ELDON, Iowa — Beth Howard sits at her kitchen table on a Sunday morning and pulls back the curtain to peer at a group of rosy-cheeked youths taking pictures on her front lawn. They pair off to stand side by side in the pose familiar to millions — the dour farmer with a pitchfork, the unsmiling woman beside him in front of the white house.
No one notices the woman in flannel pajamas sitting inside.
Read the rest, from the Los Angeles Times.
It reminded me of this column of mine, from ought-ought-6.
ELDON, Iowa — “Harrumph,” my wife, the lovely Dr. Mize, grumbled at my confession to not knowing “American Gothic,” Grant Wood’s much-admired and much-parodied painting of a woman and a pitchfork-holding man in front of a heartland farmhouse, is at the Art Institute of Chicago.
In Iowa, beckoned the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, which houses the world’s largest collection of works by Wood, an Iowa native. Then Google, font of all knowledge, allowed that Chicago, too far and in the wrong direction on the drive back to Oklahoma from Iowa City, held my Americana-loving heart’s desire.
“I thought you had an education in the humanities,” the lovely Dr. Mize sniffed.
“Hey,” I said. “I knew Grant Wood painted ‘American Gothic.’ I learned that in humanities at Connors State College, I’ll have you know.”
“American Gothic” (1930, oil on beaverboard) is one of the most recognized images from 20th-century American art.
The plainness and sternness of the subjects are gripping, and the title, which plays off the Carpenter Gothic style of the house in the background — stoneless, brickless Gothic Revival — caught an era.
A prof at Connors or Oklahoma State even taught me that the people in the painting were real people close to the artist — kin of some sort? (Google: his sister and dentist.)
What a discovery to learn of the model house, not far off the path home in Eldon, a town of 1,000 a couple of hours southwest of Iowa City.
The State Historical Society of Iowa owns and manages the 1881-1882 house — three rooms and bathroom downstairs, two bedrooms, each with a Gothic window, upstairs. Other than a brief stint as a candy and novelty store, it always was a private residence. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Carl E. Smith donated it as historic site in 1991.
“The house’s historic value is its exterior appearance — the way he saw it when sketching the background for his famous ‘American Gothic,’” the historical society says.
You can’t go inside because it’s so small and fragile. But why should anyone want to? The main point of seeing the house is to see it as the artist saw it. That, we did.
To our shame, but it was cold and raining and we were in a hurry, we did not strike the “American Gothic” pose ourselves, which is the touristy, kitschy — American — thing to do. Business calls Dr. Mize to Iowa regularly. Next time.