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The 25 best Grant Wood places to visit in Iowa

American Gothic-style windows in front of the Grant Wood Rest Area's visitor center
American Gothic-style windows are everywhere at the Grant Wood Rest Area.

An oversized lancet window guards the northbound Interstate 380 Grant Wood Rest Area between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City in Eastern Iowa. The window frame is instantly recognizable as a tribute to American Gothic, America’s most famous artwork.

Images of the man and woman in the painting denote each restroom’s gender preference. Another Gothic window changes colors with the seasons. A large Iowa quarter shows his painting Arbor Day, depicting a one-room schoolhouse. The “5 Turner Alley” sign references his Cedar Rapids art studio.

Table of contents: Stay in Cedar Rapids American Gothic House | Anamosa | Grant Wood Art Gallery | Riverside Cemetery | Anamosa Penitentiary | Stone City | Stone City Art Colony | Freedom RockStone City, Iowa, buildings | Gothic House Replica | Cedar Rapids | Memorial Window | Grant Wood Studio | Cedar Rapids Museum of Art | Grant Wood Porch | Perrine Gallery | Grant Wood Trail | American Gothic Barn | Iowa City | Grant Wood Art Colony | University of Iowa | Iowa State University | Figge Museum | Dubuque Art Museum

Nighttime view of USBank and other buildings in Downtown Cedar Rapids
Downtown Cedar Rapids from the DoubleTree Hotel

Stay in Cedar Rapids

Stay at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel (ad) in Cedar Rapids. Dine in the 350 First Restaurant and Lounge on the 16th floor.

Nan Wood Graham guards the women's restroom door with a mural of Grant Wood's Stone City, Iowa, behind her
References to Grant Wood’s life and work are everywhere at the Grant Wood Rest Area.

1. Grant Wood Rest Area

The rest area is the first of 25 stops in the ultimate guide to Grant Wood in Iowa. Our next stop is the house that inspired his most famous painting.

Roxie’s reliable report: The rest area is only accessible from I-380’s northbound side. Double back at the Swisher exit to reach it from the southbound side.

My dad and I drove through Iowa after an ice storm in January 2010. The ice-and-snow-encrusted fields reminded me of Grant Wood’s paintings. When I saw the sign for the Grant Wood Scenic Byway, I vowed to explore Grant Wood sites in Iowa. My dream came true with the help of Meet Ottumwa, Visit Quad Cities, Cedar Rapids Tourism, and Travel Dubuque, but all opinions are my own.

The white American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa, with a wraparound porch and a lancet window on the second story
The American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa

2. The American Gothic House Center, Eldon, Iowa

In 1930, Wood drove by the house that American Gothic made famous. He immediately decided to paint the house and its imagined inhabitants. The resultant painting of his sister, Nan Wood Graham, and his dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby, made him one of Iowa’s most famous sons. American Gothic‘s fame and innumerable parodies rival Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa

Roxie’s reliable report: The Dibble Family was the original owner, so the house appears as the Dibble House on the National Register of Historic Places.

American Gothic placed third in an Art Institute of Chicago contest, but the people of Iowa believed the painting characterized them as “pinched, grim-faced” and “puritanical.” As the Great Depression deepened, people’s opinions changed. Instead of mockery, the painting showed Iowans’ steadfastness in adversity. 

Reenacting American Gothic in front of the American Gothic House, Eldon, Iowa
Sarah Elizabeth of Creative and Ambitious and I pretend to pose for Grant Wood at the American Gothic House.

Roxie’s reliable report: The visitor center explains the house, the painting, and the artist. Watch a video or a cartoon, and visit the gift shop. Dress up in American Gothic costumes and head to the adjacent photo-op area. The area includes a selfie stand. The photo area is open all the time.

Brick Anamosa, Iowa, city road sign proclaims that it's in Grant Wood Country.
Anamosa proudly announces that it’s in Grant Wood Country.

