Grant Wood Tour: Part II
I started my Grant Wood Tour of Iowa way back last August. I was inspired at the time by Seward Johnson’s God Bless America sculpture on display at the Dubuque Museum of Art. The sculpture is based on Grant Wood’s iconic painting American Gothic. After visiting the sculpture, I toured the museum, home to a small but very nice collection of Wood’s paintings. After that, I went to the kitschy Grant Wood Art Gallery in Anamosa, to Stone City, and to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. I had hoped to visit the Grant Wood Studio, but it’s open very limited hours. So I pledged to do a Grant Wood Tour Part II.
I had good intentions of doing this last fall, but time got away from me. Yesterday I added another piece of the Grant Wood tour by visiting the American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa. (The rest of the tour will just have to wait…again.)
The American Gothic House held a number of surprises for me. For one thing, the last time I visited it (maybe a dozen years ago) it sat alone, very unceremoniously on a gravel road in Eldon. Today, many signs point you toward the site, and when you get there, you’re greeted by a full-scale visitor center and a paved parking lot.
The second surprise for me was the Pitchfork Pie Stand. Unbeknownst to me, the American Gothic House is now home to Beth Howard, piebaker extraordinaire and author of Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Pie. Beth bakes her pies in the tiny kitchen of the American Gothic House, where she lives when she’s not on the road doing book tours or teaching pie-baking classes or appearing on television.
Yesterday was this summer’s opening day for the Pitchfork Pie Stand (who knew?) and the line was out the door. Beth’s pies looked wonderful, and she was selling about equal numbers of pies and books. “I can’t make pies fast enough!” she said.
Yesterday’s flavors were apple, apple crumble, strawberry, and shaker lemon. Full pies sell for $20, mini pies are $6, and single slices are $3. The pie stand is open weekends noon to 5 p.m. through Labor Day.
But enough about pies. Back to Grant Wood.
The American Gothic House in Eldon is the backdrop for Wood’s most famous painting. The painting depicts a farmer standing beside his spinster daughter — although the models for the painting were Wood’s sister, Nan, and his dentist (pictured at left in front of the finished painting in 1942). Each element of the painting was done separately; the models were not painted together and never actually stood in front of the house.
The Gothic Revival cottage with its distinctive upper window is in wonderful condition and, with the addition of the visitor center, now has lots of colorful flowers (and, of course, pie). If you visit the center (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 1-4 p.m. Sundays and Mondays) be sure to have your picture taken in front of the house, dressed in costumes and holding a pitchfork provided by the center. (I didn’t do this since I was visiting alone; I thought it would be too creepy to have a stranger pose with me.) There’s even a “how to pose” sign in front of the house. The center has educational exhibits, videos, a collection of American Gothic parodies, and plenty of gift items for sale. Directions are available on the website.