1891 - 1942

"All the good ideas I ever had came to me while I was milking a cow."

- Grant Wood

Determined to become an artist since placing third in a national crayon-drawing contest at age 14, Grant Wood’s art education included evening classes at The Art Institute of Chicago and 14 months studying in Paris.  In 1927 the native Iowan received a commission to do a 20 x 24 foot stained glass window in the Cedar Rapids City Hall memorializing war veterans.  To learn stained glass technique Wood travelled to Munich where he was deeply influenced by 15th century Northern European artists who inspired his signature primitive linear style.  When ‘American Gothic’ (1930) was first exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, he became a national figure in the art world.  A touchstone of American culture, the painting has since become one of the world’s most popular and beloved (as well as one of the most satirized) works of art in history.  His hundreds of other paintings, primarily landscapes and portraits - include ‘Victorian Survival’, ‘Daughters of the Revolution’, and ‘Washington Crossing the Delaware’.  He spent much of the 1930s painting and promoting regionalism in the arts, feeling artists should paint what is around them.  Two weeks after the initial unveiling of ‘American Gothic,’ caught in the spotlight of unexpected celebrity, a man appeared threatening to reveal that Wood was a homosexual.  In an attempt to conceal his sexuality he married (and quickly divorced) an older woman.  From then on he lived in constant fear of being outed.  An expose of his gay private life that was being prepared by TIME Magazine but was surreptitiously pulled as word of Wood’s failing health leaked out.  The man who had helped capture the persevering and steadfast American spirit amidst The Great Depression died of liver cancer just two hours short of his 51st birthday.

Lesson Plan


Gender Male

Sexual Orientation Gay

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Caucasian/White

Nations Affiliated United States France Germany

Era/Epoch Art Deco (1910-1940) Great Depression (1929-1939) Progressive Era (1890-1920)

Field(s) of Contribution



Art, Music, Literature & Theater

Social Sciences

US History

Commemorations & Honors

Art Institute of Chicago Competition Bronze Medal Winner (1930)


Original Biography Author
Owen Keehnen
Biography Edited By
Victor Salvo
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell