Viewed as either a spoof of rural small-town life, or a portrayal of unwavering American pioneer spirit since it was painted in the heart of the Great Depression, American Gothic is without doubt one of the most famous American works of art.
The canvas shows an elderly father with his unmarried daughter standing in front of their Carpenter Gothic-style home. The house, with its typical upper window, is representative for the Midwestern Gothic architecture and its owners are, according to Grant Wood, ‘the kind of people I fancied should live in that house’.
The father, molded after Wood’s dentist, wears a white shirt with a jacket and overalls with stitching that seems to reflect the pitchfork in his hand. This three-pronged tool is probably meant to be a symbol of hard work and the worn out hand that holds it transforms the painting completely. The daughter, modeled for by Wood’s sister, is painted dressed in a Colonial print apron with a rickrack edge, spruced up with a cameo.
The man’s determined manner and the girl’s concerned air seem to corroborate the idea of a Great Depression related theme: their farm might be failing, however, they will not be displaced. In spite of his gloomy face, the man looks ahead defiantly, standing his ground. The girl’s face echoes that of her father’s, except that she looks away, worried and distracted, less capable to conceal her feelings.
Love it or hate it, Grant Wood’s American Gothic is and will be part of American culture due to its connotations, its capacity to stir the imagination of the viewer and its power to generate an assortment of interpretations.
Until next time,