American Gothic, American Dentist

IT’S ONE OF THE most familiar images of the 20th century and one of the most famous paintings in the American art world. But did you know that the man depicted in Grant Wood’s iconic 1930 painting “American Gothic” is actually American dentist Byron Henry McKeeby?

Who Was Byron McKeeby?

Dr. Byron Henry McKeeby was born in 1867 in Birchardville, Pennsylvania in Susquehanna County. He studied dentistry at the University of Iowa. He then stayed in Iowa to open his dental practice in the town of Winthrop. He moved to practice dentistry Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1901.

It was in Cedar Rapids that one of Dr. McKeeby's dental patients, Grant Wood, approached the dentist to ask him to model in his painting.

Artist Grant Wood had found a small white wood painted house of Carpenter Gothic style, the Dibble House, which he wished to paint with “the kind of people I fancied would live in that house.” Dr. McKeeby was one of these people, along with the artist’s sister, Nan.

Dr. McKeeby held a pitchfork while the artist’s sister wore a colonial print apron to add a touch of 19th century Americana. Since Dr. McKeeby was 62 and Nan was 32, it is implied that Nan is the farmer’s daughter.

Wood entered the painting in a contest at the Art Institute of Chicago, for which he won a $300 prize. The Art Institute of Chicago later bought the painting, making Dr. McKeeby’s face one of the most recognized in the art world. The painting still hangs there today.

American Gothic, American Dentist.

-Dr. Ann Marie Gorczyca
Orthodontist, Gorczyca Orthodontics
Antioch, California

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