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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments


You know, I always did think they looked like Hoosiers:

Like many around the state, two American icons are eagerly awaiting the start of the state fair next month — in fact the nation's most famous farm couple will be first in line.

With the help of a crane, workers assembled larger-than-life sculptures of the couple from Grant Wood's “American Gothic” painting today to watch over the crowds on the northwest side of the fairgrounds. The 25-foot statues come complete with a pitchfork and have a suitcase at their feet, ready for their next destination.

[caption id="attachment_11098" align="alignleft" width="202" caption="AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Kelly Wilkinson"]AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Kelly Wilkinson[/caption]

Actually, they look like your generic farm couple of the 1930s, which was sort of Grant Wood's point. These giant-size statues have been making the rounds under the name -- I wonder if anyone in Indy appreciates the irony -- "God Bless America." They were most recently in Chicago, which is where someone here saw them and got the idea of bringing them to the state fair as a way to "promote the importance of agriculture." But that's not exactly the consensus of what the painting means. Wood was not very forthcoming about the painting's meaning, which has left it open to widely varying interpretations, most of them covered in a book devoted to "American Gothic."

At first, it was widely thought to be a savage satire, a putdown of yokels in the country's interior -- Iowans in particular were incensed about it. But as the Depression unfolded and we got into World War II, attitudes about the painting changed, and it was seen as a pro-American, rural values-affirming portrait. Now it's whatever the viewer wants it to be, even a farm-promoting gimmick for the state fair.

The best part of the "American Gothic" story is that right after he finished it, Wood entered it in the Art Institute of Chicago's annual exhibition. It took third place.

Posted in: Uncategorized


john b. kalb
Wed, 07/28/2010 - 10:37pm

For anyone intersested in this statue, the city of Auburn has a bronze, painted one on display - also by this sculpturer- until the middle of September. It is one of 14 of Johnson's sculptures - most of which are "life-size".

Thu, 07/29/2010 - 7:12pm

Your use of the word "couple" may have the unintended effect of perpetuating a misconception about the "American Gothic" painting.
It is not a depiction of a married couple, but rather a man and his daughter.
I am a deep fount of useless trivia, but am otherwise without any actually useful information. Maybe that's why I don't have a job.

Leo Morris
Fri, 07/30/2010 - 7:44am

But everything about the painting was ambiguous, which was probably Wood's intention since he never talked about the "meaning" of the piece. It's true he used his 30-year-old sister and a 62-year-old local dentist as the models, but part of the speculation from the first was whether this was a father-daughter, husband-wife or even something else. It wasn't until the sister, Nan, became embarrassed about being thought of as married to someone twice her age that SHE started saying the painting was of a father and daughter. Wood later seemed to confirm this in a letter he wrote, but, as with any work of art, we are free to take from it whatever gives it meaning to us.