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American Gothic: Painting, Artist & Meaning

Instructor: Anne Butler

Anne has a bachelor's in K-12 art education and a master's in visual art and design. She currently works at a living history museum in Colorado.

American Gothic is a painting created by Grant Wood in 1930. The meaning of the portrait, which features two solemn-faced individuals, is something that has been debated since its creation.

Rural Beginnings

Grant Wood was born in Iowa on February 13, 1891. His spent his childhood on a farm until his father died when he was ten. His mother then moved him and his sister to the more urban Cedar Rapids. Farm life and the Midwestern traditions of his childhood reappeared in Wood's later works.

Grant Wood
grant wood portrait

Wood's interest in art developed early. In high school, Wood was involved with the drama department designing sets for the school plays and creating illustrations for school publications. After graduating high school in 1910, Wood went to the Minneapolis School of Design and Handicraft. Here he learned many other skills that would benefit him throughout his career. These included metalworking, jewelry, and furniture making. He moved to Chicago in 1913 and opened his own shop. He would stay there until his mother's illness brought him back to Iowa in 1916.

Travels Bring Inspiration

Upon his return to Iowa, Wood taught school to support his mother and sister. He was also able to continue work on his art. After a few years, he was able to travel to Europe, enrolling in the Académie Julian and exhibiting his work in Paris. While there Wood viewed the work of the Impressionists, whose themes influenced his work. What really affected him, though, was a 1928 trip to Germany. There he viewed 15th and 16th century Flemish and German artwork, especially the works of Jan van Eyck. He chose to emulate their styles in his works.

Regionalism Rises

During this time, a new art movement was emerging in America, mainly in the Midwest. This new form of art was referred to as Regionalism, and Wood was one of its main leaders. Regionalism rose to prominence during the 1930s. It was a very American movement, as works produced during this time focused on depicting scenes of home and farm life. Regionalism artists rejected the modern art movements such as cubism that were coming over from Europe in favor of more rural scenes. It was during this time that Wood began painting his most famous piece, American Gothic.

American Gothic

While on a visit home to Iowa, Wood stopped at a town called Eldon. Here he found a small, white farmhouse that would serve as the background for his most famous work of art. Wood found the house to be quite interesting. The gothic styled window was odd; not the type of window you would find on a farmhouse. It looks instead like a window that belongs in a church. The window gave rise to the title of the painting.

American Gothic
american gothic

Amercian Gothic House
american gothic house

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