 1930 at the Art Institute of Chicago, where it is still located. It was awarded a $300 prize and made news stories nationwide, bringing Wood immediate recognition. Since then, it has been borrowed and satirized endlessly[11] for advertisements and cartoons.[12]

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 narrow-mindedness of rural small-town life. It was seen as part of the trend toward increasingly critical depictions of rural America, along the lines of such novels as Sherwood Anderson's 1919 Winesburg, Ohio, Sinclair Lewis's 1920 Main Street, and Carl Van Vechten's The Tattooed Countess.[1][11] Wood rejected this reading of it.[11] With the onset of the Great Depression, it came to be seen as a depiction of steadfast American pioneer spirit.[12] Another reading is that it is an ambiguous fusion of reverence and parody.[11]

Wood's inspiration came from Eldon, 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.[11] Wood decided to paint the house along with "the kind of people I fancied should live in that house."[1] The painting shows a farmer standing beside his spinster daughter, figures modeled by the artist's sister, Nan (1900–1990), and his dentist.[11] Wood's sister insisted that the painting depicts the farmer's daughter, disliking suggestions it was the farmer's wife, since that would mean that she looked older than she preferred to think of herself. The dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby (1867–1950), was from Cedar Rapids. The couple are in the traditional roles of men and women, the man's pitchfork symbolizing hard labor. The woman is dressed in a dark print apron mimicking 19th-century Americana with a cameo brooch.

The compositional severity and detailed technique derive from Northern Renaissance paintings, which Wood had seen during his visits to Europe; after this he became increasingly aware of the Midwest's own legacy, which also informed the work. It is a key image of Regionalism.[11]

In 1940, Wood and eight other prominent American artists were hired to document and interpret dramatic scenes and characters during the production of the film The Long Voyage Home, a cinematic adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's plays.[13]

Personal life edit

Wood was married to Sara Sherman Maxon from 1935 to 1938. Friends considered the marriage a mistake for him.[14]

Wood was a closeted homosexual. There was an unsuccessful attempt by a colleague, Lester Longman, to get him fired both on explicit moral grounds and for his advocacy of regionalism.[15] Critic Janet Maslin states that his friends knew him to be "homosexual and a bit facetious in his masquerade as an overall-clad farm boy."[10] University administration at Iowa dismissed the allegations, and Wood would have returned as professor if not for his growing health problems.[16]

The First Three Degrees of Freemasonry – Grant Wood 1921

Wood was a Freemason and Member of Mount Hermon Lodge #263[17] in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, from 1921 to 1924.[18] After receiving his third Degree of Master Mason he painted The First Three Degrees of Freemasonry in 1921.[19] However, he was suspended for not paying dues in March 1924, and had no further association with the organization.[20]

Wood died at Iowa City university hospital of pancreatic cancer on the eve of his 51st birthday.[21] He is buried at Riverside Cemetery, Anamosa, Iowa.[22]

Legacy edit

1980 Grant Wood one-ounce American Arts Commemorative Series gold medallion

When Wood died, his estate went to his sister, Nan Wood Graham, the woman portrayed in American Gothic. When she died in 1990, her estate, along with Wood's personal effects and various works of art, became the property of the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa.

The World War II Liberty Ship SS Grant Wood was named in his honor.

One of Iowa's nine regional Area Education Agencies, Grant Wood Area Education Agency was established in 1974 and serves Eastern Iowa.[23]

In 2009, Grant was awarded the Iowa Prize, the state's highest citizen honor.[24]

The Grant Wood Art Colony grew out of Jim Hayes’s 1975 purchase of Wood's historic Iowa City home at 1142 Court Street. The house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and was featured in the 2016 documentary, 1142: Beyond the Bricks. Over the years, Hayes purchased four land parcels behind the home. This addition led to the expansion of his vision for 1142 to include a rotating community of artists modeled after the colonies that Wood tried to establish in his lifetime such as the one at Stone City. Hayes partnered with the University of Iowa on his vision, and since 2011, the Grant Wood Art Colony holds a recurring symposium and hosts artist fellows in painting & drawing, printmaking, and interdisciplinary performance. The fellows are provided with furnished living quarters in the houses behind 1142.

Gallery edit

List of works edit

Paintings edit

Writing edit

  • Wood, Grant. "Art in the Daily Life of the Child." Rural America, March 1940, 7–9.
  • Revolt against the City. Iowa City: Clio Press, 1935.

