Thursday, December 30, 2010

Grant Wood in an Art Historical Context

My first few weeks at the American Gothic House Center were spent rapidly absorbing facts about Grant Wood’s life and artwork: The timeline of his birth, travels, and artistic career; his influential and well known works; and his jobs as teacher, designer and professor. I learned all about Wood’s internal motivations for pioneering Regionalism, like his Iowa farm roots and a style-altering trip to Germany.

I am a big picture person, and I always want to know why. Very quickly I began to rifle through my memories of an American art history class I took at the UI. What was on the world news during the late 1920s and 1930s? Who were the other standout painters of the time period, and what relationship did Wood’s work have to those artists?

Between World Wars I and II, “Regionalist artists reflected the isolationist attitudes of the country.” The UIMA, in its description of “Plaid Sweater,”goes on to describe the art created during this time as socially conscious but exceedingly patriotic in its portrayal of American life and land. Themes like agriculture and small-town America, emphasized by the WPA, were meant to empower Americans suffering through the Great Depression.

Outside this small bubble of Regionalism consisting of Wood, Thomas Hart Benton and John Stewart Curry was Modernism. The Modernist movement included well known artists like Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Juan Miro and Jackson Pollock. Modernists were interested in human values and concerns, and have been described as global thinkers. Regionalists promoted America and viewed Modern art as elitist and foreign.

It’s easy to see the contrast between the two movements, but is there a comparison?

Jackson Pollock is a particularly interesting connection between Regionalism and Modernism. Pollock studied Regionalism with Thomas Hart Benton for three years, learning its philosophy of authentic American realism. However, by the early 1940s his work had become completely abstract. He abandoned the use of brushes and dripped paint onto a canvas placed on the floor. Benton’s student made so complete a transformation that he spurred a new great movement within Modernism—Abstract Expressionism.

Pollock supposedly said his teacher’s traditional ideas gave him something to rebel against. Even so, a close look reveals some similarities to Benton’s organizational principles in the composition of Pollock’s abstract works.

From a wide view, the history of art is simply one movement rebelling against the last. In most cases these movements occur simultaneously, and as with Pollock, multiple movements can even arise within the work of a single artist. There’s no real stopping place, and I could spend hours researching the ongoing influences of Modernism and Regionalism right up to today. But I better save something for next Thursday.

Best wishes for the New Year.

Molly Moser
American Gothic House Center

P.S. I couldn’t resist including a link to this awesome interactive webpage, where you can splatter paint with a click of your mouse! Experience Pollock’s style for yourself!

Eldon Makes the News!

Eldon in the news!

Last week I provided a link to the Ottumwa Courier’s coverage of a pie baking class taught at Cardinal HS by my neighbor in the Gothic house. Since then it’s come to my attention that the event was also reported on by the Fairfield Daily Ledger on December 16. Beth’s activity in the community is bringing more positive attention to Eldon!

Iowa blogger ‘Walkaboutdoc’ and friend visit the Gothic house but unfortunately the Center is closed. See the parody photo they took using their tripod, and read about the doctor’s impression of how time has changed the area.

The Daily Nonpareil of Council Bluffs, Iowa published an article on December 19 about Grant Wood’s 1927 mural in the city’s Hotel Chieftain. The mural was hung in the lobby of the Pottawattamie County Courthouse last Saturday.

“An Omaha art consultant believes that one segment of the mural Wood painted for the Hotel Chieftain’s Corn Room – a segment now owned by US Bank and put on loan to the Bluffs Arts Council – “previews the ‘American Gothic.’”” Read more.

Emma Lee Godfrey, also from Council Bluffs, had her poem Grant Wood’s Iowa published in Lyrical Iowa 2010. The book has been published annually for 65 years by the Iowa Poetry Association.

Happy holidays all! I leave you with Ms. Godfrey’s words.

Grant Wood’s Iowa

With the strokes of his brush
painter Grant Wood published
a show for the world about
his home state, Iowa.

His most famous painting
American Gothic, portrayed
the architecture, the landscape,
and the hard working people.

His hilly landscapes dotted
with trees bore his unique style
and gave viewers the experience
of Iowa just as surely as
the French painter, Monet, welcomed
viewers to his country gardens
with his studies of light and color.

Grant Wood painted what he
knew best and made a record
of the cornfields and pumpkins,
the hills, and the people
as they were in his time.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

On the web this week: The Effects of Grant Wood

Those with an interest in Grant Wood are well aware of the influence American Gothic had on the Midwest. What we are perhaps less aware of is his impact on the artwork of his students. Wood was an instructor at the University of Iowa from 1935 to 1942, at the Stone City Art Colony from 1932-1934, and was a public school teacher in Cedar Rapids during his early years. I did a little searching this morning and was able to find information on two artists who studied with him in Stone City. Both continued their careers in art and gave back to the state of Iowa.

The first artist is a name you’ll probably recognize—Isabel Bloom.

Isabel Scherer Bloom was born in Galveston, TX. Her family moved to Davenport, so she considered herself an Iowa native. She participated in two summers at the Stone City Art Colony and married fellow resident John Bloom. I was surprised to find that artists working in 3-D studied at Stone City, having heard mostly about the collaborative mural painting that took place there. While at the colony, Isabel carved in limestone.

