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American Gothic on the corn flakes box

By Staff | Jun 12, 2009

Clusters of pink lilies greeted me on our familiar family Melmac dinnerware as I sat down at the Repnow breakfast table. My dad had been eating corn flakes for breakfast long before Mozart composed “The Marriage of Figaro” opera. As a child, toast with lots of jelly was my favorite for breakfast until that day. My dad suggested I try the corn flakes, and as he slid the box towards me I noticed the sober family couple on the front of the box.

My detail-catching eyes noticed the painting on the corn flakes box that would immeasurably impact my life. Many of you may recall that for years on the Post Corn Flakes box was the image entitled, “American Gothic,” painted by Grant Wood in 1930. It portrayed a somber farmer in bib overalls holding a pitchfork, alongside a straight-faced lady. She has rick-rack on her patterned dark blue apron, her hair is swept back and up. A conservative white collar with a round pin in the center completes her outfit. The white carpenter farmhouse in the background features a Gothic window, complete with a lace panel. Woods tells the story of Midwestern life and popular culture through the use of these traditional symbols. The models for the painting were locals – his sister, Nan Wood Graham, and Dr. Byron McKeeby, a local dentist.

This early morning introduction to Grant Wood, an American artist, has been a life-long interest and love of mine. “American Gothic” is Wood’s best known work and is also one of the most famous paintings in American art. It is also one of the few images to reach the status of a cultural icon, along with Leonardo da Vinci’s, “Mona Lisa” and Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers.” Woods worked in a variety of media, including ink, charcoal, ceramics, metal, and wood.

Grant Wood was born on Feb. 13, 1891 on his parents’ farm in Anamosa, Iowa. His family left the farm at an early age. However, this early impact has been demonstrated in many of his paintings. He believed artists should paint from personal experiences based on their local heritage. Much of Wood’s paintings portrayed the people and landscapes of Iowa. Wood became one of the leading exponents of Midwestern regionalism, a movement which dominated the American art scene in the 1930s.

The precise details in Wood’s paintings show the influence of 15th and 16th century German and Flemish painters. His rounded trees are a favorite of mine, which are well featured in his painting “Young Corn.” He painted and wore bib overalls until his death on Feb. 12, 1941.

I have had the privilege of seeing “American Gothic,” as well as other of his great works, at The Art Institute of Chicago. This weekend Wood will once again be honored at the 36th annual Grant Wood Art festival which will be held June 14 in Anamosa, Iowa. I look forward to the day when I can attend this festival.

Repnow is a Rugby resident.

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