References edit

  1. ^ a b c d Fineman, Mia, The Most Famous Farm Couple in the World: Why American Gothic still fascinates., Slate, June 8, 2005
  2. ^ Preservation Iowa, 2008 Most Endangered Properties Archived January 5, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Taylor, Sue (2005). "Grant Wood's Family Album". American Art. 19 (2): 48–67. doi:10.1086/444481. S2CID 222326516.
  4. ^ "Details Page - the Biographical Dictionary of Iowa - the University of Iowa Libraries".
  5. ^ "Artist Info". Retrieved July 2, 2021.
  6. ^ Dennis, James M (1975). Grant Wood; A Study in American Art and Culture. New York: Viking Press. pp. 27–28.
  7. ^ "In the Know; European Journeys". The Gazette. Cedar Rapids, Iowa. September 23, 2005. pp. 2A – via NewspaperArchive.
  8. ^ "Grant Wood: Biography". CornerHouse Gallery (Cedar Rapids, Iowa). Via Archived from the original on October 19, 2006.
  9. ^ Collins, Neil. "Grant Wood (1892-1942)". Retrieved January 12, 2020.
  10. ^ a b Maslin, Janet (October 3, 2010). "Behind That Humble Pitchfork, a Complex Artist" (review of R. Tripp Evans, Grant Wood: A Life). The New York Times. Retrieved May 26, 2018.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Grant Wood" Archived October 31, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved December 14, 2008.
  12. ^ a b c Kendall, Sue M., "Wood, Grant", Oxford Art Online (subscription). Retrieved December 14, 2008.
  13. ^ "Cover Article, American Artist Magazine, September, 1940, pp. 4-14"
  14. ^ Winslow, Art (October 22, 2010). "Review of R. Tripp Evans, Grant Wood: A Life. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved May 26, 2017.
  15. ^ Schjeldahl, Peter (March 12, 2018). "Beyond American Gothic". New Yorker. Retrieved January 12, 2020.
  16. ^ Evans, R. Tripp (October 10, 2010). "Departmental Gothic: Grant Wood at the U. of Iowa". The Chronicle of Higher Education.
  17. ^ "Freemason | Mt. Hermon #263 | Cedar Rapids". Mt. Hermon #263. Retrieved July 1, 2021.
  18. ^ "First Three Degrees of Freemasonry by Grant Wood – The Square Magazine". Retrieved February 5, 2024.
  19. ^ "The First Three Degrees of Freemasonry, 1921". Fine Art America. Retrieved January 13, 2021.
  20. ^ "First Three Degrees of Freemasonry by Grant Wood – The Square Magazine". Retrieved February 5, 2024.
  21. ^ Deborah Solomon (October 28, 2010). "Gothic American". The New York Times.
  22. ^ Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Location 51786). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
  23. ^ "Grant Wood Area Education Agency". n.d. Retrieved January 22, 2022.
  24. ^ Heldt, Diane (August 21, 2009). "Grant Wood named recipient of the Iowa Award". Iowa City Gazette. Retrieved November 7, 2020.
  25. ^ "Grant Wood - Fall Plowing". Retrieved February 5, 2019.

Sources edit

  • Corn, Wanda M. Grant Wood: The Regionalist Vision. New Haven: Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Yale University Press, 1983.
  • Crowe, David. "Illustration as Interpretation: Grant Wood's 'New Deal' Reading of Sinclair Lewis's Main Street." In Sinclair Lewis at 100: Papers Presented at a Centennial Conference, edited by Michael Connaughton, 95–111. St. Cloud, MN: St. Cloud State University, 1985.
  • Czestochowski, Joseph S. John Steuart Curry and Grant Wood: A Portrait of Rural America. Columbia: University of Missouri Press and Cedar Rapids Art Association, 1981.
  • DeLong, Lea Rosson. Grant Wood's Main Street: Art, Literature and the American Midwest. Ames: Exhibition catalog from the Brunnier Art Museum at Iowa State University, 2004.
  • When Tillage Begins, Other Arts Follow: Grant Wood and Christian Petersen Murals. Ames: Exhibition catalog from the Brunnier Art Museum at Iowa State University, 2006.
  • Dennis, James M. Grant Wood: A Study in American Art and Culture. New York: Viking Press, 1975.
  • Renegade Regionalists: The Modern Independence of Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, and John Steuart Curry. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998.
  • Evans, R. Tripp. Grant Wood [A Life]. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010 OCLC 503041934.
  • Graham, Nan Wood, John Zug, and Julie Jensen McDonald. My Brother, Grant Wood. Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa, 1993.
  • Green, Edwin B. A Grant Wood Sampler, January Issue of the Palimpsest. Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa, 1972.
  • Haven, Janet. "Going Back to Iowa: The World of Grant Wood", MA project in conjunction with the Museum for American Studies of the American Studies Program at the University of Virginia, 1998; includes list of paintings and gallery.
  • Hoving, Thomas. American Gothic: The Biography of Grant Wood's American Masterpiece. New York: Chamberlain Brothers, 2005.
  • Milosch, Jane C., ed. Grant Wood’s Studio: Birthplace of American Gothic. Cedar Rapids and New York: Cedar Rapids Museum of Art and Prestel, 2005.
  • Seery, John E. "Grant Wood's Political Gothic." Theory & Event 2, no. 1 (1998).
  • Taylor, Sue. "Grant Wood's Family Album." American Art 19, no. 2 (2005): 48–67.

External links edit