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Subject: Archive: Grant Wood, Feb. 12, 1942

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Date Posted: Monday, February 12, 01:44:49pm

In 1891, Grant Wood was born to Hattie Weaver and Francis Maryville Wood on a farm near Anamosa, Iowa, a rural town with a population of about 2,000. After the unexpected death of her husband in 1901, Hattie Wood relocated with her four children to her parent’s house in Cedar Rapids. Removed from their idyllic family farm, Grant Wood and his siblings quickly accustomed to the new, urban setting that surrounded them.

Wood’s grammar school teacher, Emma Gratten, is credited as the first person to support the youngster’s interest in art. At the age of fourteen, Wood submitted a drawing of oak leaves to a sweepstakes and won first prize. During his high school years, he befriended artist Marvin Cone (1891-1965), and together, they designed sets for the school’s theater department. On the night of his graduation, he left for a summer course taught by nationally known architect and designer Ernest Batchelder (1875-1957) at the Minneapolis School of Design and Handicraft.

In 1913, Wood relocated to Chicago, where he set up a jewelry and fine metalwork shop. Occasionally, he enrolled in evening drawing classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Over the next several years, he took correspondence and summer school courses in the decorative arts and even served in the U.S. Army as a camouflage designer. When his mother fell ill in 1919, he returned to the family home in Cedar Rapids and took a position as a grammar school teacher in order to support her and his younger sister.

After a brief summer trip to Paris in 1920, Wood returned to France three years later to study at the Academie Julian. On a sabbatical from his teaching position, he also traveled with artist friends to Sorrento, Italy. Looking back, Wood referred to these times as his “bohemian years.” When he returned to Iowa, he dawned a beard and adopted an impressionist style of painting.

In the 1920s, Wood earned fame as an artist in the local community. In 1919, Killian’s Department Store held an exhibition of his paintings alongside the works of his longtime friend and fellow artist, Marvin Cone. Following this exhibition, the competing major department store, Armstrong’s, hired Wood to decorate their store window displays. He also completed mural and portrait commissions for local family-owned businesses and factories. In 1927, he was commissioned to complete a stained-glass window for the new Veteran’s Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids. Upon the urging of the planning commission, Wood was sent to Germany with Cone to oversee the production of the piece at specialist workshops. During his three month stay in Munich, Wood saw early German and Flemish paintings for the first time.

His admiration for the works of the German and Flemish Old Masters is said to have been a major turning point in his career. Abandoning the Impressionist style, Wood adopted the extreme Realist style of the fifteenth and sixteenth century Flemish school. Working with a tighter brushstroke and a darker color palette, the artist completed his most memorable works upon his return from Munich. In 1930, his painting American Gothic (1930) was accepted into the juried annual exhibition of the Art Institute of Chicago and won the Norman Walt Harris Bronze Medal. Wood’s painting of a woman, man and pitchfork received almost overnight success and catapulted the artist into the public eye. To this day American Gothic stands alone as the sentinel distillation of the clear, forceful and acerbic Midwestern mentality.

In the years following the exhibition of American Gothic, critics were eager to present Wood to the public as the leader of American Regionalism. He was invited to contribute paintings to numerous contemporary art exhibitions and to act as a director for several national art programs. Drawing upon memories from his early childhood spent on a farm, Wood exemplified the Regionalist style through his paintings of small-town folk and life in the Iowan countryside.

In 1932, he best expressed the regionalist sensibility when he and fellow artists Edward Rowan (1898-1946) and Adrian Dornbush (1900-1970) opened a summer art colony and school in Stone City, Iowa. The art colony proved to be successful in attracting many aspiring Midwestern artists. Lasting two summers, the colony was Wood’s most dramatic attempt yet to establish the Midwest as a significant art center. After two summers, Wood closed the art colony and accepted a position as an associate professor in the art department of the University of Iowa in hopes of giving wider breathe to his artistic vision. During his tenure, Wood gave many lectures on Regionalism and even published a tract entitled Revolt Against the City that drew comparisons between Regionalist art and literature.

For many years, Wood was known for his status as one of Cedar Rapids’ most eligible bachelors. However, in 1935, he decided to marry struggling actress and opera singer Sara Maxon, much to the dismay of his friends and family. Their marriage proved to be tumultuous, and the two divorced in 1939. Misled by his failed marriage, Wood was further embarrassed by the government’s discovery that he had failed to pay income taxes for the past three years. With the extra burdens brought on by his divorce and the government, Wood was buried in financial debt by the late 1930s.

Furthermore, a bitter argument developed between Wood and the University of Iowa’s art department, which had began to denounce his artistic talent and reject his Regionalist doctrines. Faculty members, who supported the new abstract trends that were then sweeping the nation, began to argue that Wood’s lectures and paintings were provincial at best and outdated. Feeling betrayed by the department that he had made famous, Wood requested a leave of absence in 1940. Two years later at the age of 51, he died from liver cancer at the University’s hospital.

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"American Gothic"Hs masterpieceMonday, February 12, 01:46:22pm

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