Driving through Eldon, Iowa, you see a small town just like any typical small rural farming town that is dotting the map in the Midwest. The road side is a combination of local shops, silos, and open fields, all nestled besides the Des Moines River in the lower southeast corner of Iowa about a hundred mile southeast of Des Moines. However on closer inspection, Eldon does have one particular structure that sets it apart and it happens to be a part of the second most recognized painting in the world, American Gothic.
You know the painting. The weathered couple with the stoic expressions with the pitchfork and the cameo neckless, but in particular, that ordinary house with the extraordinary window in the background. In 1930, Grant Wood needed inspiration and he found it in Eldon, Iowa. He discovered the little white house with an odd window that provided both the inspiration and the backdrop for his most famous work.
As part of the Regionalist movement, Wood’s art embraced the style that is defined as painting what an artist lives with, in, or around. During the Great Depression, very few artists could afford to travel and Wood fell into to this category and became the spokesperson for the Regionalist movement. He claimed he always remembered his life on the farm and drew from those memories for his paintings. It is important to understand he was using the farm life of the past for his inspiration and ideas. Evidence of modern life on the rural landscape, like telephone poles and tractors, rarely appear in his work.
A little known fact about the painting is the couple depicted never really posed in front of the house. They are in reality Grant Wood’s sister Nan and his dentist, who modeled separately and was placed in the painting over the course of its creation. The original house still stands in its original location and can be visited daily depending on the time of the year and a visit is highly recommended. The American Gothic House Center is devoted to Grant Wood’s life and masterpiece and showcase displays of his paintings, his sister Nan and her thoughts about her brother, and a host of parodies that has in many ways defined American Gothic.
The highlight of the visit is to take advantage of the costumes on hand at the Center and create your own American Gothic photograph. The Center provides the bib overalls, jackets, aprons and smocks, as well as a hayfork and will happily take your picture posing in front of the house. If you don’t have a camera, for only two dollars, you can purchase a 4×6 photo that is taken and printed with the Center’s camera.
The American Gothic House Center is open every day, but it is recommend to check the website or call 641-652-3352 depending on the time of the year. It is a free attraction, but donations are accepted.