Skip navigation

American artist Grant Wood died on this day in 1942, one day before his 51st birthday. Had he hung on for one more day, his life would have been a perfect circle in more ways than one.

We know Wood for his American Gothic, painted in 1930, perhaps the most recognizable image in American art history. Having spent some considerable time in Iowa, I can relate to the archetype; the straight-necked farmer and his spinster daughter in the painting are people I’ve met. Good honest people, kind and generous if a bit suspicious of worrisome things like change and people from places other than Iowa. The image brings back memories, good ones, having nothing to do with Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor and everything to do with a land and a people that I grew quite fond of.

The symmetry I’m thinking about has nothing to do with the dates of his entry to and exit from this great big world. I”m thinking more about how he returned to Iowa after seeking his artistic education in Chicago and then traveling to Europe as all serious painters of the time were required to do. He was born in Anamosa, his life ended just a couple counties over, in Iowa City, where he was teaching at the University of Iowa. I think it’s good for artists to return to their roots and not run off to New York or Paris or LA. I think we’d know a lot more about the world we live in if more artists were like Wood, instead of just knowing about New York or Paris or those spectacular scenic places painters seem to flock to. Artists are supposed to tell the story of their times and not just the times that the art world approves of.

I was never a big fan of Wood’s Regionalist style, or that of the other two members of the Regionalist Holy Trinity (by name, Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry). I will, however, applaud them all for their commitment to singing the praises of their neighbors in Middle America at a time when everyone needed something to feel good about. It’s good to be proud of where you come from.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: