Iowa Alumni Magazine | February 2005 | Reviews

Artist in Overalls: The Life of Grant Wood by John Duggleby

By Carol Harker
Artist in Overalls: The Life of Grant Wood

Growing up poor and shy and short in Middle America, Grant Wood wasn’t interested in working on the family farm. He didn’t like to sit still in school or church, but he thoroughly enjoyed wandering the rolling fields, watching his mother’s chickens scratch and peck, and imagining fantastic stories of cyclones and midnight rides—with himself the hero on the gallant steed.

From his youth, Wood was an artist. Although his father couldn’t afford a 25-cent jar of India ink, Wood used charred sticks of wood pulled from the cookstove to make drawings on cardboard that he carefully tore from cracker boxes. His mother recognized a blooming talent, while his father saw little use for the drawings or the fanciful world the young Wood imagined.

From those beginnings, Wood remained his own man, ultimately refusing to capitulate his vision before the popular styles that had swept Europe, first impressionism and then abstract art.

John Duggleby’s story is aptly directed for young readers (ages eight to 12), who might themselves feel shy or out of tune with the world their schoolmates embrace. Beautifully illustrated with large images of Wood’s work and including many of the experiences behind the paintings, the book is packed with intimate details from Wood’s life, making readers feel as if they know the Iowa boy who became the most famous artist in the United States.

Budding artists will even find illustrated instructions on how to draw a chicken!