Grant Wood

(American, 1892–1942)

Plaid Sweater

, 1931
Oil on Masonite, 29 1/2 x 24 1/8 in.
Gift of Mel R. and Carole Blumberg and Family, and Edwin B. Green through the University of Iowa Foundation, 1984.56


Grant Wood was born in Anamosa, Iowa, and trained at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Academie Julian in Paris, France. He taught art in the public schools of Cedar Rapids, Iowa from 1919 to 1924 and at the University of Iowa from 1935 to 1940. He is one of the major figures in American Regionalism, sharing this distinct status with Thomas Hart Benton and John Stewart Curry. The Regionalist artists reflected the isolationist attitudes of the country between World War I and World War II. This was evident in the art world as well as in politics. The artists of this historical style were rebelling against Modernist art, which was seen as elitist, foreign-influenced, and not representative of the American experience. The art produced during this period was socially-conscious, but was nationalistic and chauvinistic about life in America.

Plaid Sweater is a portrait of Mel Blumberg of Clinton, Iowa. According to Wood’s sister, Nan, he was to paint the boy, but did not want him to be wearing his "Sunday Best" for the portrait. He was discussing the matter when the subject burst into the room wearing the plaid sweater and carrying a football. Grant Wood thought this was the perfect way to represent the football player; the portrait was not to be staged, and Wood shows the boy as a heroic archetype of the "All-American Boy." Wood portrays this youth as a healthy symbol of the future and a natural extension of his environment.

Wood made sure the subject of this portrait "belonged" in his surroundings. The realism in the portrayal of the boy and the background that surround him tells the viewer many things, as portrait paintings have done since the time of the Renaissance. Wood uses pattern in two ways in this work: the repetition of shapes, colors, and lines in the boy's sweater contrast with the more organic, overlapping forms of the trees and provides order to the composition, as well as variety.