Thursday, February 17, 2011

Grant Wood's Main Street

Thank you to all the soup cooks, cake bakers, door prize donors, event workers and American Gothic House Center supporters who contributed to the success of Grant Wood’s Birthday Soup Smorgasboard! We fed about 75 and all donated generously. Your support is greatly appreciated!

I have often felt the loyalty and commitment of the surrounding community to the American Gothic House Center. It extends throughout the City of Eldon, whose residents are working to restore many historic landmarks and better their community by lending a hand whenever it’s needed. There is a certain wonderful quality in small towns; you receive smiles from strangers who know your face, and the mayor helps her city crew shovel the sidewalks of main street.

In 1920, a book called Main Street was published by Lakeside Press. Sinclair Lewis told the story of the characters of Gopher Prairie, a small town in Minnesota. The main character moves to Gopher Prairie from a large city and adjusts to life there. Grant Wood illustrated the book with nine full-page drawings done from 1935 – 1937. Two of the drawings depicted locations, and seven described character figures.

The seven character sketches, a group of four men and three women, summarized and satirized some of the personalities from the story. All but one are classic waist-up portraits, with titles to clarify the carefully drawn expressions on each face.

There is The Good Influence, a primly smiling woman dressed in a black collared dress and hat. She stands in front of a church, removing one black glove to expose a simple gold band around the third finger of her left hand. The Perfectionist regards the viewer from the sides of her eyes, hand on chin, thoughtfully sizing us up and deciding how to fix us. The third woman, the Practical Idealist, is captured mid-sentence—no doubt animatedly conversing about her latest project. She wears a sensible white button-up blouse with a black sweater, and is seated in front of subtle yet stylish floral wallpaper.

In General Practioner, Wood shows the gentle hands of a doctor checking his patient’s pulse. The worn blue quilt covering the patient tells us the local doctor is making a house call. Booster, a man in a yellow pin-striped suit and tie, waves his finger from behind a podium. His moose pin and stamped gold ring certainly declare his allegiance to important organizations. Behind him, an American flag stands as a reminder that this character could be found in any small town’s meeting room.

Another character in a yellow suit, this one with a bowtie, sniffs an elegant flower while staring toward the sky over the gold rims of his round glasses. He is the Sentimental Yearner, visions of yester-year visible behind his eyes. The last face is the face of The Radical. He glares suspiciously from beneath a corduroy cap. The ends of his moustache curl up mischievously, and he keeps a firm grip on the wooden handled tool he holds. Behind him are hammers, saws, and rulers—perhaps the tools of an artist?

The drawings were done on brown paper in pencil, charcoal, crayon and gouache (similar to watercolor). Grant Wood signed each of the 1500 books in the original print run.

Molly Moser
American Gothic House Center

Don’t forget to sign up for the American Gothic House Center’s annual bus trip to discover Grant Wood country! You can view a detailed itinerary of the trip on our website. The itinerary has links to all the collections we’ll be visiting. Call me at 641.652.3352, or respond to this email to reserve your seat!

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