3-4. Anamosa, Iowa, the birthplace of Grant Wood

American artist Grant Devolson Wood’s life began in Anamosa, and he’s buried in the city’s Riverside Cemetery. He was born on February 13, 1891, the second child of Francis M. and Hattie (Weaver) Wood. The farmhouse four miles east of Anamosa is no longer extant, but the Antioch School he attended is still standing. Francis died when Grant was 10 years old. His death forced Hattie Wood to sell her farm and move to Cedar Rapids, 30 miles away.

Grant Wood's portrait and art works in the Grant Wood Gallery, Anamosa, Iowa
Interior of Anamosa’s Grant Wood Art Gallery

The Anamosa signs announce that visitors have entered “Grant Wood Country.” The Grant Wood Art Gallery in downtown Anamosa includes prints of Wood’s famous paintings, an exhibit on the Stone City Art Colony, Wood-designed furniture, and a gift shop.

A whimsical wrought-iron parody of the American Gothic window
Look for the large wrought-iron Gothic window.

Roxie’s reliable report: Look for the fanciful American Gothic window recreation where Main, Locust, and Elm Streets meet.

A marble lion rests atop the Wood family marble block in Riverside Cemetery.
The Wood family marker

Riverside Cemetery

The Riverside Cemetery proclaims that it’s the “burial site of Grant Wood.” A large resting lion atop a white block with “Wood” in raised letters proclaims the family plot. However, finding the artist’s marker is tricky because the Woods’ and Weavers’ graves are mingled.

Grant Wood's marker beneath a metal corn cob and an American flag with other funerary art behind it
Grant Wood’s marker

Grant Wood’s stone is beside the road, near his grandfather Devolson Weaver, and his sister Nan. A map shows where Wood’s grave lies within the cemetery.

The Victorian-style stone Anamosa Penitentiary
A small museum is behind the Anamosa Penitentiary.

Bonus: Anamosa Penitentiary

Anamosa is also famous for its 150-year-old penitentiary. Some of its walls stand 24 feet high and are almost 8 feet thick at the base. The walls extend 17 or 18 feet into the ground.

The small museum behind the Victorian-era structure tells some of its stories. John Wayne Gacy is Anamosa’s most notorious inmate. Iowa released him in 1970, and Gacy returned to Chicago. There, the Killer Clown murdered 33 boys, and Illinois executed him in 1994.

Stone City, est. 1952, sign
Wood brought his friends and students to Stone City in the 1930s.

5-9. Stone City, home of Grant Wood’s Stone City Art Colony

Stone City, seven minutes west of Anamosa, is near the Grant Wood Scenic Byway‘s western terminus, which extends to Bellevue on the Mississippi River. The 80-mile route shows off the patchwork of beautiful rolling hills and limestone bluffs that inspired Wood’s Regionalist style. 

Roxie’s reliable recommendationDownload the map to explore the byway.

Overalls All Over at the General Store Pub's patio
Enjoy al fresco dining on The General Store Pub’s patio.

Stone City Art Colony

American Gothic‘s success spawned interest in Regionalist paintings. Another famous painting, 1930’s Stone City, Iowa, is an idealized scene of Eastern Iowa life. Wood decided to exploit the public’s interest and live an artistic life. He established the Stone City Art Colony with lifelong friend and artist Marvin Cone. Wood brought Regionalists Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry to teach at the summer art colony. The colony gained national attention but went bust in 1933 as the Great Depression worsened.

Grant Wood, a tank, a man plowing a furrow with two oxen, and an Iowa Highway 2 sign painted on a Freedom Rock beneath a shelter.
The Jones County Freedom Rock

Grant Wood on the Jones County, Iowa, Freedom Rock

The Jones County Freedom Rock stands in a park on Stone City’s eastern edge. It was the 98th Freedom Rock that Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II painted. He depicted Wood next to a World War I tank. 

Related: Visit Freedom Rocks in Winterset, Fort Dodge, Ottumwa, and LeClaire.

Next to Wood, Lyman Dillon and a pair of oxen dig a furrow to create Military Highway 1, the first federally funded highway west of the Mississippi River. Dillon plowed the furrow to guide the road builders for 86 miles from Dubuque to Iowa City, passing through Anamosa. 

Jones County veterans from every American war stand behind a folded American flag on the rock’s opposite side.

