This is American Gothic, one of the most recognizable and parodied images in American culture. It was painted in 1930 by Grant Wood. Even though my young students know nothing about Mr. Wood or the artistic style of Regionalism they immediately tell me they’ve seen the painting before when I flash it up on my television monitor. It’s not surprising because it seems everyone has done their own portrayal of the painting in some way or another…just do a Google search using the key words "American Gothic". In fact, I posted Georgia’s version of the painting this very week.
My wordless image for this week is called Calendulas. Wood painted it in 1929, and it is very different from his other works. Many of the readers who visited my Wordless puzzle brought up Van Gogh. They did this for good reason. The style of Calendulas is reminiscent of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. Click over to Sunflowers and then back to Calendulas (the first link in this paragraph). Notice how similar the two works are. There is a thick application of paint on the flowers themselves. Notice how the vase in Calendulas seems to tilt forward---this is due to the horizontal stripes. The illusion of a round vase is achieved through the curved blue stripes on the vase, and the horizontal table edge provides depth to the painting. When I’m pretending to be a Language Arts teacher I like to show students Calendulas and Sunflowers together. Then I ask students to make a two-column chart to compare and contrast the two paintings. We spend some time working on the charts to word and reword ideas that eventually wind up in a written essay.
Wood was born in Amamosa, Iowa. His first forays into art include creating scenery for his for his high school plays and drawings for the year book. Later he studied at an art institute and visited Europe several times. He even organized his own Paris artshow. He was a well travelled person and very cosmopolitan, however, once he finally settled back in Iowa for good he was often seen in overalls. He was a member of a group of artist referred to as Regionalist and was part of the American Scene Movement in the 1930s. During a time of great nationalism in the United States he looked to America’s past and supported rural life. His paintings that were completed during the Depression seem vastly different to the start realities of the time----they were filled with cultivated fields while top soil was blowing away in the Dust Bowl.
Once the United States entered World War I, Wood joined the Army and travelled to Washington D.C. where he designed camouflage for U.S. artillery. I previously wrote about the use of camouflage in World War I here. Later, after the war, Wood returned to his Iowa roots and took up residence in a carriage house with no address. He promptly made one up. His reason for returning home was simple. He said, “I realized that all the really good ideas I’d ever had come to me while milking a cow, so I went back to Iowa.” His body of work is great and doesn’t always include paintings. He has worked in many mediums including stained glass. A corn-themed chandelier Wood designed hangs in an Iowa hotel and the image on the Iowa state quarter is a Wood creation.
Grant’s work can be used all year long at various points of an American History class. George Washington and the various myths that surround him can be a great time to show students Wood’s Parson Weem’s Fable. When students are introduced to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere Wood's painting of the same name helps to draw students into the event. Finally, the Birthplace of Herbert Hoover (my favorite Wood painting) is a very interesting view of a presidential birthplace.
In a statement that accompanied his final painting Wood remarked, “In making these paintings as you may have guessed I had in mind something I hoped to convey to a fairly wide audience in America---the picture of a country rich in the arts of peace; a homey lovable nation worth any sacrifice necessary to its preservation.”
What do you think of this statement?
Does this America still exist?