Picturing America

Find innovative ways to integrate works of art into your teaching with this collection of resources based on video from Picturing America on Screen. The artworks are those included in the Picturing America project of the National Endowment for the Humanities, launched in 2008 to introduce Americans to their artistic heritage and to the possibilities inherent in using art as a link to teaching and understanding America’s past.

  • Picturing America - Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Winslow Homer

    Learn about the Civil War through the art of Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Winslow Homer in this video from Picturing America on Screen.  Saint-Gaudens's Robert Shaw Memorial in Boston Common depicts a resonant, courageous act of the Civil War, in which the first regiment of African American soldiers recruited in the North for the Union Army fought a doomed battle on a South Carolina fortress.

    The Winslow Homer image of a soldier returning to his farm after the Civil War in The Veteran in a New Field refers to both the desolation of war and the country’s hope for the future. While the farmer’s scythe called to mind the bloodiest battles fought—and lives lost—in fields of grain, the bountiful crop of golden wheat could also be seen as a Christian symbol of salvation.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Picturing America - The Brooklyn Bridge

    The Brooklyn Bridge was hailed as a marvel of American engineering ingenuity. When it was built in 1883, its two towers were the tallest structures in the Western Hemisphere. Photographer Walker Evans turned its bold form and sweeping lines into a classic American image, both an icon of modernity and a monument that belongs to history.

    To Joseph Stella, this structure was the “shrine containing all the efforts of the new civilization of America.” His Futurist rendition of the Brooklyn Bridge was inspired by a night alone on its promenade, surrounded by New York’s noises and pulsating colors, feeling both hemmed in and spiritually uplifted by the city.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Picturing America - The Chrysler Building

    The competitive climate of 1920s Manhattan drove the creation of the Chrysler building, which ultimately surpassed even the Eiffel Tower in height. William Van Alen made it distinctive through inventively applied Art Deco design, using machine-age motifs such as hubcaps and radiator caps, and American eagle heads in place of traditional gargoyles.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Picturing America - Dorothea Lange

    In this video from Picturing America on Screen, cinematographer Dyanna Taylor shares her earliest childhood influence: her grandmother, the renowned photographer Dorothea Lange. Taylor travels to the Library of Congress to see her grandmother's collection of photographs, including Migrant Mother, an iconic image of the 1930s. The photograph shows a poverty-stricken mother with her children and is best known for its emotional imagery and symbolic representation of Depression-era America.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Migrant Mother: Documenting American Life in the 1930s Through Photography

    In this media-rich lesson designed to support interdisciplinary learning in English language arts and United States history, students are introduced to documentary photography through Dorothea Lange's photograph Migrant Mother. Through the iconic photograph, students gain a deeper understanding of the conditions facing Americans during the Depression and specifically how documentary photography was used to support the change in social policy advocated by President Roosevelt through his New Deal programs.

    Grades: 8-12
  • Picturing America - Jacob Lawrence and Martin Puryear

    In this video from Picturing America on Screen, students learn about American artists Jacob Lawrence and Martin Puryear.

    Inspired by the musical storytelling of West Africa’s griots, Jacob Lawrence employed in The Migration of the Negro Panel no. 57 a painted and written narrative to invoke how African-American families “came up” from the South to settle in cities such as New York, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh. Suspended above the floor and anchored by almost undetectable wires, Martin Puryear’s 36-foot Ladder for Booker T. Washington seems to float in space as it rises and abruptly narrows at the top. The artistic metaphor of a ladder not easily climbed dovetails with the contradictions in the legacy of slave-turned-educator Booker T. Washington.

    Grades: 6-13+
  • Picturing America - Paul Revere

    Grant Wood’s The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere offers a whimsical, child-like interpretation of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s well-known poem. The artist’s desire to preserve American folklore was part of his greater scheme to forge a national identity through art and history.

    John Singleton Copley’s portrait, an idealized view of labor consistent with the democratic ideals of the New World, depicts Paul Revere as a working craftsman. At the time of this portrait, Revere was a successful silversmith—not an American hero. Still, Copley captured the heroic qualities of physical strength, moral certainty, and intelligence that allowed Revere to play a pivotal role in American history.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Picturing America - Quilts

    A thrifty way to make use of leftover fabric at a time when fabric could be scarce and expensive, quilts soon took on aesthetic and social dimensions in the hands of their makers in every region of America. Ingenuity, abstract invention, and the traces of changing American technology are revealed in the quilts handed down through families and displayed in museums today.

    Grades: 6-12