Iowa: 6 places to celebrate the painter of America's most parodied artwork

 Iowa: 6 places to celebrate the painter of America's most parodied artwork
Though Grant Wood was an Iowa boy, his most famous painting, "American Gothic," lives at the Chicago Institute of Art. (Chicago Institute of Art)

After the Mona Lisa, Grant Wood's "American Gothic" painting is probably the world's most-parodied work of art. Not bad for an Iowa farm boy who was born 125 years ago.

Wood's life and art are being celebrated this summer in eastern Iowa, where he was born Feb. 13, 1891, where he grew up and where he did most of his painting after studying in Europe as a young man.


Visitors to eastern Iowa who want to make a Grant Wood pilgrimage should see these places.

"Study for Self-Portrait" by Grant Wood.
"Study for Self-Portrait" by Grant Wood. (Cedar Rapids Museum of Art)

-- 1. The focus of the festivities is in Cedar Rapids, where he moved at age 10 with his mother and siblings after his father's death. The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art is home to the largest collection of Woods' paintings and other work.

A special showing of his work called "Grant Wood and Marvin Cone: Barns, Farms and America's Heartland" will be on display through May 15.

Admission to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art costs $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and $3 for kids ages 6-18. Admission is free the first Thursday of each month from 5 to 8 p.m. Info: Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, (319) 366-7503

-- 2. Visit the modest home in Eldon – complete with a narrow Gothic window – that the artist used as a backdrop for his most famous painting. It's known as The American Gothic House, where you can strike a pose and snap a selfie.

-- 3. See the 24-foot stained-glass window he designed inside the Cedar Rapids Veterans Memorial Building. It was created in 1927 and, like "American Gothic," uses his sister, Nan, as a model.

-- 4. Check out the Stone City artists' colony Wood and fellow artist Cone ran for two summers outside Anamosa. You can still see buildings like the blacksmith shop and general store, which is now a restaurant.

-- 5. Take a walking tour in the Cedar Rapids neighborhood where Wood lived and painted for several decades.

-- 6. In addition, there's a Wood-inspired "Overalls All Over" public art project that will feature 30 6-foot-tall fiberglass statues depicting the subjects in "American Gothic."

Local artists are invited to create their own "Gothic" update. The statues will be on display from May 1 through Labor Day weekend in Cedar Rapids. Check out the Overalls all Over Facebook page for updates.

"Spring in the Country," by Grant Wood.
"Spring in the Country," by Grant Wood. (Cedar Rapids Museum of Art)

What won't you see in Iowa: the original "American Gothic" painting. If you want to see that, you'll have to go to the Art Institute of Chicago, where he also studied.

Wood made the now-famous painting in his Cedar Rapids studio — a former carriage house hayloft that's open to the public — in 1930. It placed third in an Art Institute competition, garnered him national fame and changed his life practically overnight.

He did not intend the iconic painting he created as a satire – even a slightly reverent one - as some critics have suggested.

Rather, the stern-looking man in farmers' overalls holding a pitchfork (Wood's neighbor and dentist Byron McKeeby) and the equally severe looking woman standing beside him (Wood's sister, Nan) were supposed to represent small-town Midwesterners he knew, Wood wrote in a 1941 letter.


He did, however, describe them as "self-righteous."