Bloom later hosted a TV program for kids called Make Believe, where she modeled, dressed and used clay figurines to teach art lessons and tell stories. Her interest in children is reflected in her popular sculptures, which can be viewed in showrooms in Davenport, West Des Moines, and Moline, Illinois. Her work is now sold around the country.

The second artist I discovered is Lee Allen. According to Wikipedia (As all my research instructors cringe, may I just say that the more reliable information on Mount Mercy College’s website is unavailable this morning due to a recent overhaul.), Allen was born in Muscatine and studied at the UI School of Art as well as attending two summers at the Stone City Art Colony. Grant Wood introduced Allen to Diego Rivera, who helped Allen advance as a mural painter. Rivera was a popular Mexican artist known for his controversial communist artwork and his tumultuous relationship with fellow painter Frida Kahlo.

Allen returned to Iowa and completed murals in Onawa and Emmetsburg. I found an image of the Emmetsburg mural, where Wood’s stylistic influence and the Regionalist subject matter comes through clearly.

For 39 years, Allen worked as a medical illustrator for the University Of Iowa College Of Medicine. As he aged, Allen began to experience symptoms of macular degeneration, an incurable eye failure which eventually results in blindness. He combined his talent as an artist with his knowledge of medicine to write and illustrate The Hole in My Vision: An Artist’s View of His Own Macular Degeneration. (You may have to scroll down a few stories for this information.) For ten years, Allen studied and drew pictures of the changes in his vision as he aged and underwent laser eye surgery. The book was published by Penfield Books in a type specifically structured for visually impaired readers. Profits were used to support macular degeneration research at the UI.

Yesterday, as I took his photo in front of the house, a young man in a cowboy hat claimed to be Wood’s grandson. (To which I replied, “Yes, and the pitchfork in your hand is the actual pitchfork Dr. McKeeby held in American Gothic.”) Although Grant Wood did not have biological children, his protégé have continued to shape the artistic culture in Iowa and beyond.

I look forward to the re-launch of Kristy Raine’s Stone City Art Colony research on the Mount Mercy website and plan to present more of the ‘Effects of Grant Wood’ in coming newsletters. Thanks for reading!

Molly Moser
American Gothic House Center

P.S. Just in case you missed it, here's a link to Mark Newman's front page coverage of Gothic House tenant Beth Howard teaching a pie class at Cardinal HS last week.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

On the web this week: Holiday Shopping at AGHC

Good afternoon and happy Thursday! Last weekend’s Christmas in Eldon brought 73 visitors to the Center for the Tour of Homes. Parents and 37 kids decorated graham cracker gingerbread houses. Photos from the weekend are available on Facebook!

There are still plenty of events to come in Wapello County to get you in the holiday spirit:

Take a Winter Tracks Hike through Pioneer Ridge Nature Area to look for signs of animals and much more. All ages and families are invited to participate at 2pm on December 18.

On December 30 join in the national Christmas Bird Count, conducted annually for over 100 years. Count the birds at your home feeders or join WCCB staff at 8 am for a drive through the area in search of many bird species. If you would like to join the count from home, please call 641.682.3091 to receive the recording sheet and other necessary information.

Don’t forget Holiday Nights ‘N Lights in Greater Ottumwa Park, happening nightly through December 31.

I held out for as long as possible, but I’ve finally started playing Christmas music. It seems to be the best (only?) way to get through the cold! I also (reluctantly) began my Christmas shopping this week. It’s safe to say a fair amount of the gifts I’ll be giving are going to come from the American Gothic House Center gift shop. (Dear Moser family: I hope you’re ready for all things Grant Wood!)

Great new gifts in our shop this season include a brand new shipment of “The Original American Gothic House” t-shirts in a variety of bright colors like kiwi, paprika, honey, and many more! We just received round, white shatterproof ornaments with our logo, a classic gift to last for years. Also new are sketchbooks for aspiring Grant Woods, photo frames perfect for holding your very own parody photo, and American Gothic House bumper stickers.

We still have all your old favorites as well! Long and short sleeve denim button up shirts, clothes for baby, prints of many Grant Wood paintings, postcards and note cards, magnets, mugs and may more gifts for your friends and family. If you’re looking for something especially unique, try one of the handmade objects or prints by local artists!

Too far away to visit the gift shop? Call me at 641.652.3352 to place an order, or print our order form online and mail it (newer items are not included on the order form, so you may still have to call).

Happy gift hunting!

Molly Moser
American Gothic House Center

P.S. If you’ve been reading the blogs I regularly mention in this newsletter, you’re probably already aware of the long list of visitors to the American Gothic House. The most recent guest, Christine Buckley, writes a travel blog for the Huffington Post. Her first post on her stay at the house gave a great review of her time in Eldon. Apparently she thought this portion of her trip deserved a second look, because she added another essay about Eldon to her blog on December 3.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas activities for all!

Eldon has a full day of Christmas activities to keep you busy this Saturday, December 4.

Christmas Dinner: 11-2, KD Center

Tour of Homes: Never been inside the American Gothic House? Now’s your chance! Take a peek into six of Eldon’s homes and businesses from 10-2 and 4-8. Tickets for the Tour can be purchased for $5 at the Opera House.

