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Mr. Burgher's Art Facts

Grant Wood

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Grant Wood: February 13, 1891-February 12,1942...United States

 "All the really good ideas I ever had came to me while I was milking a cow. So I went back to Iowa."
Grant Wood 

One of the artistic greats that is near the top of my admiration peak is the fellow Iowan, the Regionalist painter, Grant DeVolson Wood. Born on a farm four miles east of Anamosa. Iowa and Midwestern life became a center for much of his great artwork. As a young boy on the farm, Wood loved to draw, but every one thought he follow in his father’s footsteps and become a farmer. He loved the farm life. At the age of ten his father, Francis Wood, died and his mother had to move the family to the nearby town of Cedar Rapids (where one can visit his refurbished home/studio at #5 Turner Alley). He struggled to fit in with the “city kids,” but soon found his time being occupied drawing for the school paper and working on his high school yearbook. He joined the Army during World War I and used his art skills to paint camouflage on tanks. After the war, he began to study art at the Art Institute of Chicago. He returned to Cedar Rapids to teach art at the public junior high and high schools for about eight years. He left teaching to explore Europe to study Impressionism, specifically Pierre Bonnard, Alfred Sisley, and Camille Pissarro. He was also taking classes at the Academie Julian in Paris. After a few years he was back in Iowa, but he was soon on the move again.

Grant Wood found his Midwestern style in Germany. Ironic, isn’t it; but its true. He was in Germany overseeing a stained glass window project for the American Legion in Cedar Rapids when he saw artworks that all revolved around the idea of common life in Germany. He was moved by the art created by Jan van Eyck, Albrecht Dürer, and Hans Holbein. Artists that painted what they knew and where they lived. Wood loved Iowa and knew it as well as anything. It was as great as anything he ever experienced in Europe. So that’s what he began to focus on. He created a vision of Iowa that people around the world still see as the All-American way of life. "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."

On one particular occasion, when Wood was looking around the countryside around Eldon, Iowa, looking for something to paint, he discovered a farmhouse with an odd arch-shaped window. It looked to him to be almost from the Middle Ages, or as we have learned, Gothic. He created many sketches of the American house with the European window. But who would go in front of this unique farmhouse? Of course a farmer and his daughter (NO! Its not his wife!). Playing the role of the farmer was his family dentist, Dr. B.H. McKeeby. And in the role of the farmers daughter, Wood’s sister, Nan Wood Graham. The only face in art history that is more known than theirs is that of Mona Lisa herself. But perhaps, the most famous role in the whole painting was the farmhouse itself, which was actually a brothel at the time. The work was soon finished and he placed the work into an art show at the Art Institute of Chicago. He won third place and sold the work to the Art Institute for three-hundred dollars. Most people didn’t understand modern art at that time, but they totally understood Wood’s work that was printed in newspapers allover the country. The hard life of the Great Depression imprinted on their faces was their life captured in paint. "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize tham truthfully- to make them more like themselves then they were in actual life." This painting, American Gothic, made Grant Wood an internationally known artist. This being so, he still wanted to be seen as an Iowa farmer, sporting bib overalls in virtually every photo take of him.

American Gothic 
1930. Oil on board. The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA.

Shortly after creating American Gothic, people from all over the world wanted to study from Grant Wood. In the summers of 1932 and ‘33, he hosted an art school and colony in Stone City, Iowa. As the Great Depression got greater, he would work for the Federal Art Projects and was a professor of fine arts at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. International critics saw him is a hillbilly that could paint well. As the world that appreciated Wood’s photorealistic images and satirical intent of the 1930s shifted to an abstracted world after World War II, Wood went quickly out of fassion. "If I paint [subjects] the way they really look, they don't think anything of me. If I paint them the way they want me to, I don't think anything of myself."

Wood also loved American history and painted several American events over his career. He painted The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere with a child's rocking horse modeling Revere’s horse; He illustrated Sinclair Lewis' book Main Street; and even Herbert Hoover‘s Birthplace in West Branch, Iowa. Wood died of cancer in early 1942, but I think he would love the fact that he is respected as the world’s favorite Iowa artist. “In making these paintings, as you may have guessed, I had in mind something which I hope to convey to a fairly wide audience in America -- the picture of a country rich in the arts of peace; a homely lovable nation, infinitely worth any sacrifice necessary to its preservation.”

Mr. Mike Burgher * PO Box 247 * Dallas Center, Iowa. 50063