A new biography on the Iowan who created one of the world’s most famous paintings delves deeply into Grant Wood’s personal life — and makes the claim he was a closeted homosexual. Author Tripp Evans, an art history professor at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, says Wood’s images of rural places and people vaulted him into the national spotlight in the 1930s, but there was another side of Wood few people knew.
“Wood’s sexuality is one of many strands I follow in the book,” Evans says. “It’s certainly a critical part of the biography but it’s not the only element of his life that I pursue. I realize that element alone will surprise some Iowans.” Evans’ book, “Grant Wood: A Life,” follows the Anamosa native’s schooling, career and public life as he painted the famed “American Gothic” and hundreds of other works, but Evans says there’s much more to the story. He says Wood was shaped by some “unorthodox” family relationships, his sexuality and the near-decade he spent studying in Italy, France and Germany — which eventually brought him back to Iowa.
“For me, those three strands come together as part of the story that has not been told before,” Evans says. “I’m certainly not out to dismantle iconic images of Wood as a great neighbor, a funny guy, a small-town boy. A lot of that is still true but this is the Grant Wood that perhaps people may not have known as well.”
Evans says the first blackmailer who threatened to reveal Wood’s sexuality appeared within two weeks of the debut of “American Gothic.” He says Wood’s paintings allowed him to became a national cultural figure, but all the while there was a looming “specter” that he might be “outed” as a homosexual, in a time where that revelation would have been particularly damaging personally and professionally.
“I think it was difficult for him, managing his life as a closeted man,” Evans says. “Certainly the last 18 months of his life were spent battling a would-be Time Magazine expose of his private life. It was really only through his efforts and through the administration at the University of Iowa that they were able to squelch the story.”
Wood died of liver cancer one day before his 51st birthday in Iowa City in 1942. Evans will be touring Iowa next month to promote his book in ten cities, including: Iowa City, Davenport, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Ames, Eldon, Ottumwa, Dubuque, Elkader and Anamosa.
Learn more at: www.grantwoodalife.com
Listen to Matt Kelley’s complete interview with Tripp Evans here: Evans interview 4:03 MP3