Christmas Tree Wanderland: Friday, 9-5; Saturday, 9-9; Sunday, 11-3. Find the Christmas spirit while touring beautiful trees decorated by the community at the McHaffey Opera House.

The Depot will also be decorated and open for viewing on Friday from 5-9 pm and all day Saturday from 10-9.

Gingerbread House Decorating: American Gothic House Center, 1-4 pm. Parents and kids 12 and under are invited to decorate a graham cracker gingerbread house on Saturday. Arrive early to enjoy a wide selection of candy decorations!

Also on view: Gingerbread villages built by community members.

Boy Scout Soup Supper: KD Center, 5-7 pm. All this activity will likely get your stomach growling again, so stop in for soup at the KD Center.

Park Lighting Ceremony: 7 pm. Cap off an exciting day with Christmas carols and the lighting of the park!

On the web this week, Christine Buckley of the Huffington Post gives Eldon wonderful press in a review of her stay at the American Gothic House. The Eastern Iowa Mini Club posted many photos of their visit to the house and Center as well!

Stay warm!

Molly Moser
American Gothic House Center

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On the web this week: Thanksgiving Treats

Happy Thanksgiving from the American Gothic House Center!

When you’ve finished your turkey and sweet potatoes but are still too full for dessert, take a look at these links for a treat that won’t add to the fullness in your belly.

Last Sunday afternoon the mini cooper car club returned to Eldon for the second time this fall. Gothic House tenant Beth Howard wasn’t home for their first visit, so they came back for round two—and this time, the trip included pie. See photos and read more about the event on Beth’s blog.

(Interested in traveling car clubs? I found this page of photos from the Heart of Iowa Miata Owners Group, who visited in 2009.)

Food bank in Portland, Oregon raises $600,000 with an American Gothic themed gala! The group created a Gothic House backdrop and their own version of the costumes to entertain guests. They did a great job and it looks like their guests had fun—but personally I think we do it better here in Eldon : )

Blogger brings her 89 year-old zip lining, sky diving mother-in-law to the American Gothic House Center.

Now, enjoy your pumpkin pie! And take a good, long nap in your favorite chair. That’s what I’m going to do!

Happy holidays!

Molly Moser
American Gothic House Center

Thursday, November 18, 2010

On the web this week: Coming home to Iowa

The cold weather is really setting in now! The temperature is dropping, and with it the amount of travelers passing through. Fewer visitors mean a more intimate experience for each who enters the American Gothic House Center. Yesterday I met a couple from West Des Moines who stayed for nearly two hours and thoroughly absorbed every bit the Center has to offer. I am pleased to say that by the end of the visit, they were asking to get on this mailing list!

Connecting with travelers is a delight. Having lived a whole 23 years in the state, I thought I knew it pretty well. Silly me. You wouldn’t believe how much information visitors pass on about the unique details of Iowa! I’ve been told several times about a wrought iron sculpture of American Gothic located near Des Moines (I’d like to see this—any idea where it is?). One visitor described the Grotto of Redemption in West Bend, and another theBily Clocks Museum in Spillville. There is so much to see and do in Iowa, it’s no wonder that after traveling Europe Grant Wood decided to come home. As my new friend living in the Gothic house tells me, “All the cool people come back.” Laura Millsaps, for the Ames Tribune, left Iowa for nearly two decades and returned to Ames four years ago. In an article written last week, she compares her relationship with her home state to Wood’s.

Certainly this links to the flood of guests lining up to vacation with the Gothic house tenant. Since her arrival in September, Beth has hosted friends from Mason City, Davenport, Des Moines, Portland, L.A., D.C., and Virginia. One couple even honeymooned at the house! Many comment on how well they sleep during their stay. Her current guest has spent the last week in Eldon doing some soul searching. “I don’t really want to leave,” she admitted yesterday.

Once again, I have to hand it to Grant Wood. When he painted Iowa, he wasn’t just showing off pretty farmscapes or immortalizing a character type. There is definitely something beneath the surface describing a deeper Iowa. It could be the spirit of the locals, with their commitment to giving back. In an article by Cindy Toopes of the Ottumwa Courier, Eldon Mayor Shirley Stacey is recognized for her contributions as a volunteer, GATE president, and member of the PEO. Perhaps the personality of Iowa can also be described by the fact that there are over 240 museums and historical societiesthroughout the state. Or maybe it’s something much simpler.

I recently chatted with a California native, back in Iowa to attend his class reunion at Central College in Pella. He described himself as being in California “for the time being,” and said he is “trying to escape.” The man quoted an article he read during his college years that has stuck with him. “Coming to Iowa is like taking off tight shoes. You didn’t know how bad it was until you took them off.”

After experiencing Europe, Wood made a conscious decision to return home. Something about the essence of Iowa drew him back in 1927, and it’s still drawing people in 2010.

So keep the travelers coming!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

On the web this week: Thank you, Veterans.

In honor of Veterans and all they have sacrificed, consider a trip to the Cedar Rapids Art Museum (or at least to their website).

