Touring Grant Wood Studio: ‘American Gothic’ Artist

The tiny hayloft above the carriage house was never meant to be living space, only the artist’s studio. However, for eleven years, from 1924 to 1935, Grant Wood lived there–with his mother and sometimes his sister, too. I visited the Grant Wood Studio in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as part of a press tour honoring the 125th birth year of the American Regionalist artist and saw how Wood transformed the space into both home and studio.

History of the Grant Wood Studio

When Grant Wood’s good friend, David Turner, bought a mansion in downtown Cedar Rapids to use as a mortuary, he asked Wood to decorate it. He also offered Wood the hayloft above the mansion’s carriage house to use as a studio, rent free. Wood realized that if he lived in the studio, he could afford to quit his teaching job and paint full time. So he moved his mother and himself into the space.

Grant wood paintings
Reproductions of Grant Wood paintings painted on Masonite. Wood used Masonite for many of his paintings, since it was inexpensive.

Grant Wood modified the loft, utilizing every inch of space. He built a bathroom, sinking the tub down into the hole from which the hay was dropped when the space was used as a hayloft. He added a big window at one end of the room and a windowed cupola in the roof. The windows allowed lots of natural light into the studio.

Window in Grant Wood StudioCupola in Grant Wood StudioEach morning, Wood and his mom pushed their beds against the side walls, and Wood rolled out the wooden bins in which he stored his painting supplies.

Grant Wood Studio

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Wood installed a fireplace and used it as a cook stove for the first year before adding the kitchen. The galley-style kitchen had a little pass-through window, which the artist referred to as “Mom’s hotdog stand.” He and his mom sat at the pass-through window to eat their meals, she on one side and he on the other. They did not have a kitchen table.

Grant Wood Studio fireplaceGrant Wood Studio kitchenThe built-in two-tier telephone stand that Grant Wood fashioned still exists. He built the two tiers to accommodate both his mother and himself. One of them liked to stand while on the phone; the other liked to sit.

Grant Wood Studio telephone standThe apartment came to be known as 5 Turner Alley, an address that Wood gave to it, named after the owner of the property and because the doorway opened up onto an alley.

It’s hard to believe that Wood even started Theatre Cedar Rapids in that tiny space. Productions were by invitation only, since seating was so limited, but they managed to squeeze about 30 people in the audience.

Taking the Grant Wood Studio tour

The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art now owns the Grant Wood Studio and is continuing restoration. Although many of the studio’s features are original, subsequent tenants made some modifications. The museum’s goal is to restore the space to the way it looked when Wood lived there.

The Grant Wood Studio is located at 810 Second Avenue SE in downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Tours are conducted Saturdays and Sundays from 12 noon until 4 p.m. from April through December. There is no admission fee. Check the web site for directions and further details.

Accommodations: We stayed at the Hotel at Kirkwood Center during our visit to Cedar Rapids. Find the best Cedar Rapids hotel deal, compare prices, and read what other travelers have to say at TripAdvisor.

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Disclosures: My visit to Cedar Rapids was hosted by the Iowa Tourism Office,. However, any opinions expressed in this article are my own.
This article contains an affiliate link. If you book a room through this link, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

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2 thoughts on “Touring Grant Wood Studio: ‘American Gothic’ Artist

  • September 14, 2016 at 12:02 pm
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    Loved this post! Reminded me a little of visiting Norman Rockwell’s studio in Stockbridge, MA, but this is, of course, a little more modest. But definitely the kind of visit I like to make when I’m traveling!

    Reply
    • September 15, 2016 at 5:42 am
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      Thank you, Tami! The Grant Wood Studio is definitely worth checking out. So is the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, which has the world’s largest collection of Grant Wood paintings.

      Reply

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