Jack C. Lane


In 1930 a relatively little known regional artist named Grant Wood entered a competition at the Art Institute of Chicago where he won first place with a painting entitled "American Gothic." News sources across the country published the story of this event along with a photograph of the winning painting, which created a sensation previously unknown in the history of American art. "American Gothic," an iconic symbol of American rural life, became one of the world's best-known images. In the painting, two rural figures with stern sober appearances stand before a small Carpenter Gothic house. The figures dominate the painting but the little Gothic cottage, which suggests the title, gives the painting context and is thus an essential component of its composition. What the man and woman in such a formal pose means has been hotly debated (is it a satire on or a celebration of the American heartland or both?). The simple beauty of the Carpenter Gothic house and its centrality to the painting, however, is undeniable. Not only does the house identify the painting, it also deepens the solemnity and meaning of the two figures standing before it.1