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Bunting draped on a cast-iron fence in front of the General Store Pub, Stone City, Iowa
The General Store Pub

Buildings in the Grant Wood painting Stone City, Iowa

Wood lived upstairs in the 1897 General Store Pub. He immortalized it in his 1930 painting Stone City, Iowa. Part of St. Joseph’s Church appears at the left edge. The artwork, now in Omaha’s Joslyn Art Museum, features Wood’s signature curvaceous lines, peppered with gumdrop haystacks and lollipop trees. Tour the other stone buildings with the Stone City Foundation.

A shed turned into an American Gothic House replica
The Stone City American Gothic House Replica

American Gothic House Replica

The Stone City Foundation turned a shed behind the municipal sign into a selfie station. Mimic American Gothic within sight of St. Joseph Church.

The two story white frame Grant Wood House with dark shutters and an American flag in Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Grant Wood’s boyhood home

10-19. Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Grant Wood’s longtime home

Hattie Wood bought 318 14th St. NE, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for $2,580 in 1902. Wood attended Polk Elementary (1500 B Ave. NE) in his early childhood, where his teacher, Emma Gratten, encouraged his artistic abilities. He won third prize from Crayola for a drawing of oak leaves during his high school years. Cone and Wood began their friendship at Washington High School (400 block of Fourth Ave. SE). They created theater sets and illustrated the school magazine. The young artists also installed exhibitions at the new Cedar Rapids Art Association, later the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Many Wood and Weaver family members lived in the neighborhood, along with Dr. McKeeby of American Gothic. See their homes in the Grant Wood Neighborhood Walking Tour.

Teacher in Cedar Rapids, student in Europe

After high school graduation, Wood enrolled in various art schools. In 1916, he returned home to help his ill mother and shore up her finances. He enlisted in the Army in 1917. He served at Camp Dodge near Des Moines, then transferred to the American Expeditionary Force Camouflage Division in Washington, DC. When the war ended, he taught art at Jackson Junior High (Fourth Ave. and 12th St.) 

From 1920-28, Wood’s patrons John B. Turner and his son David Turner sent Wood to study in Europe. He took a brief summer trip to Paris in 1920. Then he spent a year abroad in 1923-24. He studied briefly at the Académie Julian, Paris. Between his trips, he taught at McKinley Junior High (620 10th St. SE). When he left France for the final time, he said he had gone to France to discover Iowa. 

Roxie’s reliable report: Bettendorf, Cedar Rapids, and Iowa City all have Grant Wood Elementary Schools.

Grant Wood's stained glass masterpiece in Cedar Rapids, Iowa
The Memorial Window

The stained-glass Memorial Window at the Veterans Memorial Building

Cedar Rapids commissioned a 10,000-piece stained-glass window as a centerpiece in the new Veteran’s Memorial Building. A female figure wearing a pink gown and cap of liberty is the centerpiece of Wood’s Memorial Window. She represents the Republic holding a palm branch of peace and a laurel wreath of victory. 

Stained-glass private soldiers from the Civil War, Spanish-American War, and World War I, Grant Wood, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Detail of the second trio of private soldiers

The 24-foot tall by 20-foot wide window’s base depicts private soldiers from each American war to that time. Naval rating insignia, Army qualification badges, and Marine eagle, globe, and anchor badges form the arched window’s border. 

Wood won the commission even though he had no stained-glass experience. He drew full-scale sketches to perfect his ideas. With his design prepared, he traveled to Munich, Germany, to color the glass. While there, Wood examined Flemish paintings. The Flemish attention to detail influenced Wood’s mature style.

Roxie’s reliable report: To see the window at its best, visit before noon. Two rooms tell the stories of Iowans from the Spanish-American War to the Cold War. A replica of the Iwo Jima Memorial stands outside.

The gray Veterans Memorial Building, Cedar Rapids
A Cenotaph and Eternal Flame decorate the top of the Veterans Memorial Building.

Cedar Rapids installed the Eternal Flame atop the building in 2000, and a model stands near the Memorial Window. The Cenotaph, which recalls the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, is below the flame tower.

The Grant Wood Studio and Armstrong Visitors center, a two-story red brick building topped with dormers and a cupola.
The Grant Wood Studio staircase is on the building’s right side.

