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Grant Wood. American Gothic, 1930. The Art Institute of Chicago. Friends of American Art Collection.
Grant Wood. American Gothic, 1930. The Art Institute of Chicago. Friends of American Art Collection.

15 Things You Might Not Know About American Gothic

Grant Wood. American Gothic, 1930. The Art Institute of Chicago. Friends of American Art Collection.
Grant Wood. American Gothic, 1930. The Art Institute of Chicago. Friends of American Art Collection.

Few paintings are as iconic as Grant Wood's American Gothic. The piece's staging is so embedded into American culture that even its countless parodies and homages are instantly recognizable. While this deceptively simple portrait has clearly captured the imagination of the nation, the story behind its creation and rise to fame makes it all the more compelling. 

1. It was instantly a big hit. 

American Gothic was submitted to the 1930 annual exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, where it won a bronze medal and a $300 prize. But that's not all. The Art Institute acquired the piece for its collection. From there, a picture of the prize-winning painting ran in the Chicago Evening Post, then in newspapers across the U.S., gaining fame and popularity with each printing. Eighty-five years later, American Gothic still calls the Art Institute home.

2. American Gothic made Wood famous.

Before this breakthrough, Wood was an unknown 39-year-old aspiring artist, living in the attic of a funeral-home carriage house that he shared with his mother and sister. Although he was toiling in obscurity, artistic training in Europe had taught Wood techniques that led to his big break. Following the success of American Gothic, he became a bit of a media scamp, often rewriting the history and meaning of his painting to best suit a given trend or narrative. And his fans became ravenous, sometimes traveling to his family's home, and walking right into Wood’s quarters uninvited. 

3. American Gothic's inspiration was a real and really distinctive home. 

In the summer of 1930, Wood was visiting Eldon, Iowa to attend an art exhibition. While there he was struck by a little white cottage with a "carpenter Gothic" window on the second floor that Wood found “pretentious” for such a humble home. He sketched out the house on an envelope, providing the base for what would become his most famous painting. 

4. It combined Americana with European technique.

Inspired by the window that recalled the cathedrals he'd seen in Europe during his training and travels, Wood posed his quintessentially American figures in a "rigid frontal arrangement" that recalls Northern Renaissance art, while mimicking that movement's close attention to detail. 

5. The farmer was really a dentist.

Seeking a model for the male in American Gothic, Wood asked a favor of his dentist, 62-year-old Byron McKeeby. It's likely McKeeby felt a bit obligated as Wood's constant craving for sugar—even putting it on lettuce—made him a client worth keeping happy. All that time in the exam chair gave Wood ample opportunity to examine McKeeby's strong hands. Of them, he said, "This is a marvelous hand. This has strength. This has character.” 

6. Wood found the wife close to home. 

The artist's first choice for a female model was his mother, Hattie. However, he was concerned that posing at length would be too much for her. So, in her stead his sister Nan sat in. But Hattie did contribute by lending her apron and cameo for her daughter's costume. 

7. None of the models posed together. 

Wood painted the house, his sister, and his dentist in separate sessions. 

8. Iowans weren't fans, to say the least. 

When the newspapers in Wood's hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, first presented an image of American Gothic, the painting sparked a backlash. This dour portrayal was not how the locals saw themselves, and they resented being presented this way to the world. One farm wife was so enraged by the painting that she threatened to bite Wood's ear off. Another suggested he have his "head bashed in." Wood was stunned by the acrimony, insisting he was a "loyal Iowan" who meant no offense, only homage.

9. American Gothic does not depict husband and wife. Maybe.

A popular caption for the painting in newspapers was An Iowa Farmer and His Wife, but that was not how the painting’s female model saw it. Nan told people the painting depicted a father and his daughter, perhaps because she resented being "married" to a man twice her age. Wood himself waffled on this point. 

10. Its meaning has shifted over the years.

Early on, writers like Gertrude Stein and Christopher Morley believed American Gothic satirized the provincialism of small-town America. But as the Great Depression damaged American morale, American Gothic was viewed as much-needed celebration of the nation's fortitude and spirit. Now, its purpose transforms with each new parody. 

Wood gave this confounding statement: "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life.” 

11. Wood's signature is hidden. 

Look in the bottom right corner of the farmer's overalls, and you'll see the artist's name painted along with the canvas medium (wood) and the year (1930) in a pale blue, almost illegible against its denim backdrop.

