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Oh my 'Gothic'

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For some people, Grant Wood's "American Gothic" - the famous portrait of man, woman and pitchfork - is a picture of Midwestern American virtues. To others, it's a glamorizing symbol that hides the truth.

To Chuck Myer, it's the canvas for satire.

Myer, 51, grew up in Berkeley in the 1960s and '70s, directly opposed to the heartland roots "American Gothic" is supposed to convey. But that didn't keep the Rancho Cordova resident from becoming fascinated with the piece.

"I think it symbolizes the old world and the new pop-culture stance opposed to that," he said.

Myer responded by starting a collection of pictures that use "Gothic's" immediately recognizable stamp as a backdrop.

OAS_AD('Button20'); His collection of about 50 pieces of satire certainly has timing going for it. Wood finished "American Gothic" in August 1930, and it's been enjoying a 75th anniversary revival for the past month.

Few have a better sampling of the painting's satirical spinoffs than Myer. There's an "American Gothic" cookbook, a portrait of the late musician Frank Zappa, and various newsprint photos and commercials that use the familiarity of the image to hawk such things as pickles.

Though he rarely adds to his collection - Myer says image-editing software such as Photoshop has cheapened the process of making an interesting satire - his "Gothics," spread carefully on a living-room table, do make for a poignant sampling of '80s popular culture.

"It's part of the heartland; it came to symbolize the Midwest," Myer said. "Now it's part of popular culture, and it's probably the most parodied piece of American art."

Myer, an artist himself, added a piece of his own to his collection - a picture of the original, surrounded by 1970s pornography.

Like the other satirists, Myer played with the stiff image of the two people. That's what makes the image so timeless, as much history as it is art.

"It serves as a staid middle American image of the past," he said.

Myer isn't the only person taken by the image. The famous pose is popular for anniversary cards and Christmas photos, even though the original two people were the artist's sister and his dentist - not exactly the most popular combo in the scrapbook. But the lasting image of two people, united by the tight-lipped stares, has proved to be an image for couples who have stuck together.

For Bob and Lynette Baird, the pose served originally as a newlywed photo, taken right after the couple moved to Isleton from Southern California. Their new home had an old shed in the back, and the Bairds decided to capitalize.

"We saw that old shed and we thought it would make a good picture," Lynette Baird said. "The hardest part was making a stern face."

After 34 years together, the pair took another shot - another stern-faced look at the camera.

Another couple, Judy and Steve Weber, took a snapshot when they were visiting Steve Weber's childhood home in South Dakota. Taken in front of the old property, the photograph has a historic look even with such a new topic.

"It's a modern-day image," Judy Weber said. "That picture is one for the scrapbooks."

And as the old-world image continues to age, a symbol of a past that grows more distant with each passing year, it's likely that "American Gothic" will stick around for a few more years.

"It's an indelible image," Myer said. "Great art lasts for hundreds of years, and this has just been around for 75."

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