CRMA's exhibit The Grant Wood Window: Drawings for the Veterans Memorial Stained Glass Window Commission closes this Sunday, November 14. The featured drawings are the exact dimensions of the window itself—an impressive 24 feet high by 20 feet wide. The window is part of the Veteran’s Memorial building in Cedar Rapids and was rededicated earlier this year. It is valued at $3 million.

The Veterans Memorial Window was built in Germany, where Wood studied the art of stained glass from the most experienced craftsmen. Nan Wood Graham posed as the Lady of Peace and Victory, holding a palm branch and a laurel wreath. Six life sized soldiers in the design represent the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish American War, and World War I.

See photos of the window and learn more here.

Submit a gingerbread house for display at the American Gothic House Center

Want to recreate the Gothic House or another favorite bit of architecture in your kitchen? Love making gingerbread houses each year, but don’t know what to do with them? Enter your creation in the American Gothic House Center’s annual gingerbread house exhibit! Drop off your gingerbread house by 4 pm on November 30 and it will be on display December 1-14 (back to your home just in time for the holidays). Amateur builders are encouraged to participate! There is no entry fee—just have fun! Please call 641.652.3352 if you plan to submit a gingerbread house.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What's the story with this new biography?

It has been years since a biography of Grant Wood was written, and the latest brings with it some controversy about Wood’s personal life. In preparation for author R. Tripp Evans’ presentations in Ottumwa and Eldon, I’ve discovered a few reviews in which Evans answers questions undoubtedly on all our minds.

“Why should anyone care about Wood’s sexual orientation?” asked Diana Nollen for Eastern Iowa Life.

“So why drag Wood's personal life into a modern-day culture war? Why not just appreciate his paintings on their artistic merit?” asked Michael Morain, Des Moines Register reporter.

There’s been so much talk about the author that ‘outted Grant Wood.’ Does the book acknowledge other equally significant aspects of Wood’s life which could have influenced his artwork and message? Evans gives his answer to this question in a Radio Iowa interview.

Deborah Solomon, author of the “Questions For” column in The Times Magazine, gave her opinion of Grant Wood, A Life in the New York Times last week. She referenced Eldon several times when analyzing American Gothic. (If you can’t view this article, you can sign up for a free online subscription to the NY Times—it only takes a few seconds.)

Evans will read an excerpt from his book and give a brief presentation at the Eldon Library Hall at 7 pm on Wednesday, November 10. There will be lots of time for discussion, so if you have more questions for the author, please bring them! If you can’t make it to Eldon, here’s a list of other lectures Evans is giving around the state.

What’s happening at the Center?

Last weekend’s Halloween party at the American Gothic House Center was attended by 61 children plus their parents. Here’s a huge thank you to all the volunteers, parents, and children who made the party a success! Kids made spider bracelets, vampire lollipops (a new take on the old ‘kleenex ghost’ lollipop), and frosted orange monster cookies. Party attendees raced to put a bib, overalls, and a jacket over their costumes and carry an ‘eyeball’ on a spoon across the lawn. A local wizard shared magic tricks, and many costumed children posed for a parody photo in front of the house. Look for pictures on our Facebook page!

Congratulations to our local game show winners! If you have not yet watched Loren and Mary Ellen Fligg’s Hollywood debut on Let’s Make a Deal, you can see the show here. Fast forward to the second half of the show to see what the Fliggs won!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

On the web this week: Klingons, Pitchforks, and Let's Make a Deal

Where has October gone?! Last week I was writing about sunshine, and tonight we have a freeze warning. The blustery days we’ve had this week have changed the parody photo from couples with eyes squinted against the sun to pairs with collars and hair blown askew and bodies leaning diagonally into the wind.

And that’s not the only new parody since last week. Photographer Jason Tracy visited Saturday with an interesting plan in mind. “My photo would attempt to recreate (as faithfully as possible) the painting but replace the farmer and his wife with two impressive, dominant Klingon models. This is the first planned image in a series tentatively titled, "Juxtapositions" where I'm taking familiar or everyday scenes and twisting them with something unusual or surreal.” I’ve posted a preliminary photo of the Klingons in traditional American Gothic wear on our Facebook page.

With this photo in mind, I look forward to the costumes I’ll see this Saturday at our Halloween party! Kids from preschool through fifth grade are invited to attend and join in a scavenger hunt and a gothic eyeball relay race, try a wizard’s brew, decorate orange ‘monster’ cookies, and make spiders and vampires at the craft table. The party takes place from 2-3 pm at the American Gothic House Center. Parents are encouraged to attend with their small children.

Here are a few festive Halloween parodies to set the mood for trick-or-treaters this weekend:

American Gothic in the Rocky Horror Picture Show

American Gothic Halloween card

Pitchforks in the News
Did I ever imagine I’d be handling a hayfork daily in my first job? Nope. Luckily I’ve yet to use one for its intended purpose. Instead I get to help those posing with one. “Point the tines toward you, but don’t poke your face! Tilt the fork left… right… back a little… Perfect.” Since starting here, I’ve become acutely aware of the presence of forks in the world. I realized the best fork in my kitchen (yes, I have a favorite fork) has only three tines, just like the one in the painting. Last weekend I purchased a hayfork at a garage sale for Beth's pitchfork pie stand. Because of Grant Wood, the pitchfork has become an American symbol. Which is apparently why this man in Phoenix, AZ is going to court over carrying one.

