Chapter 5. Americana

Boatmen on the Missouri

George had been working on a style that would appear to be authentic. He lived at the time in St. Louis and produced whatever he could sell. The thing is, the clichés hadn’t been worked out yet. This was a form of nostalgia for a time when people were free. Thirty years later, Mark Twain invented Huckleberry Finn.

Breezing Up (A Fair Wind)

Winslow was inspired by Hokusai, Courbet, and Monet but in this painting the waves don’t threaten. The boys relax; the man controls the sail; the catch lies in the keel. It was the country’s centennial; Homer deliberately tried to paint what he thought it meant to be an American. He painted youth and hope.

Clam digger

Edward posed this photo on a muddy shore of Puget Sound. A woman with a basket leaning over to lift her digging stick, 
a dugout canoe, mostly pulled up on the shore, low islands across the water, the cloudy sky, the distant islands, waves on the saltwater, everything is unified except for the hidden camera set up on a sturdy tripod, a heavy box of glass plates, and Edward with muddy boots, letting this moment build.

American Gothic

Grant wasn’t trying to ridicule life in rural Iowa; he just thought it incongruous that a Gothic-style window adorned a flimsy frame house. He painted the kind of people whom he thought should live in that house in admiration for them, he said. On the other hand, the prim and puritanical father and daughter would not have approved of him in spite of his behavior or talent.


Edward couldn’t help but paint the loneliness of a large city, but he made it up. The diner wasn’t actually like that, and, for the four people in it, he painted his wife and, in a mirror, himself.