Sunday, July 17, 2011

American Gothic

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Grant Wood was born four miles east of Anamosa, Iowa. One of his best-known paintings is American Gothic, which depicts a man and woman standing in front of a small white house. The man is holding a pitch fork. They look like a typical Midwest couple of the early 20th century when life was hard.

In the summer of 2008, as Joann and I headed to Cedar Rapids to stay the night, we passed a barn with scaffolding set up along the front of it. We both looked to see what the painting was and were surprised to see that it was a replica of the American Gothic Painting.

We stopped and took a few pictures with the scaffolding, fearing that we would not get back to see the barn before something happened to it. I made a note of the approximate location of the barn and we continued on our trip.

In June of this year, we had the opportunity to return to Iowa to hunt up some barns and Joann asked if we might be able to find the American Gothic barn again on the trip. We planned for our circle to take us down to Davenport, then up past Cedar Rapids to Anamosa and then east to Dubuque. We decided that we could definitely make this barn a stop on our trip.

On Saturday night, we checked into our motel at Mount Vernon and then decided to go out in the evening light and check out the barn. The lighting was good, so Joann pulled over on the highway, and then crossed over to the other side to take her photos. The barn now has murals painted on three of its sides.

The following morning, we headed out bright and early as usual. Our first stop was Stone City and as Joann photographed an old stone church from various angles, I read a visitor board about Grant Wood. He had helped to found the Stone City Art Colony near his hometown to help artists get through the Depression. Sitting next to the visitor board was a building that was a replica of the house from the American Gothic painting.

The real Carpenter Gothic style house that Grant Wood used for the background of his painting sits in Eldon, Iowa. The house has a visitor center with vintage clothing and pitchforks available for photos.

As we headed east from Anamosa, we came to the Antioch School, which Grant Wood attended from 1897 until 1901. The school is restored and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Behind the school was the restored outhouse, and Joann can never resist adding another outhouse to our collection.

Grant Wood is one of the Midwest’s most prized artists. He was born February 13, 1891, and died on February 12, 1942. From 1920 to 1928, he made multiple trips to Europe, where he studied different styles of painting. On his return to Iowa, he was widely quoted as saying, “All the really good ideas I’d ever had came to me while I was milking a cow. So I went back to Iowa.”

You never know what you’ll find along the unassuming backroads, so keep your eyes open.

Happy Shunpiking!

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