Thursday, August 30, 2012

Steamer tour heats up American Gothic House

 Appropriately named, the Iowa Steamin’ Hot Tour hit the American Gothic House and Center Tuesday morning with an array of onlookers on hand to see something most of them had only heard about or seen pictures of—100 year-old steam cars, Stanly Steamers to be exact.

Several times throughout the year owners of steam cars plan and coordinate driving tours around the country and this year Stanley Steamer owner and trip organizer Nancy Roach of Libertyville, Ill. picked a corner of Southeast Iowa, with a stop at the American Gothic House and Center as part of the itinerary. And that is what brought a dozen steam-powered cars with drivers and passengers, along with a support staff in normal-looking cars with windows and air conditioning to town. In all, 46 steam cars enthusiasts from across the United States descended on the Center for refreshments and to have their picture taken—along with their car—in front of the American Gothic House.

One by one with steam billowing all around the drivers pulled onto the pad in front of the house while volunteers stood by with the necessary props to help each of them get in character. It was both fun and educational, considering absolutely none of us at the Center had a clue about how a steam-powered car operated. Did you know these cars operate with an open flame that heats the water to make the steam? A bit on the dangerous side it would appear.

While standing in front of the house talking about the tour, Nancy’s husband, Mike Roach, immediately made a connection with none other than Grant Wood. Speaking about driving throughout the countryside he observed that “around very corner there is a Grant Wood theme.”

This is usually the way things go, it takes someone not of here to point out the obvious to those of us who are here. On his drive he saw the same dry corn as I do; the same ponds that are in need of water and still sees something Grant Wood could have painted. All I see is dry corn and brown grass. If I was so inclined I would use the glass half empty/half full line but I hate clichés so I won’t. Anyway, it is obvious.

I thought about his words the rest of the day and come to conclude that Mike is right; our countryside does look like a Grant Wood scene, especially if it is viewed as what it could. Maybe I need to start looking the landscape differently. This, of course, brings to mind another cliché…

A word about the volunteers:

Ten volunteers showed up to help with the pictures, serve pie and coffee, man the gift or do whatever else needed done in support of the tour. The American Gothic House Center became a reality thanks to local volunteers and each one of them is vital to daily operations. Thanks once again volunteers, the Center could not operate without you.

Labor Day: The American Gothic House Center will be open from 1-4 pm on Labor Day, Sept. 3.

To see what it was like Tuesday at the Center click on the following link to our Facebook page:

Brian Chambers
Media Coordinator
The American Gothic House Center

Thursday, August 23, 2012

So much depends upon…

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain  
beside the white

William Carlos Williams

Over the years this poem has remained a favorite of mine, primarily because it is so simple and paints a vivid image. Williams was an early pioneer in the Imagist poetry movement in America and, like Wood with art, believed poetry written by Americans should reflect American culture, not European, as was the trend at the time. According to, which is published by The Academy of Poets, “Williams sought to invent an entirely fresh—and singularly American—poetic, whose subject matter was centered on the everyday circumstances of life and the lives of common people.” Sound familiar?
Since I have been at the American Gothic House Center this poem came back up on my radar and I wondered if Wood might have read it somewhere along the line. Published in the years before Wood helped launch the Regionalism Art movement, he very well could have run across it across it in casual reading and perhaps it made him think about what Williams was trying to accomplish, and, in turn, he set out to do the same thing only on canvas.

There is another parallel here that just can’t be overlooked, the first line of the poem, “so much depends.” Williams believed that so much depended upon the normality of the things and the objects and acts people take for granted—images that a part of the American life. Of like mind, Wood did the same. Pick any of Wood’s works in the 1930s and this can be seen, American Gothic, Woman with Plants, Spring in Town, the list goes on.

When I was pondering this poem Fall Plowing came to mind. At the time so much depended on fall plowing, as it was the belief the earth needed to lay fallow in order for a new rotation of crops to thrive the following spring. Turning farm ground with a plow every year after the harvest has gone by the wayside, but nonetheless farmers across the country prepare their fields in some manner after harvest to ensure a healthy crop the next year. After all, so much depends on it.

