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Just A Little Bitty House
By Shelley Oehler/Humanities Iowa
Sometime in 1930, Grant Wood stopped by a small white house on what was then Hearn Street in Eldon and quietly sketched the front of the home. Wood could not have possibly imagined that 75 years later the home, made familiar and larger than life in his American Gothic, would become one of the most recognized in the world.
With the help of a $15,000 grant from Humanities Iowa (HI), the city of Eldon will soon be able to better highlight the home to visitors and provide them an unforgettable experience. The grant, from the We The People fund, a national endowment that celebrates Americans’ history and heritage, will help fund a permanent exhibit of American Gothic representations or parodies. The exhibit will be housed in a visitor/education center, currently being built by the city of Eldon with private and public funds.
Eldon resident Brenda Kremer is on the American Gothic visitor/education advisory committee and is also volunteer project director for the HI grant. Kremer said the majority of items in the exhibit were donated by Helen Glasson of Ottumwa. Glasson’s grandparents were living in the home when Grant Wood sketched it and has lived with the folklore in her family ever since.
Items to be on display will range from plates, photos and advertisements to textiles and figurines. The collection spans about 50 years and includes some antiques. Both the number and array of items show the popularity of the painting.
The State Historical Society of Iowa, which owns and maintains the home as a historic site, will donate about 160 items toward the endeavor, including everything from ashtrays and coffee mugs to T-shirts, neckties and cookbooks.
“The visitor center is the perfect place for the public to explore the American Gothic House as an American icon,” said Jerome Thompson, state curator. “Wood’s painting with this house in the background is known to everyone. The parodies are a great commentary on views of American culture. The figures change, but the house remains the important stage backdrop. The city of Eldon needs to be congratulated for their vision and hard work to make this important part of the site’s master plan a reality.”
Reprinted with permission from Humanities Iowa, a private, nonprofit state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, whose mission is to enhance the civic life, culture, and identity of Iowans. Drawing on history, literature, philosophy, law and other humanities fields, it fosters life-long learning, critical thinking and community connections.