The American Gothic house was built in Eldon, Iowa in 1882 by Charles Dibble. He probably purchased the famous window from the Sears Catalog. Grant Wood went to Eldon in 1930 to visit Edward Rowan who was trying to promote fine arts in rural parts of the state. Wood toured the town with a young painter named John Sharp and spotted the house. He thought it “a form of borrowed pretentiousness, a structural absurdity, to put a Gothic-style window in such a flimsy frame house.” He sketched the house the next day and never saw it again. The actual painting, which features Wood’s sister Nan and his dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby, was done back in his studio in Cedar Rapids.
The house was sold several times before being turned over to the state. It is still rented out to caretakers. (The current resident is a schoolteacher who sells pies off the porch in the summer.) A small museum next door gives the history of the artist, the painting and Nan, and supplies outfits to visitors who want to get their photo taken in front of the house. We were the only tourists there — it only draws about 7,000 visitors a year, and we didn’t stay long.
The window on the ground marks the spot where visitors are told to stand, but since Wood altered the proportions of the house and painted the “farmer and his daughter” at two separate times, there’s no way to exactly capture the painting. But we had fun trying.