Iowa Artist Grant Wood image from Assignment Iowa

Assignment Iowa Comes to the Classroom

May 14, 2021

From growing up on a farm in rural Iowa to becoming the father of American Gothic and founder of the Colony, as well as a faculty member at the University of Iowa, it is without a doubt that Iowa’s most well-known artist is Grant Wood.

On July 13, 1978, Iowans got a treat when the producers of Assignment Iowa told the story of Grant Wood. This rare footage once again saw the light of day in 2013 with the help of the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, a collaboration between GBH Educational Foundation and the Library of Congress.

The AAPB project seeks to preserve and make accessible significant historical content created by public media, and to coordinate a national effort to save at-risk public media before its content is lost to posterity.

With one of the AAPB project goals being to disseminate content widely by facilitating the use of archival public media content by scholars, educators, students, journalists, media producers, researchers, and the public, for the purpose of learning, informing, and teaching. 

American Archive of Public Broadcasting

The questions and supporting resources provided below were created to support the Grant Wood Country episode from Assignment Iowa. Special thanks to Maddie Cason, a senior at Valley High School for creating these classroom supports for Assignment Iowa: Grant Wood Country as part of her Scholars of Distinction project.

”Collaborating with Iowa PBS allowed me to assume the role of an educator and look at history through another lens. Ginger and Tiffany’s willingness to experiment with me is a great example of history’s relevance and importance in education today.”

Maddie Cason

Focus Question:

What was the New Deal Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) and how did this national program influence Iowa culture?

Iowa Core Social Studies:

  • SS.7.27. Analyze the role that Iowa plays in contemporary global issues
  • SS-US.9-12.21. Analyze change, continuity and context across eras and places of study from the Civil War to modern America



Supporting Materials:

The Art Story | Biography of Grant Wood
Grant Wood remains one of the most loved and most controversial of the American Regionalist painters. “American Gothic” (1930) is equally superlative, as arguably the most iconic work of modern American art, not to mention the most parodied.

University of Iowa | Grant Wood Art Colony
The Grant Wood Art Colony celebrates the life and legacy of Iowa’s most famous artist, Grant Wood. After painting one of the most recognizable images in the world, “American Gothic,” Wood joined the University of Iowa faculty.

Iowa Pathways | The Great Depression Begins (1920s)
In the early 1930s, the United States and much of the rest of the world faced severe economic problems. Many factories and stores closed, and people were out of work. Many families had little money to buy food. 

Iowa Pathways | Dry, Dusty 1936
The weather of the Great Depression years brought more bad luck to Iowa — especially in 1936.

State Historical Society of Iowa | New Deal, Primary Source Set
Shortly after the treaty that ended World War I, the world economy struggled. Germany was straddled with harsh reparation debts and their economy stalled. Farm income in the United States fell dramatically with the end of wartime price supports, and with nearly half of the U.S. population living in rural areas, American buying power plunged.

Britannica | Public Works of Art Project
The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) was the first of the U.S. federal art programs conceived as part of the New Deal during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Its purpose was to prove the feasibility of government patronage.

The Living New Deal | Artist: Grant Wood 
The Living New Deal has its roots in a book project by Dr. Gray Brechin on the WPA in California, but soon outgrew the original intent as the vast extent of New Deal public works projects became clear.

Iowa Office of the Governor | Gov. Reynolds Announces COVID-19 Arts & Cultural Recovery Program (Current Events)
Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs announced the launch of an Iowa Arts & Cultural Recovery Program in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The statewide grant program aimed to provide short-term relief to arts venues, cultural organizations and creative workers who have lost significant business or income due to the pandemic.

Student Questions

Grant Wood

  • As a mini research project, research Grant Wood. State one of his many accomplishments and tell how, with this accomplishment, he was an influence for his contemporaries. How is his accomplishment still relevant today?
  • As a mini research project, research Grant Wood’s colony. Explore one of the artists from the colony, cite their accomplishments, and explain how they were an influence for their contemporaries. How are their accomplishments still relevant today?

New Deal and the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP)

  • What was the purpose of the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP)? When answering this question, consider the changes made nationally. Additionally, consider the changes made on a state level.
  • What was Grant Wood’s role in Iowa in regards to the PWAP? Consider his notable works of art, Iowa locations that honor him and his influence on other artists.   
  • The PWAP was a New Deal program. Create an infographic to demonstrate the PWAP’s influence on Iowa’s arts and culture. Consider artists, locations, public works and types of artwork in Iowa in the 1930s.
  • The PWAP was a New Deal program. Create an infographic to demonstrate the PWAP’s influence on America’s arts and culture. Consider artists, locations, public works and types of artwork in the 1930s.

Current Events

  • Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, what issues do artists face today? Then, based on your understanding of the PWAP, compare and contrast the government programs for artists in the 1930s and today. 
  • Compare and contrast the problems faced by artists during the Great Depression in 1934 and the COVID-19 pandemic during 2020. 
  • How has the New Deal continued to influence policies for aiding citizens today?

Assignment Iowa was a magazine show produced by Iowa PBS that featured stories centered around news and featured programs on different aspects of Iowa culture and history.

About the Valley High School Diploma Programs
Valley High School offers two unique pathways for motivated, self-directed students to pursue rigor as well as to showcase their interests and passion through a capstone project. Both the Scholars of Distinction Diploma pathway and the Honors Diploma pathway nurtures and recognizes distinguished achievement. The Scholars Diploma represents a rigorous pathway in a specific discipline for students at Valley. Students who are passionate about a particular field of study may wish to demonstrate their achievements in that field through the Scholars Diploma pathway. Each discipline has established unique pathway requirements to demonstrate a high level of achievement. To receive a Scholars Diploma, students will meet all course and credit requirements for graduation as well as for the Scholars Pathway in their chosen department. Students must maintain a minimum overall grade point average of 3.5 and 4.0 in all required coursework associated with their unique Scholars pathway. Students must also complete a capstone project.