12. American Gothic fueled the rise of "Regionalism."

An American realist modern art movement that shunned urbanism in favor of the glories found in rural settings, Regionalism (or American Scene painting) hit the peak of its popularity in the 1930s thanks to Wood's works as well as those of Missouri's Thomas Hart Benton and Kansas's John Steuart Curry. Wood played into this brand, always sporting overalls, and proclaiming to the press, "All the good ideas I've ever had came to me while I was milking a cow." 

However, he was actually repulsed by farm animals. And it has been suggested that his penchant for overalls was all PR. Not just to play up his artist persona, but also to help hide—through this perceived manliness—his homosexuality

13. American Gothic's house is now a tourist attraction. 

Built in 1881 by Catherine and Charles Dibble, the Dibble House passed through owners for more than a century before Carl Smith donated it to the State Historical Society of Iowa in 1991. Since then, it has been transformed into a museum celebrating Wood and the painting that made him and the house famous. 

14. The windows weren't just pretty; they were practical. 

Wood may have found them pretentious, but the windows (one in the front of the house, one in the back) were hinged to allow the family to more easily move large furniture in and out, uninhibited by a narrow staircase inside. As extraordinary as they seem in a home instead of a larger structure like a church, it's believed the Dibbles picked their distinctive windows out of a Sears and Roebuck catalog. 

15. Every element has been mined for meaning. 

Some observers have suggested that the man pictured is no farmer at all, but a preacher using the pitchfork as a prop to rail against the devil and his dangers. Perhaps the curl of the woman's hair is meant to paint her as a sharp-tongued spinster. Is the rickrack on her apron meant to allude to old-school values, or mock her as out of date? Their expressions have been read as resolute or sullen. The window's curtains might mean a hidden secret. Do the geraniums in the background signify  melancholy? 

Wood never cleared up any of these points, and so the mystery and debate over American Gothic rages on decades after his passing.

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USPS Is Issuing Its First Scratch-and-Sniff Stamps This Summer
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Summertime smells like sunscreen, barbecues, and—starting June 20, 2018—postage stamps. That's when the United States Postal Service debuts its first line of scratch-and-sniff stamps in Austin, Texas with perfumes meant to evoke "the sweet scent of summer."

The 10 stamps in the collection feature playful watercolor illustrations of popsicles by artist Margaret Berg. If the designs alone don't immediately transport you back to hot summer days spent chasing ice cream trucks, a few scratches and a whiff of the stamp should do the trick. If you're patient, you can also refrain from scratching and use them to mail a bit of summer nostalgia to your loved ones.

Since it was invented in the 1960s, scratch-and-sniff technology has been incorporated into photographs, posters, picture books, and countless kids' stickers.

The first-class mail "forever" stamps will be available in booklets of 20 for $10. You can preorder yours online before they're unveiled at the first-day-of-issue dedication ceremony at Austin's Thinkery children's museum next month.

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15 Things You Didn't Know About The Persistence Of Memory

Salvador Dalì's The Persistence of Memory is the eccentric Spanish painter's most recognizable work. You have probably committed its melting clocks to memory—but you may not know all that went into its making.

1. THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY WAS PAINTED IN THE MIDST OF A HALLUCINATION.

Around the time of the painting’s 1931 creation, Dalì perfected his "paranoiac-critical method." The artist would attempt to enter a meditative state of self-induced psychotic hallucinations so that he could make what he called "hand-painted dream photographs."

“I am the first to be surprised and often terrified by the images I see appear upon my canvas," Dalì wrote, referring to his unusual routine. "I register without choice and with all possible exactitude the dictates of my subconscious, my dreams.”

2. IT'S SMALLER THAN YOU MIGHT EXPECT.

The Persistence of Memory is one of Dalì's philosophical triumphs, but the actual oil-on-canvas painting measures only 9.5 inches by 13 inches.

3. THE PAINTING MADE THE 28-YEAR-OLD ARTIST FAMOUS.

Dalì began painting when he was 6 years old. As a young man, he flirted with fame, working with Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel on his groundbreaking shorts Un Chien Andalou and L'Age d'Or. But Dalì’s big break didn’t come until he created his signature surrealist work. The press and the public went mad for him when The Persistence of Memory was shown at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York City in 1932.

4.THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY STAYED IN NEW YORK THANKS TO AN ANONYMOUS DONOR.

After its gallery show, a patron bought the piece and donated it to the Museum of Modern Art in 1934. It’s been a highlight of MoMA's collection for more than 80 years.

