A small house built by the Dibble family in 1881-82 in the town of Eldon, Iowa, became the backdrop for one of the most famous and most parodied paintings in the world.  

The house caught Grant Wood’s eye because of the pointed-arch window which was likely purchased from a Sears catalog and built in the mid-19th century architectural Carpenter Gothic style—hence the name of the painting—American Gothic.  Wood thought the Gothic-style window on the modest farmhouse looked pretentious. 

According to a placard at what is now a museum that maintains the house and features details about the artist and the famous painting, “The style grew out of a need for quickly-built homes and a desire for fanciful details.  The price to add these details two wood-framed structures decreased significantly during this period, so even modest homes were able to incorporate extra elements.  Identifying features of Carpenter Gothic style on the are the steeply-pitched roof, the board and batten siding and the pointed-arch windows.” 

“Grant Wood used his sister, Nan Wood Graham, and his dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby, for his models, and he promised them they would not be recognized.  His sister was disguised somewhat by changing the shape of her face, but many recognized Dr. McKeeby which hurt Wood and McKeeby’s friendship.”

“The two never posed together in front of the house and never actually met until they posed for a photograph 12 years later.“

“American Gothic was painted in 1930…  After seeing and sketching this house, Wood’s idea was to show the kind of people he imagined would live there.  The painting is said to represent a father and his daughter.  Their placement and expressions show a father defending his daughter, and the daughter’s reluctant submission. They had some wealth, as shown by her broach, his collar stud, and the one-horse barn.  In reality the barn never existed the way Wood painted it, and the church steeple never existed at all.”

Grant Wood and his sister, Nan, are buried in the Riverside Cemetery at Anamosa, Iowa. Grant’s gravestone has a metal marker that signifies his service and a painted metal highly-stylized corn stalk next to his marker as does his mother’s.

Their markers are modest red granite small block gravestones.

Dr. Byron McKeeby is buried in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, at the Oak Hill Cemetery.

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1 Response to Pretentious


    So interesting! Love to find out about the backgrounds of things! Thanks for all your fun research!

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