Friday, October 29, 2010

Grant Wood: A Life by R. Tripp Evans

"...Give a child a piece of paper and he will not ask questions. He will make drawings. This will not mean he is queer..." Grant Wood, 1930

You may not know the name Grant Wood , but chances are you do know his iconic painting American Gothic. The famous portrait of a man holding a pitchfork, standing next to a woman with perhaps one of the dourest faces around, is used over and over again to convey the very heartland of America. Wood was known as the “Artist in Overalls” and was hailed by many as one of America’s most famous regionalist artists. In an era where artists were subjected to questions as to their manliness, especially if they assumed European artistic characteristics, Wood was skillfully able to give the American art world just what they wanted, a truly Ameican painter.

The irony here is that the man the public thought they knew, and who was profiled as being rather plain and ordinary, was neither.  In truth, he was a rather complex man who skillfully hid his real self, not only from the world, but more often than not, from  those close to him. Wood, the son of a stern, larger than life Quaker father, was a also a closeted homosexual, and this "secret", and his reflections of life as he felt it, found a means of release in his paintings. Since Grant Wood: A Life (Knopf,2010) is truly the first biography of Woods to be accomplished without objections from his sister Nan, R.Tripp Evans is able to reveal things that heretofore had only been gossiped about. 

In this thoroughly engaging biography, Tripp Evans, an art historian and college professor, reveals Woods, the man, by referencing his life through his art. Starting with his first works as a child, conceived while in the family's cellar, Wood displayed a creative bent that would make otherwise mundane objects or common subjects the stuff of wild imaginative exploration. As he matured, his pictures often conveyed disquieting images that revealed fantastic stories,especially if you take the time to look more closely. It is by revealing these wonderful details and back stories that Evans makes this biography transcend the routine recounting of a life, and makes it a real page turner.

Although American Gothic might be the portal by which you can most readily enter Wood's world, it is through the many other works illustrated and discussed in this volume that you begin to know the man more completely.

For instance, take a look at the painting From Bohemia (1935) where all the figures are without eyes, or the portrait of his Mother, Woman With Plants (1929) wearing a broach that pops up elsewhere, or the extremely fascinating Parson Weems' Fable (1939) which depicts the young George Washington with the exact same head that appears in the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait. The book is filled with wonderful color and black and white illustrations of these and many more works, so the treat is truly yours. The only frustration you may have is wanting to see the paintings as they hang in a gallery. So, read the book, and make it a point to find them. I know you'll want to.

As you read this fascinating account of an often misunderstood man, you will also discover more of the real  Grant Wood by learning about his extremely close relationship with his mother and sister. This trio know as "we three"  not only protected Wood from life's cruelties, but always nourished his creativity.You will also learn a great deal about American culture at the turn of the century and into the 30s, and  I bet you'll respond like I did, and keep saying to yourself, "I never knew".

Whether you're an art aficionado or just plain curious, this book will truly open your eyes. Don't hesitate. Get yourself a copy of Grant Wood: A Life as soon as you can. Tripp Evans also has a web page you can visit for more information about the book. Go to .  Enjoy

If you want to hear my recent interview with R. Tripp Evans, follow this link: and scroll down to the show dated 10/21/10

Next week I 'll be reviewing Linda Morganstein's My Life With Stella Kane. Until then-keep reading, and when you've finished the book, pass it on.

Robert Jaquay, The Gay Book Guy, for

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this. I was born and raised in Iowa so Grant Wood was a childhood hero. I even got to interview Grant Wood's sister for the University of Iowa newspaper when I was a student there. She's the woman who posed for American Gothic. But I didn't know that he was gay until this book came out.