5. OTHER SURREALISTS PUT HIM ON TRIAL.

Though Dalì had become the most famous surrealist painter in the world, André Breton, the founder of surrealism, gave him the boot over concerns about Dalì’s alleged support of fascism. At his ousting from the Bureau for Surrealist Research, the loose network of surrealist artists and philosophers headed by Breton, Dalì declared, "I myself am surrealism."

6. EINSTEIN'S THEORIES MAY HAVE INFLUENCED DALÌ.

The Persistence of Memory has sparked considerable academic debate as scholars interpret the painting. Some critics believe the melting watches in the piece are a response to Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. In her book Dalì and Surrealism, critic Dawn Ades writes, "the soft watches are an unconscious symbol of the relativity of space and time."

7. DALÌ'S EXPLANATION WAS CHEESIER.

Dalì declared that his true muse for the deformed clocks was a wheel of Camembert cheese that had melted in the sun. As Dalì considered himself and his persona an extension of his work, the truthfulness of his response is also up for debate.

8. ITS LANDSCAPE COMES FROM DALÌ'S CHILDHOOD.

Dalì's native Catalonia had a major influence on his works. His family's summer house in the shade of Mount Pani (also known as Mount Panelo) inspired him to integrate its likeness into his paintings again and again, like in View of Cadaqués with Shadow of Mount Pani. In The Persistence of Memory, the shadow of Mount Pani drapes the foreground, while Cape Creus and its craggy coast lie in the background.

9. THE PAINTING HAS A SEQUEL (SORT OF).

In 1954, Dalì revisited the composition of The Persistence of Memory for a new work, The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory. Alternately known as The Chromosome of a Highly-coloured Fish's Eye Starting the Harmonious Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, the oil-on-canvas piece is believed to represent Dalì's prior work being broken down to its atomic elements.

10. BETWEEN PAINTING THESE TWO WORKS, DALÌ'S OBSESSIONS SHIFTED.

Though the subjects of The Persistence of Memory and The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory are the same, their differences illustrated the shifts that took place between periods of Dalì's career. The first painting was created in the midst of his Freudian phase, when Dalì was fascinated by the dream analysis pioneered by Sigmund Freud. By the 1950s, when the latter was painted, Dalì's dark muse had become the science of the atomic age.

"In the surrealist period, I wanted to create the iconography of the interior world—the world of the marvelous, of my father Freud," Dalì explained. "I succeeded in doing it. Today the exterior world—that of physics—has transcended the one of psychology. My father today is [theoretical physicist] Dr. Heisenberg."

11. FREUD RECIPROCATED DALÌ'S ADMIRATION.

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, was not a fan of the surrealists, whom he felt were too conscious of the art they were making and didn't understand his theories. Dalì was the exception. When the two met in 1938, Dalì was giddily sketching a portrait of his 82-year-old idol when Freud whispered, "That boy looks like a fanatic." The comment delighted Dalì, as did Freud's suggestion that his The Metamorphosis of Narcissus would be of value to the study of psychoanalysis. Freud later said, "I have been inclined to regard the surrealists as complete fools, but that young Spaniard with his candid, fanatical eyes and his undeniable technical mastery, has changed my estimate."

12.THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY MAY BE A SELF-PORTRAIT.

The floppy profile at the painting's center might be meant to represent Dalì himself, as the artist was fond of self-portraits. Previously painted self-portraits include Self-Portrait in the Studio, Cubist Self-Portrait, Self-Portrait with "L' Humanité" and Self-Portrait (Figueres).

13. THERE WERE MORE MELTING CLOCKS TO COME.

In the 1970s, Dalì revisited his squishy timepieces in sculptures like Dance of Time I, II, & III; Nobility of Time, and Profile of Time. He also included them in lithographs.

14. THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY HAS ALIASES.

The masterpiece is also known as Soft Watches, Droopy Watches, The Persistence of Time, and Melting Clocks.

15. THE PAINTING HAS BECOME INGRAINED IN POP CULTURE.

The Persistence of Memory has been referenced on television in The Simpsons, Futurama, Hey Arnold, Doctor Who, and Sesame Street. Likewise, it's been alluded to in the animated movie Looney Tunes: Back in Action, in the comic strip The Far Side, and in videogames like EarthBound and Crash Bandicoot 2: N-Tranced. It was even parodied to mock the NFL’s DeflateGate scandal.

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