Reminder: Tune in to KCCI at 2pm this afternoon! Eldon natives Loren and Mary Ellen Fligg will appear on Let’s Make a Deal, hosted by Wayne Brady. The Fliggs borrowed American Gothic gear from the Center when their daughter purchased tickets to the show. Dressing like the Gothic couple attracted attention at the filming, and the Fliggs were selected from the audience to play the game. The American Gothic House Center thanks Loren and Mary Ellen for their support, and hopes for a big win!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

On the web this week: Hollywood, Models, and WHO-TV

Another breezy, sunny day in Wapello County reminds us why Wood found Iowa worthy of commemoration in his work. Let’s hope this fabulous weather keeps up, because next weekend is the Children’s Gothic Halloween Party at the American Gothic House Center! Kids from preschool through 5th grade are welcome to attend on Saturday, October 30 from 2-3 pm. Arrive in costume to create a spooky parody photograph. Photos will be printed at the party and are a gift to all who attend! Activities also include a scavenger hunt, cookie decorating, and fun crafts.

American Gothic goes to Hollywood! Tune in to KCCI at 2pm on October 28. Eldon natives Loren and Mary Ellen Fligg will appear on Let’s Make a Deal, hosted by Wayne Brady. The Fliggs borrowed American Gothic gear from the Center when their daughter purchased tickets to the show. Dressing like the Gothic couple attracted attention at the filming, and the Fliggs were selected from the audience to play the game. The American Gothic House Center thanks Loren and Mary Ellen for their support, and hopes to see a big win next Thursday!

Nan Wood Graham and Dr. Byron McKeeby are the stars of American Gothic. Those with a special interest in the painting may know the story of these two models, but what about the models in other famous paintings? For example, who was the girl in Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring? Was the person who posed for Munch’s The Scream a man or a woman? Who was Picasso’s Weeping Woman, and what’s the story of Whistler’s Mother? View images of these artworks and learn more about the people they feature.

WHO-TV followed up last week’s Des Moines Register article on Eldon and Beth Howard with a story on Monday’s 5 o’clock news. See cameraman Mike Borland’s version of American Gothic, and check out the story as it appeared on WHO-TV.

If you haven’t heard enough about
Grant Wood; A Life, you can listen to an interview with author Tripp Evans which aired yesterday on WNYC!

Writing the weekly newsletter is one of my favorite things to do. I hope you enjoy it as well, and that you find the content exciting and relevant. If you have suggestions for blogs, articles, or topics you’d like to see featured, please contact me at Thank you for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Our Mission: Integrating the puzzle pieces of American Gothic

Thursday, October 14, 2010

On the web this week: Eldon appears in the Des Moines Register

Late last week, Des Moines Register reporter Kyle Munson arrived in Eldon to spend the day with Gothic House tenant Beth Howard. Beth gave him a quick bike tour of Eldon which included lunch at City Hall and a peek at the McHaffey Opera House. Munson’s blog post on his visit was published Sunday, and the article appeared on the front page of Monday’s Register. The online versions of the story include snapshots of Eldon and a video tour of the house. Mike Borland, from WHO-TV out of Des Moines, saw Munson’s story and will interview Beth in Eldon tomorrow.

Four guests at the Center on Monday made the journey from Des Moines to Eldon after reading that morning’s Register. All wanted to sample Beth’s pie. She plans to begin selling apple pie (by the slice or as a whole) this Saturday afternoon. Working next door to her has its perks, and one of them is the role of pie sampler--which naturally I have adopted with open arms. I highly recommend a visit to the Center paired with a slice of Beth’s mouth-watering apple pie this weekend!

Upcoming Events

Don’t miss the Children’s Gothic Halloween Party on Saturday, October 30 from 2-3 pm. Arrive in costume to take a spooky parody photo in front of the house, make Halloween crafts and play games! Kids ages preschool through 5th grade are invited. Young children should be accompanied by an adult.

Coming up on KCCI at 2 pm, October 28: Tune in to Let’s Make a Deal to see someone you may recognize!

Hardcover copies of Grant Wood; A Life are now on sale in the gift shop for $37.50, and will be available for sale at the lecture on November 10. Author Tripp Evans will sign books following a reading, presentation, and Q&A at the Eldon Library Hall.

More reviews of November’s lecturer, Tripp Evans, and his new book, Grant Wood; A Life.

October 8 Press Citizen

October 9 Press Citizen

Gothic Fun!

As reported by the TH, the God Bless America statue by sculptor J. Seward Johnson arrived in Dubuque on Tuesday. This is the statue’s first appearance in Iowa, where it will remain until April of 2011. The Dubuque Museum of Art houses one of the largest collections of Grant Wood art in the country.

Cake Wrecks: Scroll down about three images to see this beautiful American Gothic themed cake!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

On the web this week: ISU and Book Reviews

This week the American Gothic House Center hosted a bus tour of women from Iowa State University. The fifty well dressed ladies arrived bright and early and full of curiosity about the Center, the house, and the city of Eldon. The ISU Women's Club began many years ago as wives of faculty members meeting during the day. It has evolved to include female faculty and now incorporates a yearly bus tour. The group watched a video, Grant Wood’s America, in the media room, toured the gallery, enjoyed the gift shop, and took photos in costume. Beth Howard, tenant at the Gothic House, even allowed the inquisitive bunch to tour her home!

