The Daily Agenda for Wednesday, February 13
February 13th, 2013
Grant Wood: 1891. Born a few miles outside of Anamosa, Iowa, the great expanse of the upper great plains and the solid simplicity of its people would always be near to his heart. He studied at the Art Institute in Chicago, and from 1920 to 1928, he made four trips to Europe where he studied Impressionism and Post-Impressionist styles of painting, but his heat never strayed far Iowa, nor did his style stray from simplicity and directness which are the bedrock of Iowa’s people. His style became known as Regionalism, which depicted rural American themes in a style which recalled the severe Calvinism of Northern Renaissance paintings.
This is best exemplified in his iconic 1930 painting American Gothic, perhaps among the best known, best loved, and best parodied of American paintings. Art critics, at least those who assumed the painting was meant to be satire of small-town life, praised it. When a copy was printed in the Cedar Rapids Gazette, locals denounced their depiction as “pinched, grim-faced, puritanical Bible-thumpers.” Wood himself defended the painting as simply a a depiction of the American pioneer spirit. He also became a vocal critic of modernist trends and the dominance of the East coast art world. No other American artist before or since has earned such national fame without ever showing his work in New York.
In 1932, he founded the Stone City Art Colony to help other artists get through the Great Depression, and from 1934 to 1941 he taught at the University of Iowa’s School of Art, where his teaching career was very nearly derailed over accusations that Wood was gay. The only report that contains the complete details of those accusations was buried in a time capsule of the Art and Art History Building in 1934, and the details will remain hidden until the cornerstone is opened some twenty years from now. New allegations arose in 1941 when university colleagues, most of whom embraced the European trends that Wood so clearly disdained, tried to get Wood removed from the faculty. Their accusations centered around a very brief marriage that ended in divorce in 1938 and the handsome young roommates who lived in his home. When a reporter from Time came sniffing, the university president managed to get the story spiked, and reorganized the Art Department so that Wood would be placed in an entirely separate division and away from his detractors. But before Wood could resume teaching, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died in February 12, 1942.
Most biographies which have come out since Wood’s death have either avoided his homosexuality or dismissed it. Tripp Evans’s 2010 Grant Wood: A Life changes that by delving into previously unreleased documents and taking a closer look at Wood’s highly symbolic paintings, some of which toy with cross-gender depictions.
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