Born: February 13, 1891
Born Place: Anamosa, Iowa, United States
Died: February 12, 1942
Death Place: Iowa City, Iowa, United States
On view: Amon Carter Museum of American Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, Berkshire Museum
Periods: Regionalism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Social realism, Modern art, American modernism, Modernism
Grant DeVolson Wood (February 13, 1891 – February 12, 1942) was an American painter best known for his paintings depicting the rural American Midwest, particularly American Gothic (1930), which has become an iconic painting of the 20th century.
Wood was born in rural Iowa, 4 mi (6 km) east of Anamosa, in 1891. 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 (now a prominent artist collective in the city). He is said to have later returned to the Guild to paint American Gothic. A year later, Wood returned to Iowa, where he taught in a rural one-room schoolhouse. In 1913, he enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and performed some work as a silversmith.
From 1922 to 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 to incorporate it in his new works.
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). 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, lecturing throughout the country on the topic. As his classically American image was solidified, his bohemian days in Paris were expunged from his public persona.
Wood was married to Sara Sherman Maxon from 1935–38. Seven years older than Grant, she was born in Iowa in 1884. Friends considered the marriage a mistake for Wood.
Wood 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. It is thought that he was a closeted homosexual, and that there was an attempt on the part of a senior colleague, Lester Longman, to get him fired both on moral grounds and for his advocacy of regionalism. 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.” University administration dismissed the allegations and Wood would have returned as professor if not for his growing health problems.
DEATH & LEGACY
The day before his 51st birthday, Wood died at the university hospital of pancreatic cancer. He is buried at Riverside Cemetery, Anamosa, Iowa.
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.
LIST OF WORKS
- Woman with Plants (1929)
- American Gothic (1930)
- Arnold Comes of Age (1930)
- Stone City, Iowa (1930)
- Appraisal (1931)
- Young Corn (1931)
- Fall Plowing (1931)
- The Birthplace of Herbert Hoover, West Branch, Iowa (1931)
- The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (1931)
- Plaid Sweater (1931)
- Self-Portrait (1932)
- Arbor Day (1932)
- Boy Milking Cow (1932)
- Daughters of Revolution (1932)
- Portrait of Nan (1933)
- Near Sundown (1933)
- Dinner for Threshers (1934)
- Return from Bohemia (1935)
- Death on Ridge Road (1935)
- Spring Turning (1936)
- Seedtime and Harvest (1937)
- Sultry Night (1937)
- Haying (1939)
- New Road (1939)
- Parson Weems’ Fable (1939)
- January (1940)
- Iowa Cornfield (1941)
- Spring in the Country (1941)
- 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.