Grant Wood Studio

The Turners offered their garage’s second floor to be Wood’s studio in 1924, so he could quit teaching. His mother (and sometimes his sister) joined him. Now, the garage is the Esther and Robert Armstrong Visitor Center, and the upstairs remains as Wood left it.

A narrow galley kitchen with numerous shelves and cupboards in the Grant Wood Studio
Wood changed the original staircase into this galley kitchen.

The center is accessible, but the studio is not. He had to install a bathroom and kitchen to live in the space. The stairwell became a galley kitchen. He turned the hay chute into a sunken tub. A pull-out rack held his canvases, including American Gothic and The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. The occupants slept beneath the eaves. Because the apartment opened on the alley, Wood designated his address as 5 Turner Alley.

The Woods nearly died in the studio when a fire broke out in 1932. Defective wiring in the storeroom nearly trapped the trio, and both Grant and Nan sustained burns. Their mother escaped unscathed. Smoke and water heavily damaged the studio, but most of Wood’s works escaped. He lived there until 1935.

Wood takes on the DAR

Look for the Daughters of the American Revolution painting. The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) disapproved of using German glass in a World War I memorial. In response, Wood painted three disapproving DAR members sneering at Washington Crossing the Delaware. German artist Emmanuel Leutze painted the work using the Rhine for the Delaware and German soldiers as models for the Continental Army. 

Roadie with Overalls All Over, a parody of American Gothic
Roadie perches between the Overalls All Over in the Armstrong VIsitors Center.

Armstrong Visitors Center

Gather information about the studio, pose with Overalls All Over, a sculpted American Gothic parody, and view vintage photos of the studio and an article about the fire.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Look for more Overalls All Over in Cedar Rapids.

Cedar Rapids Museum of Art entrance
Cedar Rapids Museum of Art entrance

Cedar Rapids Museum of Art

The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art boasts the nation’s largest collection of Wood’s art. It’s so extensive that the museum must rotate the works. Works include Woman with Plant, a portrait of his mother; two Lilies of the Alley sculptures; and 5 Turner Alley’s door with a clock face. 

Three faces on a finial above the back railing reading, "The Way of the Transgressor is Hard."
Grant Wood’s Mourner’s Bench

The Mourner’s Bench‘s back rail proclaims, “The Way of the Transgressor Is Hard.” Three sad-faced finials finish the rail’s support posts. The bench sat outside the McKinley principal’s office.

The museum also collected Marvin Cone’s art. Cone and Wood traveled abroad together, then Cone taught at Coe College for four decades.

Brucemore at sunset with its gardens in the foreground
The Brucemore Mansion and Gardens at sunset (Visit Cedar Rapids)

The Grant Wood Porch at Brucemore

Irene Douglas of Brucemore preferred to commission local artists like Grant Wood. Because night breezes were a pleasant alternative during Iowa summers, Douglas commissioned Wood to construct and decorate a sleeping porch for her daughter, Barbara.

Five doors reveal explanations of Wood's sleeping porch process surrounded by his vines and animals.
A framed display explains how Wood created the sleeping porch’s plasterwork.

Wood covered the porch’s brick walls in a plaster relief covered with curving vines, flowers, birds, and animals. To make the design, he applied a thin layer of plaster. After it dried, Wood added additional plaster to shape the raised designs. He painted the accents last. 

Roxie’s reliable report: Before they moved to Brucemore, the Douglas family sold their carriage house to the Turners, who provided Wood his upstairs studio. Take your time when exploring Brucemore. The 21-room mansion is filled with gorgeous artwork, and the surrounding grounds offer numerous flowers. 

Selfie station of Wood's milkman, cow, and barn painting
Reenact Wood’s milkman painting in the Perrine Gallery selflie station.

Perrine Gallery, Stewart Memorial Library, Coe College

Grant Wood grew up a few blocks from Coe College, which holds its Grant Wood collection in the Perrine Gallery in the Stewart Memorial Library. In 1956, the college obtained the six-painting Fruits of Iowa murals. Eugene C. Eppley commissioned Wood to create murals for the Cedar Rapids Montrose Hotel’s coffee shop. When the hotel changed hands, Eppley loaned the murals to the college. Twenty years later, the Eppley Foundation donated them to Coe.

