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Feb. 13: The real 'American Gothic' house on painter Grant Wood's birthday

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Feb. 13: The 'American Gothic' house on painter Grant Wood's birthday
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(Photo credit: Joanna Poe, Flickr)

Art Institute Chicago has the original of American Gothic by Grant Wood. It's about 31 by 26 inches.

"American Gothic" is one of the world's most recognized (and parodied) paintings. But many people don't know that the Iowa home that inspired it is still standing -- and occupied by a pie-making author who sells her Pitchfork Pie Stand wares from the living room in the summertime.

Grant Wood, born in rural Iowa on Feb. 13, 1891, was on a drive one afternoon when he glimpsed a plain little white house with a Gothic-style window that tickled him because he found it "pretentious." He sketched the house on a used envelope, then created his now-famous painting in his studio, using sister Nan and his dentist, B.H. McKeeby, as the models for farmer and daughter.

The home in tiny Eldon, Iowa (pop. 900), is now a historic site -- but it's also still a dwelling. Beth Howard rents the place cheap ($250 a month, according to a 2012 Los Angeles Times article), though she has to endure the occasional intruder who ignores signs saying the interior is off-limits. She's found it a healing place after the death of her husband, she says.

Now more than 125 years old, the house hasn't changed much at all since Wood's painting. Photos reveal that the State Historical Society of Iowa and Beth Howard have been careful to preserve its look, down to the curlicue-trimmed curtain in the famous window.

On This Day, previously:

Feb. 12: On this day 205 years ago, Lincoln was NOT born in this log cabin
Feb. 10: A look at the late Shirley Temple's childhood home
Nov. 14: On Monet's 173rd birthday, we visit his Giverny home in pictures

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