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Grant Wood: A Life Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 5, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (October 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030726629X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307266293
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #420,021 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The fame of the iconic, often parodied American Gothic has long masked its creator. Much about Grant Wood's patriotism and masculinity has been read into the painting's pitchfork-holding farmer and his dour companion standing in front of a Midwestern farmhouse. Evans, an art historian at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, argues that even more has been misread, overshadowing a rich and varied artistic career. Associated with the Regionalist movement in painting, Wood (1891–1942) cultivated a hearty Midwestern image that hid his homosexuality. What Wood hid from polite society, he could not help revealing in his paintings: "the object of his desire is only partially abstracted --for in the undeniably erotic curves of Stone City, we register the muscular outlines of the powerful male body." His mother and his sister, Nan, further protected him. The complicated relationship included living together until Nan married--perhaps a reaction to Wood's hard and detached father, who died when Wood was 10. Evans's in-depth, gendered readings of Wood's paintings situate him in the longer history of male artists' gendered self-portrayals (bracketed by Oscar Wilde and Jackson Pollock), providing a useful new insight into Wood's place in American art. 16 pages of color photos; b&w illus.
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* It seems so straightforward. Grant Wood, born in Iowa in 1891, was the overall-clad, all-American artist from the heartland who created one of the world's best-known and most-parodied paintings, American Gothic, a portrait of a pitchfork-grasping farmer and his dour daughter. But as art historian Evans so momentously and conscientiously reveals, Wood's folksy persona was formulated to camouflage his homosexuality. Evans tells the full, grievous story of Wood's struggle to conceal his true self in a harshly homophobic world for the sake of his art and career, presenting startling insights into Wood's trauma over failing to live up to his stern father's notion of masculinity, liberating sojourns in Paris in the 1920s, and the decision to return to Cedar Rapids, where he lived with his widowed mother, attained extraordinary renown, and helped change the face of American art. Evans examines Wood's complicated relationships with his mother and his sister, Nan, the female model for American Gothic; fellow artists; various assistants; and the colorful woman he disastrously married. Most arresting is Evans' bold decoding of the eroticism and caustic social commentary hidden in plain sight in Wood's hard-edged and profoundly unnerving paintings. A fascinating and heartrending portrait of an artist forced to sacrifice his right to happiness and wholeness. --Donna Seaman

More About the Author


Tripp Evans is a Virginian by birth and Rhode Islander by adoption - hence his love for bourbon, Gothic storytelling, and stuffed quahogs. He majored in architectural history at the University of Virginia, and received his Ph.D. in art history from Yale (between degrees, he was a distracted receptionist and voracious reader). Since 1997 he has taught in the Art and Art History Department at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, specializing in American art and culture of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Tripp's books examine how and why American artists evoke national character in their work - from U.S. explorers' fanciful representations of the pre-Columbian past (Romancing the Maya: Mexican Antiquity in the American Imagination, 1820-1915) to Grant Wood's deeply personal use of national iconography (Grant Wood: A Life). Biography - whether of nations, institutions, or individuals - is his favorite genre.

In 2005, Tripp and his partner Ed Cabral moved into a former iron foundry in Providence, Rhode Island. The factory's unusual story, and its site's ties to colonial, Native American, and geological history are the subject of his next book. Three Acres of Providence will trace the life of this patch of land from continental drift - a time when Rhode Island bordered Morocco - to the post-industrial present.

Customer Reviews

Had I not read the author's bio, I would have assumed he was homophobic.
Evans is brilliant in documenting how gender assignments were made to various artistic styles, and how impressionism was considered a "feminine" art form.
Doug Ireland
The biography, "Grant Wood a Life" by R. Tripp Evans is highly detailed about the public and private life of the famous Iowa artist.
Thomas Thompson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Jon Hunt on October 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Most Americans know Grant Wood by only one painting...his famous "American Gothic", which is one of the most recognizable and parodied paintings in history. In this wonderful retrospective of the artist from Iowa, R. Tripp Evans has given the reader a warm, honest and comprehensive look at Wood's life...both public and private. It's an extraordinary offering.

