One of America's leading Regionalist painters along with Thomas Hart Benton & John Steuart Curry, Grant Wood was born in Anamosa, Iowa, & spent his childhood in Cedar Rapids, where his family moved after his father died in 1901. There Wood became an apprentice in a local metal work shop.
After graduating from Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, Wood enrolled in an art school in Minneapolis in 1910, and returned a year later to teach in a one-room schoolhouse. In 1913, he enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago & did some work as a silversmith.
For 2 summers, Wood continued his studies at the Minneapolis School of Design & Handicraft & Normal Art as a student of Ernest Batchelder, & he had brief times of study at Iowa State University & the Art Institute of Chicago from 1913 to 1916. After World War I, he taught high school art in Cedar Rapids.
Wood was an active painter from an extremely young age until his death, and although he is best known for his paintings, he worked in a large number of media, including ink, charcoal, ceramics, metal, wood, & found objects.
Asserting that he "had to go to France to appreciate Iowa," from 1920 to 1928, he made 4 trips to Europe, where he studied many styles of painting, including impressionism & post-impressionism. But it was the work of Jan Van Eyck influenced him to pare down & clariy his technique. In 1923, Wood enrolled in the Academie Julian in Paris, but he determined to make his life in Iowa because "all the really good ideas I'd ever had came to me while I was milking a cow."
In 1928, he traveled to Munich to oversee the making of a stained-glass window for the Cedar Rapids Veterans Memorial Building commissioned by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Observing the austere new style of painting in Germany, he further developed a unique style of his own for depicting his beloved mid-western subjects with gothic overtones, satire, & caricature.
Unlike Curry & Benton, Wood never moved East but remained in the Mid-West, where he found inspiration for his paintings of prosperous farms & people reflecting basic idealized American values.
Throughout his life he hired out his talents to many Iowa-based businesses to maintain a steady stream of income. His jobs included painting advertisements; sketching rooms of a mortuary house for promotional flyers; and, in one case, designing the corn-themed decor, including chandelier, for the dining room of a hotel.
In 1930, Wood produced his first major landscape painting, Stone City, with an exaggerated perspective & unique naive treatment. From that time, his paintings had a simple innocence & fantasy that transported the viewer into another world, often that of an innocent child.
In 1932, Wood helped found the Stone City Art Colony & Art School near his hometown to help artists get through the Great Depression. He became director of the Public Works Art Project in Iowa, & a great proponent of regionalism in the arts, lecturing throughout the country on the topic.
Wood's work could provoke both laughter & social indignation. For example, the Daughters of the American Revolution, 1932, depicts a certain aloof smugness of these women, who Wood felt regarded themselves as emblematic of the country's founding values. This painting was a retaliation by Wood against local DAR members who had criticized him for completing the window they had commissioned from him in Germany instead of America. Much of his satire was good natured & usually humorous, although the local DAR may have disagreed.
Wood taught painting at the University of Iowa's School of Art beginning in 1934. During that time, he supervised mural painting projects; mentored students; produced a variety of his own works; and became a key part of the University's cultural community.
During his tenure at the University of Iowa, he created many murals, paintings, & a few lithographs, completing 19 between 1937 & 1942, the year he died of cancer at age 50 in Iowa City.
When Wood died, his estate went to his sister, Nan Wood Graham, the woman portrayed in American Gothic. When she died in 1990, her estate, along with Wood's personal effects & various works of art, became the property of the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa.
“Technique does not constitute art. Nor is it a vague, fuzzy romantic quality known as ‘beauty,’ remote from the realities of everyday life. It is the depth and intensity of an artist’s experience that are the first importance in art.” Grant Wood quoted in “Grant Wood Revisited,” Midwest Today, April/May 1996.
“All my pictures are first planned as abstractions. When I think it’s a sound design, then I start very cautiously making it look like nature. But I’m so afraid of being photographic that maybe I stop too soon.” Grant Wood quoted in “Grant Wood Revisited,” Midwest Today, April/May 1996.