Grant Wood was born on February 13, 1891 on his parents' farm four miles east of Anamosa, Iowa, where he spent the first ten years of his life. After his father's death in 1901, he moved to Cedar Rapids with his mother, sister Nan and brother Frank. Even though life on the farm came to an end, the sights, smells and sounds of his country childhood would be preserved forever in the faces and landscapes of his famous paintings.

Grant Wood was an exceptional artist from a very young age. When he was 14, he won third prize in a national contest for a crayon drawing of oak leaves and said that winning that prize was his inspiration to become an artist. His formal art education included two summers with Ernest Batchelder at the School of Design and Handicraft in Minneapolis and three years of occasional night classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. In October 1920, Grant Wood set out on a trip to Europe, telling his sister "the art critics and dealers want no part of American art. They think this country is too new for any culture and too crude and undeveloped to produce any artists. You have to be a Frenchman, take a French name, and paint like a Frenchman to gain recognition." It wasn't long before Grant would prove them wrong.

In 1923 Wood took a leave of absence from teaching high school art to visit Europe for a second time, where he studied at the Academie Julien in Paris. While in Europe, he experimented with Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. His exposure to modern European art played a significant role in the development of his mature style.

In 1927 Wood received a prestigious local commission from the city of Cedar Rapids to design a stained glass window for the Veterans Memorial Building. The Memorial Window stood 24x20-feet. At the base of the window were six life-size figures of soldiers of every American war, beginning with the Revolutionary War and ending with W.W. I. Above the soldiers was a woman representing the Republic. The window took two years to complete, including time spent supervising the fabrication of the glass in Munich, where the guild tradition of medieval craftsmanship continued. While in Munich, Wood admired 15th century Northern Gothic painting at the Alte Pinakothek Museum. This style had enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in Germany during the 1920s as part of a broader return to realism, objectivity referred to as "die Neue Sachlichkeit." Wood sought inspiration from the precise clarity of paintings by Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling, Albrecht Durer, and Hans Holbein. He demonstrated a tendency to render rounded forms in a simplified, schematic fashion with the clear definition of Northern Gothic painting and modern German art.