Our 2021 Road Trip #6: From the Studio That Brought You “American Gothic”

Woman with Plants, 1929.

“Woman with Plants”, 1929, based on Grant Wood’s own mother.

Throughout our travels we’ve wandered inside and around art museums from Denver to Milwaukee, from Birmingham to Baltimore, from the hallowed institutions of Manhattan to our very own controversial outpost here in Indianapolis. This year we added Cedar Rapids to the list, partly out of curiosity and partly due to its surprising connection with another Midwest art museum from one of our past road trips.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. We were each raised in a household that couldn’t afford annual out-of-state family vacations. We’re geeks more accustomed to vicarious life through the windows of pop culture than through in-person adventures. Eventually we tired of some of our self-imposed limitations and figured out how to leave the comforts of home for the chance to see creative, exciting, breathtaking, outlandish, and/or bewildering new sights in states beyond our own, from the horizons of nature to the limits of imagination, from history’s greatest hits to humanity’s deepest regrets and the sometimes quotidian, sometimes quirky stopovers in between.

We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.

Technically not even 2020 stopped us. We played by the new rules of the interim normal and wandered Indiana in multiple directions as safely as we could. This year the long-awaited vaccines arrived. For 2021 we agreed we had to go big. Our new primary objective was Yellowstone National Park, 1500 miles from Indy…

After breakfast, the rental car swap, and hotel checkout, we drove a few minutes northeast to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, which among other feats prides itself on exhibiting the largest collection art by America’s own Grant Wood in the world. I don’t know if the competition for that title is terribly fierce, but the evidence was clearly in their favor.

Wood was born in 1891 near the town of Anamosa, IA, and tried a job in metalworking before life diverted him into art. Across a long career that included an educational stint in Europe, Wood would dabble in American Impressionism before turning ultimately to Regionalism in the wake of the Great Depression. In later years he highlighted farms and small towns in bold lines, largely overlooked in the art world of the times. His choice of subjects might seem quaint to today’s city folk, but in a sense Wood’s line of thought looked toward the democratization of art and the ideal that anyone or anything can be art if viewed through the right set of lenses. His works may not look “punk” by any definition whatsoever, but I can appreciate anyone who pushes back on literati declaring what is or isn’t Art. Wood died of pancreatic cancer in 1942 the day before his 51st birthday, not much older than Anne and I are now.

5 Turner Alley door!

The door to Wood’s studio, with a courtesy “Will Return at Such-and-Such O’Clock” sign painted on it.

Grant Wood studio decor!

More of Wood’s custom studio decor.

1930 is when his most famous creation was unveiled, the iconic American Gothic. The original hangs today at the Art Institute of Chicago, where Anne and I saw it in person two years ago and couldn’t believe the real thing hung right there in front of us. Anyone with a passing knowledge of art might consider Wood a one-hit wonder, with American Gothic his biggest chart topper. Much as some hardcore ’80s music fans will rush to point out Men Without Hats had a second minor hit in “Pop Goes the World”, some Iowans might contend Wood had other worthy works in his portfolio.

The following examples that stood out to us from the Cedar Rapids collection are presented in rough chronological order:

Grant Wood, A Phantasy of Spring.

“A Phantasy of Spring”, 1921. Possibly the first time I’ve ever posted an image of maenads.

Grant Wood, Runners Luxembourg Gardens.

“The Runners, Luxembourg Gardens, Paris”, 1924, inspired by his European travels.

Corn Cob Chandelier!

A corn cob chandelier he made in 1925. Those metallurgic skills were still strong in him.

Grant Wood's Shop Inspector.

“The Shop Inspector”, 1925.

Grant Wood, Terraced Mountain.

“Terraced Mountain”, 1926.

Grant Wood, Red and Yellow House in Munich.

“Red and Yellow House in Munich”, 1928. His Impressionist streak hadn’t yet faded.

Grant Wood, Night Scene National Oats.

“Night Scene, National Oats”, 1928.

John B. Turner painting.

“Portrait of John B. Turner, Pioneer”, 1928-1930. The father of one of his patrons.

Grant Wood, Indian Creek.

“Indian Creek – Summer”, 1929.

Grant Wood, Frances Fiske Marshall.

A 1929 portrait of one Frances Fiske Marshall. The wife of a local newspaper editor, Wood painted this at his request after she died suddenly, leaving four daughters behind.

Grant Wood Shrine Quartet.

“Shrine Quartet”, 1939.

Grant Wood, Spring in the Country.

“Spring in the Country”, 1941.

Grant Wood propaganda poster.

Anne the history buff zeroed in on this WWII fundraiser poster that would’ve been among Wood’s final works.

Admission to the art museum includes a self-guided tour of Wood’s boyhood home a few blocks down. We declined that offer, same as we had with Carl Sandburg’s old place the day before, because we’re finicky about which historical homes we visit. But we found other galleries in the museum itself worth perusing, filled with surprises.

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my faint signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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