What Started Out As Curiosity Ended Up Being a Fortune


No American artwork has been parodied more than American Gothic. Originally thought of as a joke, it’s now as recognizable as the Mona Lisa. In 1929, Grant Wood was a 38-year-old unknown artist living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the attic of a funeral home carriage house. Painting was just another of Wood’s harmless quirks, but in August of 1930, it would change his life forever. He spotted an unusual farmhouse and was curious about what kind of people lived there. Instead of knocking on the door, Wood decided to capture the farmhouse in paint and tease out a story for himself. He asked his dentist, 62-year-old Byron McKeeby, to serve as the male model, while he asked his own sister Nan to be the female model. He named the painting American Gothic as a nod to the house’s architectural style and submitted it to a competition at the Art Institute of Chicago. Overnight the painting was a hit, and Wood won a bronze medal and a $300 prize. The painting would sell in 2005 for $6.96 million — not bad for a spur of the moment idea in the middle of a small town in Iowa.