I have already referenced it multiple times, and this book just keeps coming to my attention. Grant Wood: A Life, by R. Tripp Evans, was released this Tuesday and has been reviewed by the New York Times and many more. Following are excerpts from several reviews paired with links to full articles. Evans is scheduled to speak in Ottumwa on November 9 and in Eldon on November 10 at 7 pm in the Eldon Library Hall.

“I hope people come to realize that Grant Wood was everything they think he was, but he was a whole lot more,” says Evans. “People look at his paintings and they see common people living simple lives, but many of those paintings have this power to unnerve us and we can’t put our finger on why. That shows what a talented artist he was.” --University of Iowa FYI, Tom Snee

“Wood clearly loved to hide things in plain sight. He also loved to create images that, like “American Gothic,” ensure that “the viewer doesn’t know whether to giggle or shiver.” Mr. Evans offers intensive analysis of “American Gothic” as well as many other Wood paintings, most notably “Parson Weems’ Fable” (1939), which rivals “American Gothic” for tacit but turbulent complexity and is so surpassingly strange and dreamlike that it is “a kind of Rosetta Stone to Wood’s inner conflicts.” --Review by NY Times reporter Janet Maslin

“No doubt there will be readers, whatever their motives, who see Grant Wood: A Life as a slander against the self-described “simple Middle Western farmer-painter” and his wholesome paintings. But Evans has done Wood a great service in saving him and his work from the one-dimensionality to which they have largely been consigned. He has rendered the artist and the art in all their ambivalence, disquiet, mischief, deceptiveness, and anguish. This is a deeply respectful and compassionate biography.” --Stephen Biel’s Review --Biel is the author of American Gothic: A Life of America’s Most Famous Painting (2005).

“Even today, the story of Wood’s sudden rise from obscurity to fame remains without precedent. No other American artist has ever achieved such sudden and lasting national fame from a small-town base, without ever showing his work in New York, and without even having an art dealer." --Henry Adams for Art and Antiques Magazine

Thursday, September 30, 2010

On the web this week: A steady stream of visitors and their positive comments!

Fall tourism is picking up where summer’s travelers left off! Early this week the Center hosted 45 men and women from Monsanto Company out of St. Louis, Missouri. One traveler on the bus had previously visited the Center and suggested an impromptu stop as the group toured nearby fields. Many questions were asked and answered, and most members of the group posed for their own parody photo in front of the house.

The October schedule is filling quickly with tours from Iowa State University, car clubs, Red Hat Ladies, and other social groups. The American Gothic House Center was represented in a booth at the Travel Iowa Marketplace in Des Moines yesterday. Hopefully the event will lead to tour bookings for the coming year!

Delighted visitors write about their experience at the American Gothic House Center

I am fairly new to the Twitter world, and recently downloaded an application called TweetDeck. The application gives instant notices anytime someone mentions American Gothic in a message they send out (a tweet). I watch with pleasure as visitors I met only days (or sometimes just moments) ago post photos and short messages about their visit to the Center.

This blogger seems to be biking across the country with a cycle group. She shared what she learned about American Gothic while at the Center and posted photos taken during her visit.

Post about the blogger’s visit

Map of the cycle group’s travels

More on Upcoming R. Tripp Evans Lecture

Last week’s update noted the approaching lecture by R. Tripp Evans on his book, Grant Wood, A Life. Interested in learning more about the content of this book, I found a review done by Lambda Literary. Read what critic James Polchin has to say about the new book, which will be released in October. Evans speaks at the Eldon Library Hall on November 10 at 7 pm. Hope to see you there!

Book Review

Thursday, September 23, 2010

On the web this week: Fall Events

I looked out my office window this morning to see five large vans pull into the parking lot, and tourists in matching attire began to pour out. Eighteen members of the Hawkeye Kountry Travelers are currently camping in Ottumwa and decided to make a morning jaunt to the Gothic House. They enjoyed the video and gallery, and then posed for photos in front of the house. The energy of that group was a great way to start the day!

I’m now about seven weeks into my work at the American Gothic House Center. Visitors sometimes wonder what I spend my days doing or imply that it might be lonely to be a ‘one woman show.’ In fact, it’s just the opposite! As proven by this morning, there’s always something happening at the Center. Here’s a schedule of events for the next two months.

September 25, 5-6:30pm: Volunteer Potluck

The volunteer contribution at the American Gothic House Center is immense. Our core of about thirty volunteers donated almost 200 hours of their time in August alone. So far in 2010, volunteers have helped at the Center for over 1,100 hours. Last week a volunteer offered to power wash the sidewalk and porch, another replanted a tree in the yard, and a third greeted visitors and managed the gift shop all afternoon so I could make phone calls and focus on office tasks. The Center will be thanking volunteers at a potluck dinner this Saturday, September 25 at 5 pm. If you would like to attend in support of the volunteers and all they do for the community, please bring a dish to share and tableware.

