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American Gothic, 1930

Grant Wood

The Art Institute of Chicago, Friends of American Art Collection

In August 1930, Grant Wood visited Eldon, Iowa, where he saw a modest residence built in the 1880’s in a style known as Carpenter Gothic. The house inspired the painter to imagine its residents: an insular Victorian pair clinging to old values, or “American Gothic people,” as he described them. Wood asked his dentist, Dr. B.H. McKeeby, and his sister, Nan Wood, to serve as the models for the farmer and his unmarried daughter. He constructed the painting to convey the coupe’s gendered roles, pairing the man with a pitchfork to suggest his labor, and placing houseplants behind the woman as a symbol of her domesticity. When it was exhibited at the Art Institute in December 1930, American Gothic was an immediate popular sensation, in time becoming one of the most iconic—and most parodied—paintings of the 20th century.