Unit 2: Rural Life in the Early 20th Century

This unit explores the lifeways in and around Creelsboro, a rural early 20th-century Kentucky community in southcentral Kentucky. It also explores how documentary art can be used to bring the past to life. Students consider what life was like in their own community in the early 20th century and how they might share that story.

Creelsboro School, circa 1920s. Credit: The Porter Family.

Through interviews, period photography, documentary art, and a short video (Rural Life), Unit 2’s introduction, entitled Rural Life in the Early 20th Century, offers students six different but integrated activities in:

  • social studies -researching local history using primary and secondary sources and investigating the impacts of industrialization.
  • media art – analyzing how the components of a video work together; brainstorming, creating, and refining and original video, including creating a script.
  • visual and media art – exploring how documentary art communicates information and adding visual imagery to multimedia presentations; creating original works of documentary art; documenting artisans who continue handmade traditions; and making a traditional craft.
Documents for Rural Life in the Early 20th Century

For teachers:

For students:

Irvin Store, 1920s – Documentary Art Interactive

The Irvin Store, 1920s – Documentary Art Interactive gives students the opportunity to explore Irvin Store, 1920s, Dennis Thrasher’s documentary art painting that portrays the bustling activity around one of Creelsboro’s general stores. It offers 14 activities in visual art, visual art and theater, media art, music, reading and writing and social studies.

Teachers lead their students in analyzing the artwork and interpreting the narrative, including through the video producer’s instructions to the artist; a short script selection from the video; and this painting’s three vignettes. Then students are asked to consider how they can share the story of their own communities through art. Additional readings and activities, linked to the three vignettes that highlight scenes in the painting, permit them to dig deeper.

Documents for Irvin Store, 1920s – Documentary Art Interactive

For teachers:

For students (also accessible through the interactive):

How to Use Unit 2

To use Unit 2, instructors may begin with Rural Life in the Early 20th Century or the Irvin Store, 1920s – Documentary Art Interactive. Teachers are encouraged to select the activities that best meet their instructional needs. They also may choose to include activities and essays available in the supplementary resource materials:  Dennis Thrasher – Documentary Artist and Documenting Local History Using Primary Sources.

Detail from Irvin Store, 1920s by Dennis Thrasher (2018).

Begin Rural Life in the Early 20th Century by asking students to watch the video (Rural Life), then read the Background Reading. Use one or more of the Discussion Questions to lead classroom or small group discussions, then select one or more of the social studies, media art, or visual and media art activities.

To use the Irvin Store, 1920s – Documentary Art Interactive, begin by projecting the Powerpoint of the entire painting. Use the Discussion Questions to arouse students’ interest. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions – they are designed to engage students in observing closely, using visual evidence to support their claims, and developing questions of their own. Then, ask students to read the Background Reading and use one or more of the associated visual art, media art, or reading and writing activities linked to the entire painting – including Directions to the Artist (the actual directions provided to the artist by the video producer) and Video Script for Rural Life.

Students begin by examining the whole painting through four introductory visual art, media art, and reading and writing activities: analyzing and interpreting meaning in artistic work; comparing the final painting to the video producer’s instructions to the artist; critiquing the artist’s style, intent and success; exploring how perspective influences perception of subject matter; and creating and presenting their own documentary art linked to their community’s history.

Next, instructors can access the three lesson sets, linked to three vignettes – small illustrations – that are part of the larger Irvine Store, 1920s painting. Students can roll over the painting with a mouse to access each vignette and associated lesson. Teachers can use the links below for teacher versions of each lesson. From left to right, and from top to bottom, these vignettes are:

Detail from Irvin Store, 1920s by Dennis Thrasher (2018).

Lesson Set 1: Saturday Social Life – students consider how their social life compares to the social life of teens in the 1920s, analyze the content of the vignette and interpret it through improvisation, then consider the impact of technology on culture (visual art, visual art and theater, social studies activities).

Lesson Set 2: Pumpkin Harvest – students compare the agrarian society of the 1920s to today’s society through visual art and creative writing. They consider the social justice implications of modern food production and distribution (visual art, reading and writing, social studies activities).

Detail from Irvin Store, 1920s by Dennis Thrasher (2018).

Lesson Set 3: Jammin’ on the Porch – students consider how soundtracks contribute to media arts, analyze the soundtracks in a segment of a documentary video, and create their own soundtrack for a media production (music, reading and writing, media art activities).