Author Archive for: ‘GuestReview’

THE MOST FAMOUS (SMALL) WHITE HOUSE IN AMERICA: GRANT WOOD’S AMERICAN GOTHIC DRAWS VISITORS TO ELDON, IOWA.

 

Visitors pose in front of the American Gothic house in Eldon, Iowa. The nearby American Gothic House Center lends aprons, overalls and pitchforks to the thousands who come each year to pose as the figures in Grant Wood’s iconic painting.

Visitors pose in front of the American Gothic house in Eldon, Iowa. The nearby American Gothic House Center lends aprons, overalls and pitchforks to the thousands who come each year to pose as the figures in Grant Wood’s iconic painting.

Susan Cohn is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association, Bay Area Travel Writers, and the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association. She may be reached at susan@smdailyjournal.com. More of her stories may be found athttp://ifwtwa.org/author/susan-cohn.

THE MOST FAMOUS (SMALL) WHITE HOUSE IN AMERICA: GRANT WOOD’S AMERICAN GOTHIC DRAWS VISITORS TO ELDON, IOWA. A dour farmer, wearing overalls and a jacket and clutching a pitchfork, poses rigidly next to a pinch-faced, apron-clad woman who gazes sideways into the distance. Behind them is seen a modest white farmhouse whose second floor window has a pointed arch. Unlikely subjects for what is now one of the most recognized paintings in the world, but this is what Grant Wood’s American Gothic has become since he painted it in 1930 for a competition at the Art Institute of Chicago. The painting is now in the Institute’s permanent collection. The little farmhouse still stands in Eldon, Iowa, where Wood saw it (only once) during a brief stay. With its listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and its donation in 1991 to the State Historical Society of Iowa by its last private owner, the house is secure in its original location. Now, visitors come from all over the world travel to spend a little time in Eldon, to see the place that inspired Wood’s masterpiece, and to make themselves a little part of its story.

GET IN THE SPIRIT AND PUT YOURSELF INTO THE PICTURE. Steps from the farmhouse is the American Gothic House Center, which contains displays about Grant Wood and the creation of the painting as well as a collection of the painting’s parodies. The Center generously provides various sizes of the apron, overalls, suit jackets, antique glasses and hayforks to encourage visitors to pose in front of the house and create their own American Gothic portrait. To help personalize the portrait, visitors can substitute an implement of their trade (in place of the hay fork held by the man) or a piece of their own jewelry (in place of the broach worn by the woman).

American Gothic House Center Administrator Holly Berg said, “Most visitors are very excited at the opportunity to put themselves in the picture. Sometimes it takes a little coaxing to get a reluctant spouse or teenager involved, but once they don the costume they get in the spirit. It does amaze me the number of visitors that come prepared for their photos. One group of sisters came dressed in their father’s iconic overalls as a tribute to him. Another couple as Batman and Robin and wrote in the guest book that they were from Gothic City (instead of Gotham). The stories, both touching and goofy, are endless! And though the parody photos are a fun experience, it is always interesting to see how many people notice something about the painting they didn’t realize until they put themselves in it–such as the daughter’s shoulder slightly behind the fathers, or her off to the side glance. It always ends up being a fun, but educational experience at the same time.”

AMERICAN GOTHIC HOUSE PARTICULARS. The American Gothic House is located at 300 American Gothic St. in Eldon, Iowa. Tours of the downstairs portion of the house are given the second Saturday of the month, April-October from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Due to the historic features of the house and grounds, accessibility for visitors with limited mobility can be challenging. The adjacent American Gothic House Center, “photo-op” area, and parking lot are all accessible. For more information, call 641-652-3352 or email TheAmericanGothicHouse@gmail.com. Admission to the Center is free. American Gothic by Thomas Hoving is an entertaining biography of the painting.

GRANT WOOD AROUND IOWA. Grant Wood (February 13, 1891 – February 12, 1942) is Iowa’s most famous artist. He was born on a farm near Anamosa but moved to Cedar Rapids when he was ten years old after the death of his father. From then on, Wood lived most of his life in Cedar Rapids or Iowa City, dying of cancer the day before his 51st birthday. In addition to the American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa sites connected with his life and works include the Grant Wood Gallery and Visitor Center in Anamosa; the Grant Wood Studio and Home in Cedar Rapids; Grant Wood’s House in Iowa City; and Riverside Cemetery in Anamosa. Grant Wood’s Iowa by Wende Elliott and William Balthazar Rose is a useful guide for those laying out a tour.

AND REMEMBER: “I had to go to France to appreciate Iowa.” Grant Wood.

Photos credited to Susan Cohn.

The "American Gothic" House in Eldon, Iowa. This modest building inspired one of the most recognized paintings in the world.

The “American Gothic” House in Eldon, Iowa. This modest building inspired one of the most recognized paintings in the world.

 

Plaque memorializing the listing of the "American Gothic" House on the National Register of Historic Places.

Plaque memorializing the listing of the “American Gothic” House on the National Register of Historic Places.

The American Gothic House Center maintains a rack of clothes for use by visitors who wish to get in character and put themselves "into the picture."

The American Gothic House Center maintains a rack of clothes for use by visitors who wish to get in character and put themselves “into the picture.”

 

 Pitchforks at the ready.

Pitchforks at the ready.

 

Photos on a wall inside the American Gothic House Center show some of the thousands of visitors who have posed in front of the farmhouse.

Photos on a wall inside the American Gothic House Center show some of the thousands of visitors who have posed in front of the farmhouse.

 

Souvenirs in American Gothic House gift shop.

Souvenirs in American Gothic House Center gift shop.