October 30, 2-3pm: Kids Gothic Halloween Party

Parents and children, join us this fall for a children’s Halloween party at the house that inspired artist Grant Wood. A spooky scavenger hunt for kids will lead to Halloween treats! Arrive in costume and make your own Gothic Halloween parody in front of the American Gothic House! Parents can bring cameras or purchase photos printed from the Center’s camera.

November 10, 7pm: Tripp Evans Grant Wood Lecture

R. Tripp Evans will be releasing his biography titled Grant Wood, A Life on October 5. Evans is touring the country from September through December and will be in Iowa during the month of November. Join us at the Eldon Library Hall on November 10 to meet the author and listen to him speak about his book. Copies of Grant Wood, A Life can be ordered through the Center for a special discounted price until October first.

Grand Wood, A Life

Wapello County Conservation Board: Fall Events Our friends at the Conservation Board have a great lineup of fall activities for those of you who enjoy the outdoors. Events include fly tying club, two Halloween hikes featuring bloodsuckers and parasites, and Run for the Ridge, a 5k run/walk.

See full calendar

Blog Update: A few weeks ago I posted a link to a blog written by a mother traveling with her children through Iowa. Her son remarked that the scenery looked just like a Grant Wood painting, and recently she posted photos comparing the scenery with paintings by Grant Wood.

Check it out!

Here's a link to the original post.

And finally, on a more personal note, minnemom’s most recent post is about a town I passed through many times during my childhood. I couldn’t resist mentioning the big pink elephant!

McGregor, IA

Thanks for reading. Hope you have a splendid weekend!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

On the web this week: An Assortment of Information

It’s Thursday again, and time for another American Gothic House Center update. This one contains an assortment of information that has come up this week.

The asters are still blooming ferociously, the weeds are still fiercely growing (though I am just as fiercely fighting back—finally brought down those pesky invasive sunflowers and managed, using all my strength, to remove the giant flat grasses taking over the beds lining the sidewalk), and last week I discovered a brilliant pink hibiscus blooming among our native prairie flowers! I regularly post garden photos on our facebook page, so if you’re interested see the link below and become a fan of our page!

AGHC On Facebook

November 13: Herberger’s Community Day

You can help raise money for the American Gothic House Center, and add a little to your own wallet as well! Purchase a coupon booklet for $5 from the American Gothic House Center and receive a $10 coupon as well as several 20% discount coupons to be used at Herberger’s in Ottumwa on Saturday, November 13. All booklet sales go directly to the Center.

If you would like to help sell coupon booklets on November 13 at Herberger's or before (sales can begin any time), please call and I’ll get you a set of booklets.

American Gothic Experiences the Effects of Technology

One part of my job is to edit current and create new promotional materials for the Center. Lucky for me, the Center’s previous administrator applied for a grant from the Wapello County Foundation and received funds for the purchase of the Adobe Creative Suite. So I, like today’s featured blogger, am learning to use professional software for designing signage and brochures, updating the website, and editing photos.

At the Center we have an extensive collection of parodies, many of which have been computer generated using programs like Adobe Photoshop. Bill and Hillary Clinton are a favorite, their faces collaged overtop Nan and the dentists’ realistically enough to make visitors wonder if the Clintons stopped in Eldon. Giving the Gothic couple new faces is a popular parody, and so is giving them new clothing and accessories. With the help of Photoshop backgrounds they have travelled to Hollywood, taken a ride on a subway, and as you’ll see in Daisy’s blog, they have even attended rock concerts.

Just for fun, here’s a set of parodies created in Adobe Photoshop by a blogger named Daisy.

Rent the American Gothic House Center for your next party, meeting, or any occasion! The scenic gardens create the perfect setting for outdoor events on the lawn, porch or patio. Please call or email me if you would like details on rental possibilities at the American Gothic House Center.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

On the web this week: American Gothic House Becomes a Home

American Gothic House Becomes a Home

The last few days at the American Gothic House Center have been full ones. We had a fantastic holiday weekend, hosting over 300 visitors! The weather has been superb as we shift into autumn; bringing more travelers and allowing me to enjoy working in the flower beds. Yesterday brought us Beth Howard, an Ottumwa native returning to southeast Iowa to take advantage of a rare opportunity.

The American Gothic House has been empty since 2008, when the last tenant moved on. Built in 1881, the house was first owned by Charles and Catherine Dibble in 1887. Ten years later, the house was purchased by E.P. Forest Howard, who used the front room as a candy and novelty store. From May 1917 to September 1933 Gideon and Mary Jones occupied the house, during which time Grant Wood visited Eldon.

More information about the house

Fast forward a few decades to 1991, when Carl E. Smith donated the house to the State Historical Society of Iowa. Since then, the house has been rented by various local people including postmasters, a school teacher, and now by writer and pie baker Beth Howard.

“I can’t wait any longer! I’m so excited to get there,” Beth wrote to me Tuesday. She arrived yesterday afternoon, smiling and excited to start a new adventure in Eldon as the tenant in the American Gothic House.

I’ll let Beth do the rest of the talking. Following is a link to her blog entry about her visit to the American Gothic House Center just two short weeks ago. She includes photos of Eldon, her own American Gothic Parody (as well as one by her two dogs), and a peek inside the house.

