Art and Architecture in rural Iowa: Bethany and I do American Gothic


There once was an artist, Grant Wood,

Who did that best that he could

    A house he did paint,

    With a couple so quaint

And the parodies all turn out good.

Bethany drove six hours from Sioux City this weekend, and yesterday I took her for a walk around town.  We heard a skittering cry from a large bird gliding above the Des Moines River.  We stood still to watch, it circled and wheeled and leisurely came to us, twenty feet up, a bald eagle, with snow-white head and tail.

Then we heard the helicopter. 

The sound of a helicopter in a small town usually bodes ill as the harbinger of significant injury or illness.  We strode up the hill to the hospital.

My colleague had the situation well under control.

We walked past the Manning Hotel, an historic structure dating to the era when goods moved by riverboat and horse. 

The Manning Hotel, Keosauqua, Iowa, on the banks of Des Moines River

The bridge over the Des Moines River here carries partitions for three types of traffic: the east lane for pedestrians, the center lanes for cars, and the west lane for horse-and-buggy (the Amish regularly cross the bridge).

This part of Iowa has wonderful architecture, with colonnaded porticoes and functional verandas on many houses.  Victorian-style gingerbread sits next to single- and double-wide trailers.  In Birmingham we found a trailer with a colonnaded portico.

Trailer with collonaded portico

On the way there we saw the sign proclaiming AMERICAN GOTHIC HOUSE 18 MILES.  Today, we made the drive.

Grant Wood’s painting, American Gothic, ranks second only to the Mona Lisa for number of parodies.  The house, I have been told, is the second most recognizable house in the country, after the White House.

That house still stands at the edge of Eldon, Iowa, less than a half hour from Keosauqua. 

The town itself looks like many other small towns but for the beautiful architecture.

The American Gothic House reminded us of the size of our first house in Casper, Wyoming, with less than nine hundred square feet.  The American Gothic House Center, on the other hand, stood large in the neighborhood, with a CLOSED sign in the front door.

Bethany at the American Gothic House Center. Eldon, Iowa. December 2010

Of course we had to make our own parody of Grant Wood’s famous painting, which rendered difficult the task of trying to look dour.  I had not a pitchfork nor a shovel to hold, Bethany observed, as she shivered and tried not to crack a smile. 

Steve and Bethany in front of the American Gothic house, Eldon, Iowa, December 19 2010

With the camera screwed onto the tripod, the self-timer did its job as hypothermia started to set in.

The famous house now shares the corner with a single-wide trailer; functioning agricultural buildings stand between it and the corn fields.  A trendy compact car nestles in back.

The American Gothic House and Mini-Cooper, Eldon, Iowa, Dec 19 2010

The recognizable icon stands but the times, as always, change.

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