Introduction To The Art 

America, a land known for its spectacular art, creativity and celebrated artists had been a witness to an iconic piece delivered by Grant Wood in the 1930’s, A portrait that created storms and was among the easily recognisable paintings of the century. This portrait brought about a discussion, on the rural lifestyle and architecture of the American diaspora, its influences, reflection and nuanced details. Let’s indulge in the heartland of America into a whimsical journey of how this art piece came to be and the impact it has left. This portrait became a breakthrough masterpiece in the artist’s career and became a well-known portrait in common household.

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The Story

The narrative begins amid a vulnerable time for society, which was the great depression, A time when optimism was at its lowest. The story of Artist Grant Wood began, from where he belonged in the state of Iowa, a humble rural area of Cedar Rapids, where his artistic pursuit was building. Wood in his early days believed in the cultural superiority of Europe, and studied the work of French impressionists in depth also depicting nuances of it in his works. He later evolved and wanted to break free from the European trends and wanted to depict rural America and its culture. He was a meticulous painter giving a lot of attention to detail. Wood intentionally kept the mystery of the paintings making them ambiguous and puzzling the viewers and creating timeless storytelling from his paintings.

On one magical day in the 1930’s, he was driven around Eldon Iowa where the artist came across an old farmhouse, it turned out to be a moment for him similar to when Isaac Newton saw the apple fall from the tree leading to the discovery of gravity. And this is how it led to the birth of the portrait. The Artist Wood visualised a painting that captured the rural essence of America, from where he belonged with all its peculiarity. 

 The Portrait

The portrait had two Poker-faced individuals, A young woman and a middle-aged man standing in front of a farmhouse. The woman was dressed in a colonial-style apron depicting 20th-century America, And the man in a Suit with a pitchfork in hand, with both individuals standing staunch. It was a simple painting, yet it made you want to understand the story of the two individuals in the painting. It is also known that the two individuals who had modelled for the painting were Wood’s Dentist Dr. Byron McKeeby and his sister Nan Wood Graham.

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Models of The Painting ©

Interpretations & The Artist’s Imagination:

On the first look at the painting, it is visibly harsh, prim and crisp. It can be assumed that the person with the pitchfork is the eldest member of the house, who might be trying to depict his superiority, with a stern-looking face while having the pitchfork in hand and the woman beside him as his better half, standing beside him. The Farmhouse behind almost resembles a humble church, and the green pastor around depicts a rural setup.

According to the artist, it was a farmer and his daughter and in his words “the kind of people [he] fancied should live in that house”. The pitchfork held by the men was a symbolic depiction and metaphor of the resilience of the Americans being committed in the face of hardships. 

The Artist wanted to send about a positive statement in the simplicity of rural American values and reassure people at a time of misfortune brought by the great depression. By Placing the man and woman in front of the farmhouse, the artist depicts that the people in rural America have their homes as an extension of themselves. According to the artist, the man and woman in the painting were represented as the survivors who have been steadfast in the testing times.

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The Artist-Grant Wood_©

American Gothic – The Architectural Perspective

The farmhouse which is a part of the portrait represents the “Carpenter Gothic Architectural Style” which became popular in America in the 19th century. Carpenter Gothic had much simpler characteristics of the Gothic style, Sharp with gables, intricate woodwork, and pointed arches with a few American touches. This simplicity created a shift in identity, building the concept of less as more. The plain white facade of the structure again echoed the American influences of keeping it subtle. The painting surprised the fast urbanising world of America celebrating a humble rural setting. It was a complete contrast to the grand cathedrals of Europe with its rich opulent carpentry and intricate designs. The painting had an appealing sense of alignment and geometry with zigzag and continuous patterns. The Artist Wood with his portrait, showcased the minimalist aspects of life and architecture Of rural America giving out a statement of how simple things and mindset can become solutions to large problems that the country was facing at the time.

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Citations for websites:

Elena Martinique (2017). American

Gothic – The Story Behind Grant Wood’s Iconic Painting. [online].  (Last updated 17 December 2017). Available [Accessed 18 April June 2024].



Fariya is a budding Designer & Writer wanting to create an impact in the Architectural Writing Landscape. She is a Poet herself, and is passionate about history, traveling and teaching.