"Why Grant Wood?"
I grew up in Grant Wood country -- gently rolling hills dotted with plump cattle; brooding farmers sitting shoulder to shoulder in crowded cafés, their calloused hands wrapped around steaming mugs of dark coffee; deserted one-room schoolhouses still standing alongside gravel roads; bulging barns and towering silos guarding modest clapboard houses -- a dog asleep in the driveway, cats perched on the porch railing; and Miss Coleman, my spinster piano teacher looking like she had just stepped out from behind the frame of a stern American Gothic or the teacup-wielding Daughters of Revolution.
I had posters of those two famous oil paintings by Grant Wood, along with several others: Stone City, Fall Plowing, Arbor Day, Spring in Town, New Road, Haying, even the haunting Death on Ridge Road. They were easy to find, along with books and articles, facts and theories, interpretations and analysis for each of his oil paintings.
But not long after I had discovered my first lithograph -- with Grant Wood’s penciled signature scrawled in the lower corner -- my initial excitement was dulled by my frustration trying to learn more about it. He had created nineteen of them, I did read, drawing them on slabs of smooth limestone during the final four years of his life, signing the last one even as he lay dying of cancer in an Iowa City hospital room on the approach of his fifty-first birthday.
Some of Grant Wood’s depression-era contemporaries criticized his lithographs, labeling them “farmland fantasies.” For decades afterwards his prints languished in gallery drawers and antique shops; others still hung on coarse plaster walls in farmhouses Grant Wood could easily have sketched. But for me and thousands more, they captured, renewed, and released memories of a childhood growing up in rural America at a time when the word ‘neighbor’ meant more than just someone who lived next door.
That first lithograph and his penciled signature sent me on my own personal journey, taking me from my home in North Carolina back to the Midwest and beyond, to museums, libraries, and galleries from Syracuse to San Francisco. Over the course of these past ten years I have gathered every tidbit of information, every morsel of interpretation I could find on Grant Wood’s nineteen lithographs: some plucked from yellowed newspaper clippings saved by his loyal sister Nan, others found hidden within the sales catalogs mailed to eager patrons by his publisher Associated American Artists.
It is my hope that if you share my admiration for Grant Wood, then this book will deepen your knowledge and heighten your appreciation for these nineteen lithographs – as well as his famous oil paintings -- and the role they played in his life. - B.E.J.