Painter Grant Wood’s stunning American Gothic has long since passed into legend and become a true American icon. In 1930, Wood, a native of Iowa, saw the house and decided to use it for inspiration and his entry into an art contest being sponsored by the Art Institute of Chicago.
After sketching and thinking, Wood thought it would be more striking to have the house serve as a backdrop for an American type portrait. He ended up painting the man and the woman at different times. Never did the two ever pose together. The woman is based on his sister and the man was a nearby dentist. He entered the finished work, it took third place, and Wood was awarded a $300 prize. Rather than retiring to obscurity, it was then that the painting began its unusual journey towards becoming an American icon.
As the paining made the rounds, it became either widely loved or generally hated. There were no mediocre or apathetic reactions. Much of the country, especially the East, thought it a perfect representation of Midwestern dourness and pessimism. The Midwesterners were not that crazy about it and many found it offensive. Iowans, in particular, were, in general, outraged by it and wanted Wood’s head.
What ended up putting the painting over the top was when it was chosen by Fortune Magazine, in 1941, to be part of a patriotic American poster campaign. Many critics see the painting as being flexible and capable of being both a realistic portrayal as well as an opportunity for the viewer to see their own inner interpretation and vision.