Get to know the new American Gothic House tenant

Check out her website as well, especially if you (like me) have a thing for pie.

The World Needs More Pie

Welcome, Beth!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Scenic Iowa and a Generous Donation

Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.

Iowans have an abundance of opportunities to appreciate the simple things in life. We are fortunate, most of the time, not to have to worry about hazardous air alerts or stressful commutes. We can enjoy the scenery free from distraction. And what worthy scenery it is! City dwellers escape from their towering concrete surroundings to take a deep breath in the land of Grant Wood, who has shown the world the beauty of the Midwest.

I once had a discussion with Florida high school students, who couldn’t seem to remember the difference between Iowa, Idaho, and Ohio. “Iowa? Is that the potato state?” They viewed Iowa as a state you fly over rather than as a destination. Fortunately, many do realize the value of our state. The refreshing blog entry featured in today’s e-news focuses on a child’s appreciation of an Iowa road trip, with some especially insightful comments about the artistic significance of our landscape.

Blogger appreciates Iowa, the land of Grant Wood

Autumn Approaches: Leaves, Sweaters and Homecoming

Another takeoff on Wood’s most famous painting has come home to Eldon. If you’ve been to the American Gothic House Center in the past month, you’ve definitely noticed a new addition to our collection. Standing about six feet tall and over five feet wide, a replica of the famed house with a projecting porch was created by an artist in Albert Lea, Minnesota. Originally purposed as the set of an Independence Day parade float, the replica may be displayed as part of a float in the local homecoming parade later this month.

Albert Lea donates American Gothic house replica

Thursday, August 26, 2010

On the web this week...Marvin Cone and a note from AGHC's new administrator

Greetings from Eldon! As the new administrator at the American Gothic House Center, I would like to thank you for your interest in Grant Wood and American Gothic. I am excited to be part of the preservation of this important piece of American history, and have been fortunate in meeting many welcoming and dedicated supporters in my short time at AGHC. I invite you to continue to enjoy the Center, and look forward to your visit!

Hear parting words from previous administrator Jessica Strom in this great story by KTVO’s Matt Buhrman.

Grant Wood and Marvin Cone, two prominent Cedar Rapids artists, were close friends. They met as young men and traveled together to Paris, then worked together at the Stone City Art Colony. Both artists influenced the shaping of a truly American style of art, and the two friends influenced one another as well. On Monday, the Des Moines Register featured Cone in their Famous Iowans segment.

Learn more about Grant Wood’s close friend, Marvin Cone.

When travelling to the American Gothic House Center via highway 34, have you wondered about the black signs with a red bull you see on the roadside? As a newcomer to Southeast Iowa, I wanted to know more. A discussion with an AGHC volunteer informed me that Marvin Cone designed the Red Bull insignia when he was a member of the 34th Infantry Division during World War II. US 34 was designated the 34th Infantry Division Memorial Highway in honor of the unit.

Read about the 34th Infantry Division and Cone’s role in creating the insignia.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

On the web this week...God Bless America Statue Moves Again

God Bless America statue moves to Indiana for the State Fair.

Read More

Blogger comments on Grant Wood and Regionalism.

Read More

Monday, July 26, 2010

On the web this week...House Fans

For those of you "House" fans, check out this new American Gothic Parody.

Read More

Wood Corn Room mural segments installed in Council Bluffs.

Read More

Friday, July 16, 2010

On the web this week...New Administrator Hired

After reviewing many applicants and interviewing a select three, the American Gothic House Center Board hired Molly Moser to begin work on August 3 as the new American Gothic House Center Administrator.

Originally from Guttenberg, Iowa, Molly graduated from the University of Iowa with a Studio Art Major, Business Administrator Minor and Museum Studies Certificate. While going to school, Molly worked at the Old Capitol Museum, Blank Honors Center Galleries, Office of the State Archeologist, University of Iowa Museum of Art, Des Moines Art Center and the Wilson Home of Guttenberg. Most recently, Molly spent this summer as a member of the Ginnell Artist Residency Program, which was recently highlighted by the Des Moines Register.

There will be an opportunity to meet Molly at the Humanities Iowa Lecture "Early Depression Dilemmas of Rural Iowa, October 1929 to November 1932" by Lisa Ossian at the Eldon Library Hall that has been rescheduled for Thursday, August 12 at 7 pm. Refreshments will be served after the lecture.

Read More Here about the Grinnell Artist Residency Program

Read More about Molly Moser at the Grinnell Artist Residency Program

In other news and in follow up to a previous story, the Grant Wood Cultural District in downtown Cedar Rapids is to be certified by the State Historical Society of Iowa.

Read More

Friday, July 9, 2010

On the web this week...History of an American Town...Stone City

As a follow up to the bus trip the center took this spring to Cedar Rapids, Anamosa and Stone City, I thought this first article was appropriate. The writer chose to highlight Stone City as part of his American Town series. A discussion of Stone City couldn't be complete without talking about Grant Wood's painting of "Stone City" or the Art Colony he helped host there.


The second article is a very nice essay on Grant Wood. It contains a Grant Wood quote that is new to me: "Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, you all had great moments, but you never tasted the supreme triumph; you were never a farm boy riding in from the fields on a bulging rack of new-mown hay." –Grant Wood