An hour and three minutes from my driveway lies the most famous house in America–the American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa. This house, along with painter Grant Wood’s sister Nan and his dentist, is in one of the most recognized and parodied paintings in art history. And it makes for a super cute day trip. My sister and I went today.
The house was built in 1881 by Catherine and Charles Dibble. It was owned by Gideon and Mary Hart Jones when Wood painted it in 1930. The large gothic windows on the otherwise simple structure enchanted him. The original owners wanted to add something beautiful to their new home and thus, the windows. Mrs. Jones watched the artist sketch her home on the back of an envelope and she rushed to take down the lace curtains, wash them, and tidy the place up. Wood never came back to the site and he added his own details to the curtain in the painting.The painting catalyzed his career, marked by a love for his home state and its people. Wood envisioned an arts colony in Iowa and saw this painting as a form of tenderness for the people here. He loved the farm fields–the rows of crops were like designs on a dress or apron. He pulled together the sprawling landscape of Iowa into a neat box with shadows on chickens and farmer tans on the people. He fretted over the loss of the simple culture. He loved the snug homes and plentiful fields. And he promised his sister and dentist that no one would recognize them. How wrong he was. Nan later admitted to loving the fame despite Iowa farm women being critical of her sour expression in the painting. (And she pointed out that no one made a fuss about the looks of the man.)
In 1970, Carl Smith donated the home to the State Historical Society of Iowa. In 2007, a visitor’s center opened.
Here It is again
Here’s the dark side of it.
Good-bye iconic Gothic House. We’ll return to tour the inside soon!
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