Honorary Degree, Lithograph on paper, 1938
Midwestern-American artist Grant Wood was one of the most successful and iconic leaders of the American art movement known as Regionalism. Famous for his painting American Gothic, which has become not only one of the most familiar images in 20th-century American art, but also an American cultural icon, Wood’s work possesses a compositional severity and a detailed technique that derives from the Northern Renaissance paintings he witnessed during three visits to Europe.
The Saginaw Art Museum’s Honorary Degree, completed just four years before Woods' death in 1942, exhibits a multitude of similarities to American Gothic. Most notable of these is Wood’s personal style, which changed very little over the course of a decade. Veritably, the architecture, drapery, light rays, and other forms exhibit crisp, clean edges, while the figures maintain a rigid solidarity typical of linear style. In addition, the soaring window in the background, which sheds light onto the scholars beneath, suggests those found in Gothic Europe. This symbolic gesture references the fact that academic dress used by most universities in the United States is derived from academic and clerical dress common throughout medieval European universities.