Attractions September 28, 2021
You Can Still Visit The Iowa House That Inspired One Of The Most Familiar Paintings Of 20th-Century America
Eldon, Iowa may be a small town, but it’s home to one of America’s most iconic houses: The Dibble House. Built in the 1880s, the structure isn’t famous because it is large (it’s only just over 500 square feet), and it certainly isn’t well-known because its owners were rich or famous (the first owners actually lost the house due to overdue taxes).
Instead, this house can almost be called universally recognizable because Iowa’s own son, Grant Wood, used it as the backdrop to his most well-known painting: the American Gothic . Best known as the American Gothic House, this structure is identified as a National Historic Place, and a visitors center near the house tells its story.
During these uncertain times, please keep safety in mind and consider adding destinations to your bucket list to visit at a later date.
If you’ve ever wondered why Grant Wood's painting of a solemn farmer and his daughter is described as “Gothic,” join the club! It actually has nothing to do with the people; “Gothic” refers to the architectural style of the beautiful window in the house behind the figures.
Theories abound on why the Dibbles chose to install, as Grant described it, a “pretentious” window in the otherwise simple, board-and-batten sided house. The windows (there’s also one on the back side of the house) are a style more typical of churches or cathedrals, and the Dibbles may have chosen it simply because it is beautiful.
There may have also been a practical reason for the windows; they are mounted on hinges and allowed the family to move furnishings into and out of the upstairs bedrooms. The tight corners of the narrow stairway would have made transporting large furniture upstairs very difficult otherwise. Regardless of the reason, the windows, which were likely ordered from the Sears and Roebuck catalog, do add elegance to the home.
After the Dibbles and their 8 children lost the house, it continued to serve as a private residence except for one year when it held a candy and novelty shop. In 1930, Grant Wood spotted the house while on a road trip through the area. The gothic window caught his eye, and he sketched the house on the spot.
After returning to his home in Cedar Rapids, the artist created his masterpiece, featuring the Dibble House as well as an overalls-clad farmer and his daughter who have come to epitomize Iowans.
Interestingly, the duo who served as the models for the painting were Wood’s sister and his dentist. The two had never met each other or visited the American Gothic House until years after the painting was completed, when they met up at the site for a photo.
Check out the visitors center to learn all about the house and the painting, as well as the drama surrounding Wood’s models - no one was supposed to ever find out who they were!
While the story of the American Gothic holds the spotlight in the center, several lighthearted displays also present some of the many parodies made of the painting over the years involving famous people, cartoon characters and even animals.
And then there’re these chickens.
Pre-COVID, the center offered costumes of all sizes to allow visitors to dress up like the people in the painting and take pictures in front of the American Gothic House. You can still take fun pictures at the spot, however, to imitate one of the most famous paintings in America.
Check out the American Gothic House website for the latest information regarding the visitors center. And while you’re in Eldon, stop in a Chommy’s for some tasty food! Address: American Gothic House Center, 300 American Gothic St, Eldon, IA 52554, USA