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American Gothic by Grant Wood

American Gothic by Grant Wood, courtesy of Art Institute of Chicago

Grant Wood was born on a farm in Iowa. He loved Midwestern rural life and his paintings are very realistic representations of Iowa's rolling cornfields, white houses, and churches. He completed American Gothic in 1930. Wood's inspiration came from southern Iowa, where a cottage designed with an upper window in the shape of a medieval pointed arch, provided the background and also the painting's title. The painting shows a farmer standing beside his spinster daughter, figures modeled by the artist's dentist and sister. The woman is dressed in a colonial print apron and the couple is in the traditional roles of men and women. The painting took him three months to paint and was displayed publicly for the first time at the Art Institute of Chicago® where it was awarded a prize and sold to the Art Institute for three hundred dollars.

There is more information about this painting in the ArtAccess area of the Art Institute website.

Questions to Ask

What is the first thing that you see? This is the focal point. The focal point is what first draws your eye, something that stands out.

What colors are used? Are they bright or muted pastels? Hint: drab, muted, dull colors.

How has Wood used perspective? Remember big is near, far is small, color and texture are less with distance. The people are almost larger than life compared to the buildings and tress in the background. The people are the first level of the painting; they overlap everything else in the work, becoming the most important.

What do you think the pitch fork symbolizes? Hint: Hard work. Midwestern rural farm life was hard, people were stern, strict, and unbending with each other and themselves.

What do you see when you look at the lady? She is looking away and seems to be a little upset. She has a soft pattern on her dress with an old broach perhaps given to her by her mother or someone special. On her shoulder are flower pots full of plants that she cares about. Her hair is pulled back softly from her face. She does not look stern. She seems to be questioning the sternness of life.

The people in this painting posed for this picture. What does pose mean? Have you ever posed for a picture? Where you dressed up for a special occasion or in a costume for Halloween?

Activities for the Classroom

Additional Kid Friendly Resources at the AHML are "Artist in Overalls: the life of Grant Wood" by John Duggleby, "Grant Wood" by Mike Venezia, and "The artist in the hayloft" by Deborah Leach.

Provide props from this time period such as farmer overalls, straw hats, aprons, jewelry and ask two students to volunteer to dress up and pose. Ask the class to draw a picture of the models with classroom in the background.

Ask the students to draw a picture of what farmers look like today. Ask them to draw a picture of a farm today in the background.

Ask the students to draw a picture of them when they were dressed up and posed for a picture.

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