Other Wood paintings include a fruit basket and Stork, a Japanese-style print. The skinny Cone appears in Wood’s Malnutrition. Cone painted a chunky Wood in Overstimulation, but that painting is lost.

Roxie’s reliable report: Wood said, “All the good ideas I’ve ever had came while I was milking a cow.” Grab one of those ideas by posing as a milker in the gallery’s selfie station.

More Wood works in Cedar Rapids

Wood, a Mason, created The First Three Degrees of Freemasonry at the Iowa Masonic Lodge & Museum Grand Lodge of Iowa. More Wood works are at Douglas Mansion and Cedar Rapids Area Geneaology Library

Pond surrounded by grassy banks with a small windmill, picnic shelter
The Grant Wood Trail terminates at this pond.

Grant Wood Trail

If all those stops haven’t provided enough steps, wander the 2.8-mile Grant Wood Trail from Waldo’s Rock Park to Oxley Road. The trail passes below Highway 13’s overpass in Marion.

The American Gothic House and characters painted on the American Gothic Barn
Take a picture in front of the American Gothic Barn.

American Gothic Barn

Grab one more selfie at the American Gothic Barn near Palisades Kepler State Park, east of Cedar Rapids. The barn comes up quickly after the state park’s turnoff. 

1142, Grant Wood's red brick home with green shutters and a green door
Grant Wood called this house 1142. (Boscophotos/Wikimedia)

20-21. The end of the road: Grant Wood in Iowa City

Wood became the New Deal’s Iowa Public Works of Art Program (PWAP) Director in Iowa City. He commuted from Cedar Rapids for a year before moving to Iowa City in 1934. When PWAP concluded, Wood became an associate professor of fine arts at the University of Iowa. 

Two red brick houses divided by a driveway with green fences and posts reading "Grant Wood Art Colony"
Part of the Grant Wood Art Colony, Iowa City.

1142: From artist’s reclamation project to the Grant Wood Art Colony

He purchased a 19th-century Italianate brick home at 1142 E. Court St. for $3,500 and moved in with his mother. He called the house “1142,” and he spent large sums to restore it. He even designed its furniture. A year later, he married Sara Sherman Maxon (PDF), an actress and singer. Hattie Wood died a few months afterward. The house appeared in 1939’s Parson Weems’ Fable in 1939. Wood declared that the restoration was his “finest artistic achievement.”

However, Maxon’s stay didn’t last, and the couple divorced in 1939. She became a housekeeper in New York before moving to the San Juan Islands in Washington State.

Jim Hayes bought 1142 in 1975 and then collected other neighborhood homes. They now house the Grant Wood Art Colony.

Red brick building with a colonnade in Iowa City
The colonnade is the only portion of the Art and Art History Building that Wood knew.

Grant Wood at the University of Iowa

Strangely, nothing on campus bears the name of the most famous University of Iowa professor. The explanation may lie with a report in the 1934 Art & Art History Building’s cornerstone. The report may describe the professors’ animosity. The department’s Modernist professors described his Regionalist works as reactionary, even “communazi.”

Despite his fellow faculty members’ opinions, the students lauded his teaching. For example, sculptor and painter Elizabeth Catlett was the first Black woman to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree at Iowa. Wood taught her to paint what she knew best, and he ensured that her race would not prevent her from receiving her MFA degree.

Persistent rumors said his marriage had been a sham, which led to an uncomfortable conclusion. The professors used the rumors to push out Wood. Instead, the university president reorganized the art department, putting Wood in another division. However, the move came too late. Wood had pancreatic cancer and died on February 12, 1942, a few minutes before his 51st birthday.

