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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Grant Wood is one of the most renowned American painters and advocates for the regionalism artistic movement. He is best known for his paintings of the rural Midwest American region. American Gothic is one of his well-known paintings and one of the most legendary portrayals of mid 20th century American Art.

Early Life

Grant Wood was born in 1891 in Rural Iowa as the second-born child of Francis Mayville Wood and Hattie Weaver Wood. He spent the first ten years in rural Anamosa, Iowa. At ten years old, his father passed away unexpectedly, causing Hattie and her kids to move to Cedar Rapids. Following his father’s death, Grant Wood and his older brother were forced to take peculiar occupations to support their family.

Early Training

Grant Wood’s interest in painting peaked at Cedar Rapids Public School. He started by submitting work to school competitions. In 1905, he took the second-runners up position in a state competition. This win inspired his resolve to transition into a pro artist. A year later, he moved to Washington High School. He participated in various art-related opportunities at Washington High School and all over Cedar Rapids. He met and forged a friendship with a associate artist, Marvin Cone. The two started working together designing sets for local theatre. They also volunteered at the Art Association in Cedar Rapids, installing expositions and safeguarding galleries. Furthermore, he took on interior decorating jobs, and sketched for the yearbook.

After graduating from Washington High School, Grant Wood Moved to Minnesota in summer. He attended a course at the School of Design and Handicraft in Minneapolis. The course was taught by Ernest A. Batchelder, one of the most prominent proponents of the Arts and Craft Movement. He also attended the University of Iowa, where he studied life drawing under the French-trained academic painter, Chares Cummin’s instruction. He also returned to Minnesota a year later to take another art-related course.

Initial Employment

In 1913, Grant moved to Chicago, where he took night academic programs at the Art Institute. At the same time, he worked as a jewel maker to earn a living. He went as far as opening a small jewel-making business. However, his business failed after a short time. Regardless, his mother was still going through increasing financial instability. This prompted him to move back to Cedar Rapids after only three years in Chicago. He took up jobs as a home builder and decorator after assuming fiscal charge for his mother and Nan, his youngest and favourite sibling. This was during the World War I. Towards the end of the war, he joined the US military to design camouflage scenes.

Following the end of the World War, he started working as an art teacher at the McKinley Middle School. In 1920, he took a summer European trip. He would return to France in 1994 for a year-long course at the Academie Julian in Paris before taking on a second league of his European travels in Italy. Finally, in 1925, upon encouragement from his friend David Turner, he gave up teaching to take on a full-time art career.

Starting Out as a Professional Artist

Grant Wood went from an artist to a jewel-maker, a home constructor and decorator, then back to an professional artist and art teacher. In other words, he was a jack-of-all-trades. He dabbled in various styles and career opportunities. However, when he decided to take on art as a full-time career, he started focusing on the Regionalism painting style. Grant Wood gained international recognition in 1930 when he created American Gothic. The painting won a medal at the annual Chicago Art Institute exhibition. When the institute purchased the piece, Wood’s reputation skyrocketed. He painted several of his most popular works for the next half a decade.

Most of his works were inspired by his childhood living at the firm. This separated his perspective from realists. Therefore, his work fixated on the beautiful, mythical, and simple memories of his childhood instead of labour, primitivity, and financial instability often associated with farm life. In 1934, we learned painting at the School of Art at the University of Iowa. He was tasked with supervising mural painting projects and mentoring students. He also created incredible pieces of his own. He became part of the cultural community in the university during his seven years.

His Evolution as an Artist

In the early 1920s, Grant Wood paintings featured an impressionist-inspired style during his European trip. He focused primarily on landscapes. However, his style changed significantly throughout his career. Regardless, the decorative foliage patterns and light in his early paintings remain a constant element in his works. Wood is also involved American Regionalism movement, primarily found in the Midwest. He is one of the three artists that were the foundation of the movement.

Personal Life

In 1935, Grant Wood married Sara Sherman Maxon. His marriage was met with many controversies since Sara was seven years older than Wood. His friends disapproved of the marriage. His marriage only lasted for three years. Throughout his life in the limelight, there were talks of he about closeted homosexual. It is believed that one of his senior colleagues attempted to have him fired on the grounds of moral responsibility and his advocacy for the regionalism movement.

Grant Wood passed away on February 12th, 1942, which was a day before he turned 51. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer. Upon his death, his estate, including all his art, was bequeathed to his younger sister Nan, who he portrayed in America Grant Wood is one of the most renowned American painters and advocates for the regionalism artistic movement. He is best known for his paintings of the rural Midwest American region. American Gothic is one of his well-known paintings and one of the most legendary portrayals of mid 20th century American Art.