The Models for ‘American Gothic’, 1940s

On show with the late Grant Wood’s American Gothic, one of the most famed U.S. paintings of its generation, went the models who posed for it, Nan Wood Graham, the painter’s sister, wife of an oil-station operator, and Dr. B. H. McKeeby, a dentist. Occasion was the first showing of the picture in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where Wood painted it twelve years ago.

American Gothic is a painting by Grant Wood in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Wood’s inspiration came from what is now known as the American Gothic House, and a decision to paint the house along with “the kind of people I fancied should live in that house.”

The painting shows a farmer standing beside his spinster daughter. The figures were modeled by the artist’s sister and their dentist. The woman is dressed in a colonial print apron evoking 19th-century Americana, and the couple are in the traditional roles of men and women, the man’s pitchfork symbolizing hard labor, and the flowers over the woman’s right shoulder suggesting domesticity.

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