22. Grant Wood at Iowa State University

Wood painted murals for Iowa State while he was the PWAP Director. (Ironically, he painted them in a drained pool at the University of Iowa, the Cyclones’ bitter rival.) Daniel Webster said, “When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization.” Webster’s quote inspired the Parks Library murals

Other Arts Follow is in the stairway from the Grant Wood Mural Lobby to the second floor’s Upper Rotunda. The paintings represent Iowa State’s eight divisions in 1934. Wood and his team completed the agriculture panels on the stairwell’s west side first. The paintings portrayed a “streamlined rural paradise” without agriculture’s drawbacks, like market risks, adverse weather, and crop diseases.

Two years later, Wood designed the three panels of Breaking the Prairie in the library’s Grant Wood Heritage Area downstairs. Francis McCray directed seven art students in a special studio. The team meticulously checked each painting’s details.

The Periodical Room was supposed to get seven more panels celebrating the fine arts, but the project never materialized.

Unfired glazed ceramic service station and auto parts store in the Figge Museum
Grant Wood’s bust and self-portraits are on both sides of Adolph Rosenblatt’s Imperial Auto Parts

23. Grant Wood Archives at the Figge Museum, Davenport

Nan Wood Graham donated her scrapbook collection to the City of Davenport Art Collection, now at Davenport’s Figge Museum. The museum also received Wood-designed furniture and personal items like his glasses and the cameo from American Gothic. Another scrapbook, nearly lost, contains the Memorial Window’s drawings. Another collection includes American Gothic parodies.

On one wall, Wood’s self-portrait is surrounded by works like Studies for Fall Plowing and Iowa Cornfield. Cone appears in the same gallery with his Cedar River paintings. Paul Fiene’s Bust of Grant Wood sits next to Return from Bohemia, Grant’s dust jacket of his proposed autobiography.

Benton’s Hailstorm is terrifying as is Curry’s desiccated Kansas Wheat Ranch. It could be the model for Uncle Henry and Auntie Em’s farm.

Related: Explore Oz destinations in Kansas, and experience Hero Street USA in nearby Silvis, Illinois.

Edouard Duval-Carrié's Endless Flight
Edouard Duval-Carrié’s Endless Flight symbolizes the Caribbean Sea’s floating islands and the feeling of being uprooted.

Roxie’s reliable report: While I visited the Figge for their Grant Wood collection, the museum has much more to offer. I recommend the Haitian and Spanish Vice-Regal displays, and the Frank Lloyd Wright interior design exhibit.

Related: Stay in the Park Inn Hotel in Mason City. It’s the only remaining Wright-designed hotel.

Sculpture and streetscape in front of the Dubuque Art Museum
The Dubuque Museum of Art

24-25. From occasional exhibitor to exhibition king in Dubuque

In May 1920, Cone and Wood exhibited their works in the Roshek Bros. Department Store, 700 Locust St., Dubuque. The former store is now office space.

Rococo and Neo-Classical motifs on the two-panel door with Appraisal in the background
The door shows the range of Wood’s work

From department store to Dubuque Museum of Art

Instead of the store, Wood now takes center stage at the Dubuque Art Museum. Wood’s interior designs included the Dubuque Art Museum’s Van Vechten-Shaffer Door. He painted the two-panel door in a pastiche of late Rococo and early Neo-Classical styles in 1929. 

Wood’s aunt Matilda Peet inspired Victorian Survival. She wears a black dress in her sepia-toned portrait and a black band bisects her neck. But a candlestick telephone’s raised mouthpiece seems to taunt the composed Peet. Look for Wood’s studio telephone beside the painting.

In Appraisal, we read the impressions of two women and a chicken in an Iowa farmyard. The women don’t impress each other, and the determined hen is unlikely to become an easy meal.

Green and white cable car rides up the bluffs from Downtown Dubuque below
The Fenelon Place Elevator whisks passengers from Downtown Dubuque to the bluffs above it.

Roxie’s reliable report: Visit the fanciful white Washington Park gazebo near the museum. Before you leave downtown Dubuque, ride the amazing Fenelon Place Elevator.  The 296-foot incline railway carries passengers from Fourth Street to Fenelon Place. A patio at the railway’s head house provides a magnificent view of downtown Dubuque, the Mississippi River, and three states. One of my favorite museums is the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium beside the river.

​So go beyond a selfie at the American Gothic House and explore Iowa through Grant Wood’s eyes.

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