Grant Wood

About the Artist

Grant Wood painted idyllic scenes of Iowa farm life. His Regionalist paintings were comforting to Midwesterners, at a time when the country was reeling from the impact of war and the Depression.

Early Life

Grant Wood was born on a small farm in rural Iowa in 1891. His father died in 1901, when Wood was ten. Wood’s mother left the farm and moved, with Wood and his sister, Nan, to her parents’ home in Cedar Rapids. After graduating from high school, Woods enrolled in the Minneapolis School of Design and Handicraft, where he spent the summer studying with architect Ernest Batchelder.

Education and Career

After a brief stint teaching art in a rural Iowa schoolhouse, Wood enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago. He set up a jewelry and metalwork shop in order earn a living. During World War l, Wood served in the army, painting camouflage onto tanks and other military equipment. He returned to Cedar Rapids, in 1919, and took a job teaching, in order to take care of his ailing mother and his sister. He became a popular artist in Cedar Rapids, where his work was exhibited.

Grant Wood (American, 1891-1942)
Title: American Gothic
Date Created: 1930
Physical Dimensions: 78 × 65.3 cm (30 3/4 × 25 3/4 in.)
Type: Painting
Media: Oil on Beaver Board
Credit Line: The Art Institute of Chicago, Friends of American Art Collection, 1930.934

A commission for a stained glass window for the Veteran’s Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids, led Wood to Germany, where he got to see the works of the German and Flemish masters, and was greatly influenced by the works of Jan van Eyck. When he returned home, he painted American Gothic, which won the Norman Walt Harris Bronze Medal at the Art Institute of Chicago’s annual exhibit in 1930, where it is still housed. The models for American Gothic were Wood’s sister, Nan, and his dentist, Dr. B.H. McKeeby. Nan always resented being called, “the wife” in the painting, since she was much younger than Dr. McKeeby. She insisted the painting was of a farmer and his daughter.

In 1932, Wood helped found the Stone City Art Colony in Stone City, Iowa. During this time he wrote and lectured about Regionalism, encouraging artists to paint the places where they lived and knew well. Wood was married, in 1935, to Sara Maxon, an actress and singer, but the marriage lasted less than five years, during which time he taught at the University of Iowa’s School of Art. Wood died of pancreatic cancer in 1942.


American Gothic is one of the world’s most recognized, revered and satirized paintings. Wood inspired and encouraged American artists to create a local, personal and independent American style. Some of the Regionalist painters that he inspired, like Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry, produced outstanding bodies of work. Wood’s works are part of the permanent collections of the Smithsonian, the Met, the Midwest Museum of American and many other venues around the world.

2021-02-22T12:00:45-05:00 June 10th, 2016|

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