One last parallel should also be noted, Williams gained fame in the 1930s but was overlooked until the 1950s and 60s when the public and other poets became more aware of the simplicity and accessibility of his prose. As too with Wood’s art. But something just as important also came to the forefront, the uniquely American focus of their art because both understood the importance of America and American culture and realized that so much depends on the simple, necessary things like plowing the ground or even a red wheelbarrow.

Brian Chambers
Media Coordinator
The American Gothic House Center

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Heat does little to deter visitors

It appears the relentless heat has abated for the present and what a relief it is. To paraphrase my favorite comedian, Johnny Carson, it has been so hot recently that when I stopped by Burger King and ordered a hamburger, the clerk said if I wanted my way I would have to cook it myself.

People that keep track of these things say that July was the hottest month on record for decades in this part of the state, and just a drive along a cornfield will attest to this. Where normally cornstalks rise to over eight feet and have ripe ears dangling, they are now parched and blistered with hardly an ear in sight.

Recently I read an article about the summer of 1936 and how hot and dry it was that year. (In 1936 Grant Wood painted Spring Turning, as well as The Practical Idealist and The Sentimental Yearner featured in Sinclair Lewis’s illustrated version of Main Street, evidently the heat didn’t slow him down much.) I remember Dad talking about that summer and he had little good to say about it, so I at least was aware of the conditions. This was in the time long before air conditioning and only the well-to-do had electric fans. Not only did the Iowa farmers have the heat and the drought to contend with, to make things worse a plague of grasshoppers and cinch bugs destroyed whatever crop was left after the heat had its turn. Talk about miserable bad luck.

One thing the heat did not impact much on was the number of visitors at the American Gothic House and Center. Sure, on the hottest days there wasn’t quite as much traffic as cooler days (of which there was but a handful in July and the first of August) but they still kept coming. Stepping from the air conditioned comfort of their cars onto the blistering parking lot of the Center I would often wonder what they were thinking—do you folks know how hot it is? But still they came. And from all over. One afternoon there were five cars in the parking lot sporting license plates from five separate states: Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Indiana and Texas. When I remarked about the heat to the Texan she said it wasn’t anything compared to where she was from (it was 117 the day she left). I guess 102 degrees is better than 117 degrees, but to me the difference is negligible.

In my short time here I marvel daily at all the folks that get off the beaten path and wind through the country to Eldon just to seek out the American Gothic House, tour the Center and step outside to have their picture taken—no matter what the temperature is—all the while smiling and having a good time. It’s good to be a part of that. 

Brian Chambers
Media Coordinator
American Gothic House Center

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Words of Grant Wood Ring True

Hello, my name is Brian Chambers. As Holly mentioned in the last newsletter I have been hired as the Media Coordinator for Wapello County to help promote cultural and tourism attractions in Wapello County, of which the American Gothic House is a significant part.

I was drawn to this position in large part to The American Gothic House, The American Gothic House Center and Grant Wood, of whom I am a fan, not only of his arts, but also of some of the things he said. One of Wood’s quotes is, “I had to go to France to appreciate Iowa.” I can relate to this as over the 20 years I spent in the US Army I had the opportunity to travel to many places, and although I enjoyed every trip (this was during peace time, my wife and son, who both served tours in the Mideast, probably can’t say the same) each time I left I gained a greater appreciation for our state.

Another favorite of mine is, “All the good ideas I ever had came to me while milking a cow,” also takes me back to the time I milked for a farmer while in high school. I don’t know if I had any good ideas while milking, but I do remember my mind wandering quite a bit in the cold barn.

Few people capture our state and culture as Grant Wood does and therefore I am looking forward to my time here and please feel free to email me at if you have any questions or ideas. Meanwhile I will be getting acquainted with the workings of the America Gothic House Center and the other cultural and tourism attractions in Wapello County.

Brian Chambers
Media Coordinator
American Gothic House Center