September 07, 1987 12:00 PM

In August 1930 an unknown young artist named Grant Wood sketched a little white house on a hill in Eldon, Iowa. When he later committed the house to canvas, it served as the background for American Gothic, the stern portrait of an Iowa farmer and his sour-faced daughter (actually Wood’s dentist and sister) that became an American icon.

The little white house still stands on the hill in Eldon, but its future is clouded. Owner Carl Smith, 80, who has six children, is leaning toward turning it over to the state for use as a Grant Wood museum, hoping its fame can generate income in the depressed farming area. He is worried, however, about the fate of its tenants, Kelly Haynes and his family. The Hayneses pay $50 a month to live in the three-bedroom house. “They can’t even afford the $50,” says Smith. “Their parents pay that.”

Smith is to meet with state officials in three weeks to discuss plans for the house. He doesn’t feel he can stipulate that the Hayneses must be kept on. An agitated Mrs. Haynes says, “The state better be prepared to find us another place to live. They just better. They can’t just throw us out.”

Many Eldon residents support the museum idea, as does Wood’s sister Nan, now 88. State Sen. Donald E. Gettings of Ottumwa says that a Grant Wood museum/souvenir stand “could be as popular as Mount Rushmore.” Nevertheless, Stanford University’s Wanda M. Corn opposes Gettings’ plan. Says Corn, a Grant Wood expert: “I think the house should be left in its plain state without a lot of honky-tonk, so that people can come upon it just exactly as Grant Wood did—as a simple little house at the edge of town.” The Hayneses no doubt agree.

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