Grant Wood

It’s one of the few paintings in the history of art that is instantly recognizable — a father and daughter standing together in front of a white Iowa farmhouse.

Iowa artist Grant Wood took pride in the fact that he lived his entire life in one region and showed his affection for the Midwest in his regionalist paintings.

There are many places that bear the famous Iowa artist’s name, from the landmarks where he lived and painted to three elementary schools named after him, including Grant Wood Elementary in Iowa City. There’s a Grant Wood Art Festival in his birthplace of Anamosa and people can visit and pose in front of the “American Gothic” house in Eldon.

In his unfinished biography written in the late 1930s, “Return from Bohemia, A Painter’s Story,” Wood looked back on his childhood: “In my own private world, Anamosa was as important as Europe was to Columbus, and the Wapsie Valley, a half-dozen miles from our farm, had all the glamour that the Orient had for Magellan and Vespucci.” The biography was written in the first person, but actually drafted by a collaborator.

Wood came to Iowa City in 1934 to be part of a University of Iowa program that started through the New Deal federally funded Public Works of Art Project. The short-lived program provided relief to artists by hiring them to paint murals for public buildings, and Wood became state director of the Iowa program.

When the PWAP ended in June 1934, the State University of Iowa appointed Wood to a three-year term as an associate professor in the art department and continued to teach at UI until 1941.

Wood set up an “art clinic” on Saturdays, open to anyone who sought professional advice and academic credit. The clinic was enormously popular, and during one term attracted more than 200 students.

He married Sara Maxon and bought a Civil War-era house at 1142 E. Court St. in Iowa City, studying old photographs of the house and meticulously restoring it.

Grant Wood died of liver cancer at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, one day before his 51st birthday.

— Rachel Gallegos

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