In August 1930, Grant Wood, an American painter with European training, was driven around Eldon, Iowa, by a young painter from the city, John Sharp. Looking for inspiration, Grant noticed the Dibble House, a small white house built in the Carpenter Gothic architectural style. He decided to paint it along with “the kind of people I fancied should live in that house.”
Grant recruited his sister Nan to model the woman, dressing her in a colonial print apron mimicking 19th-century Americana. The man is modeled on his dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Nan, perhaps embarrassed about being depicted as the wife of a man twice her age, told people that her brother had envisioned the couple as father and daughter, rather than husband and wife, which Grant seems to confirm in his letter to a Mrs. Nellie Sudduth in 1941.
The original house — with the two iconic Gothic windows — was built between 1881-82 by Catherine and Charles Dibble. According to American Gothic House Center, it is unknown why the Dibble family chose to include Gothic windows in the gables of their home.
“It is believed that the windows were purchased through the Sears and Roebuck catalog, but why they chose a window that is more associated with church architecture no one knows for sure. One thought is among the struggles of life and work, this was one way that the Dibbles were able to add a little beauty to their everyday lives.”
Anyway, the result is one of the most familiar images in 20th-century American art, and of course one of the widely parodied in American popular culture and beyond.
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