The day that Grant Wood graduated from high school in June of 1910, he caught a train to Minneapolis to study at the School of Design and Handicraft where Ernest Batchelder taught. Batchelder was known to be a leading proponent and designer in the Arts & Crafts movement; Wood had already learned from him, indirectly, through a subscription to Gustav Stickley's magazine, The Craftsman. The Craftsman was dedicated to the art of handicraft, and according to James Dennis, Wood had "completed a series of lessons in basic design that Batchelder had published in the magazine. From these formative experiences Wood not only learned how to make jewelry, copperware, ornamental iron fixtures, and furniture; he was also eventually to apply many of Batchelder's basic principles of design, technique and materials to the art of painting" (19-21). Now Wood set out to take classes with Batchelder, which he managed to do for one summer only. The boy returned to Minneapolis the next summer, only to find that Batchelder had left.


 

 



From Batchelder's
Principles of Design, 1903

During the years of obscurity before American Gothic burst onto the American consciousness, Wood experimented with numerous styles; however, it was the Arts & Crafts aesthetic that he relied on in his numerous metal working shops and craft projects. In these years, Wood turned out finely wrought iron fixtures, whimsical craft-oriented sculpture, and paintings that explored the use of the Arts & Crafts patterning of dark and light. The paintings of the 1930's, Wood's mature years, reflect a similar aesthetic; Wood explored ornamental patterning in clothing and composition in many of his paintings.

Click circles to see patterns in context

This sort of patterning was dear to such Arts & Crafts proponents as Frank Lloyd Wright; the architect's belief in regularity, ornamentation and attention to organization are all echoed in Wood's paintings. The artist's interest in dark and light, and strongly cast shadows also references Batchelder and Wright; in such paintings as Stone City, Iowa and Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, we can see the aesthetic at work.

Perhaps the underlying philosophy of the Arts & Crafts movement contributed to Wood's incorporation of some of its elements into his work. According to Richard Guy Wilson:

"The credo of the Arts & Crafts Movement called for diversity; art should be individual and reflect both its maker and location. One method was regionalism: instead of attempting to create a homogeneous style applicable to all locations, as did the American Renaissance artists and designers, the Arts & Crafters were to reflect their own regions: the flat prairies of the Midwest, the indigenous Spanish Mission culture of the Southwest, the Dutch and early English character of the East Coast. A new art would result, one reflective of local history and tradition. And how that history and tradition was read and interpreted led to the desired diversity" (16).

Such an interpretation, of course, speaks directly to Wood's desires for his regionalist movement of painters; perhaps in a way, Wood's inclusion of Arts & Crafts design in his own paintings reflected not only his early training, but a sort of homage to an earlier group that publically had rejected the European influence, as he himself attempted to do.

 


 


Arts & Crafts style
candleholder by Wood,
1924

 


Lilies of the Alley,
made from found objects
1925

 


Quivering Aspen
1917
Painted with attention to light and dark patterning