Grant Wood was a rare artist in one sense...that his main output of known works occurred in one decade...the 1930s. This decade was known for its "regionalism" and featured the works of Wood, Thomas Hart Benton and John Stueart Curry...three men from the midwest who knew each other in varying levels of admiration and disapproval. A core of Evans's book centers around Wood's homosexuality which was hinted at for years but now has fully come to life in this book. Evans treats Wood with tremendous respect and proffers an understanding of the difficulties of living a closeted life during that time and how it affected his work and his relationships. The author is particularly good at weaving these people into Wood's personal life...his headstrong father, his closely attached mother and, especially after the artist's death, his legend-keeping sister.

The surprise to the reader, and to those who knew Wood at his time, was that Wood decided to get married and then endured a brief, rocky partnership. Yet, the fascination of this aspect of "Grant Wood: A Life" is his friendships with men. As best as one can assume, Wood was somewhat asexual, though his attractions (especially to younger men as a caregiver or provider) are nicely handled by the author.

Evans is a natural teacher and the inclusion of color plates of Wood's paintings make up the richest part of the book.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Doug Ireland on October 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Grant Wood's "American Gothic" is the most recognizable American painting.

Of all the paintings in the world, only the Mona Lisa has been more parodied. As Tripp Evans notes in his groundbreaking new biography of the artist, when it was first exhibited in Chicago in 1930, it made an instant global celebrity out of Wood: "Never in the history of American art had a single work captured such immediate and international recognition; by the end of 1930, the painting had been reproduced in newspapers around the globe... Never before, either, had a painting generated such widespread curiosity about its artist."

"American Gothic" was considered by most critics of that day as something of a national self-portrait, and it made Wood the icon of a new native American, regionalist art. The New Yorker wrote at the time, "As a symbol Wood stands for the corn-fed Middle West against the anemic East, starving aesthetically upon warmed-over entrees dished up by Spanish chefs in Paris kitchens. He stands for an independent American art against the colonialism and cosmopolitanism of New York."

Wood, who was born in the small town of Anamosa, Iowa, in 1898 and spent nearly all his life painting in the Hawkeye State, depicting its countryside and inhabitants, was said to stand for the flinty, manly virtues of heartland America. The New York Times proclaimed that Wood, who styled himself a "farmer-painter," had earned his "toga virilis" for, as Evans summarizes it, "ending Americans' perilous fascination with impressionism."

Wood himself encouraged this anti-intellectual, quintessentially American, and rigorously heterosexual version of his persona and the origins of his art.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Michael Muller on October 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a big fan of Grant's work and an artist myself I have always been interested in and searched for what inspires artists and how that influences their work. When I mention Grant to people they often look blank until you say "The painting of the man and woman with a pitchfork" and then all becomes clear. Evan's with his new book about Grant opens up a whole world of Grant and not only what influenced this man to produce an amazing piece of history in his painting "American Gothic" but a side of Grant we have never been able to know about as a man. In the past searching for information about Grant Wood I was never able to find anything that really felt more than superficial and at a distance about Grant Wood the man. This is the book that finally fills in all the gaps with not only heart but a true love for Grant Wood. If you have ever wondered what makes an artist and artist and how his life influences what he or she produces then this book will amaze you. Even if you have ever thought you were not a big fan of artists and art I think this book will move you just to understand the story of a man and his internal struggle to be himself and how he expressed that in his art.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Thompson on November 7, 2010
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The biography, "Grant Wood a Life" by R. Tripp Evans is highly detailed about the public and private life of the famous Iowa artist. We learn more about the psychological reasons why Wood painted each of the few things he produced in his lifetime. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the lives of artists/painters It is an easy and comprehensive read. TomT
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