Country Decor Inspiration: The American Gothic House

September 15th, 2016 Country Decor

We’ve been celebrating historic houses in America ever since someone thought “George Washington slept here” and realized that was something important.

Our country is filled with historic homes, and beautiful country decor, whether they’re tiny houses where notable people were born or grand estates built from great fortunes.

And because we’re interested in homes, Americana decor, and history here at Piper Classics, we’ve decided to explore a few of those historic houses on our blog.

First up: the American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa.


“Truly American Art”

Even if you don’t know its title, you’re probably familiar with the painting American Gothic. Painted by artist Grant Wood in 1930, it shows a farmer and his daughter standing in front of a country home. He holds a pitchfork; they both wear serious – some might even say sour – expressions.

AMERICAN GOTHICWood, who spent most of his life in Iowa, was part of an artistic movement known as Regionalism. Popular during the Great Depression, Regionalism involved artists painting their local surroundings, typically scenes of rural life in the south and Midwest.

For Wood, that meant painting what he saw in rural Iowa. In the case of the American Gothic House, Wood was — according to the house website – “inspired by the contrast of the modest little house with its (as he described it) ‘pretentious’ Gothic style windows (there is one in each gable end).” These windows are not what we would associate today with country decor.

Wood was in Eldon for an art exhibition. While touring the town, he spotted the house and its unusual window, and asked his tour guide to pull over to make a sketch on an envelope.

As the website puts it, American Gothic is a realistic painting at first glance. The house looks as it appears in Wood’s work. And the two people in the painting are based on real life models. The woman was Wood’s sister Nan, while the man was Dr. B.H. McKeeby, his dentist.

“Homes As Extensions of Themselves”

At the same time, there’s a barn in the painting that didn’t exist in real life. And Wood’s two models never posed in front of the house.

Wood’s choice to depict two people posed in front of a home may have come from the early twentieth century practice of photographing subjects in front of their houses.

From the house website: “The choice by either the homeowner or photographer as to where the people stood, testifies to the association Americans have with their homes as extensions of themselves. In rural America, a home not only signified family but also the mutual hard work of its members, and as the family’s greatest financial possession.” Today our investment of time, energy, and money in home decorating and in country decor are the legacies of this early pride in a family homestead.

The house was built in the 1880s, with its first recorded owners listed as Charles and Catherine Dibble. The Dibbles later lost possession of the home when it was sold to pay overdue taxes. Another owner, E.P. Forest Howard, tried to use the front room as a candy store, without much success. The next owners, Gideon and Mary Jones, added another wing to the home in the 1920s, and were still living there when Wood painted American Gothic.

The house changed hands a few more times throughout the twentieth century until 1991, when then-owner Carl Smith donated it to Iowa’s State Historical Society. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. American Gothic the painting itself, is part of the collection at the Art Institute of Chicago.

The people in American Gothic may not have been the actual homeowners, but they represented something we can all relate to: pride in the place where we live, and the desire to make our homes stand out.

That could mean an unusual window – framed by country curtains – or a wreath on your door or some country wall art inside. Let Piper Classics to find something to make your dwelling stand out. The place you live may never become famous, but we can help make it a work of art.