Larry Bradshaw


Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation

Educational and Family Resource

Art Type
Year Completed
Courtesy State of Iowa
Latitude & Longitude
41.591531, -93.603746
Location Description
On the east wall over the interior staircase between the first and second floors of the Iowa State Capitol
Lesson Plan
Interdisciplinary Connections
Dowloadable PDF


Extending the full width of the east wall over the staircase in the Iowa State Capitol is the great mural painting, Westward.  This painting represents early pioneers traveling through Iowa. Pioneers are led across the West by “Spirits of Enlightenment,” symbolized by the air-borne female holding an open book, and “Civilization,” symbolized by similar figures sowing grain.  The “Spirits of Stream and Electricity,” holding a steam engine and electric generator, respectively, follow the prairie schooner.

Discussion Questions

  • What is your first impression of this mural? What details do you notice?
  • How would you describe this work of art to someone who cannot see it? Try to be as specific and detailed as possible.
  • Why do you think the artist made this piece? What message do you think that she was trying to communicate?
  • What about the works physical attributes and/or location supports your hypothesis?
  • What do you find pleasing about this work? What do you find displeasing? If you could change any one thing about it, what would it be and why?
  • How does the location of this work affect how you think or feel about it? Can you imagine it anywhere else? How would it look or 'feel' different in a different space? Use your imagination and try to be specific.


Mina Rieur Weiner and Anne Day Edwin Howland Blashfield: Master American Muralist New York:W.W. Norton & Co., 2009.

The first book in decades to focus on the renowned muralist, this covers the artist as defender of the classical tradition, surveys his artistic production, observes the works from a conservator’s perspective, and discusses his legacy. It references Blashfield’s writing and leadership of numerous cultural organizations, as well as his paintings, in examining his efforts to codify the professional relationship between architects and artists and promote the blending of classic principles with American symbolism, history and contemporary realities.

Leonard N Amico. Mural Decorations of Edwin Howland Blashfield, 1848-1936. Williamstown, MA: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 1978

This book gives an overview of the muralist, an esteemed exemplar and advocate of the classical tradition.

David Stephen Heidler and Jeanne T Heidler. Manifest Destiny Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003

This book explains the origins of territorial expansion and traces the course of Manifest Destiny to its culminating moment, the conquest of Mexico and the acquisition of the western territories. It also weighs major historical interpretations that have evolved over the years, from those praising expansionism to those condemning it as imperialistic and racist. A mixture of essays, biographical portraits, primary documents, a timeline, and an annotated bibliography gives students and researchers everything they need to begin their examination of this prominent and oft-disputed concept in American history.

Internet Resources

Interview on Westward Movement Across Iowa
IPTV provides a video and transcript highlighting the monuments and artwork located at the state capitol grounds. This video will provide insight not only in the art work itself, but what they mean to Iowa’s history

Westward Expansion: The Settlers
In this excerpt from the documentary “The Gateway Arch: A Reflection of America” historians and experts talk about Westward Expansion of the United States and the role of settlers.

Art and National Identity: Analyzing Painting and Literature
This unit helps to explain the notion of national identity and to analyze the role that it played in the art of a specific period. Lesson plans, assessments and objectives are clearly outlined in this unit for middle and high school students.

Telling Stories in Art
The J. Paul Getty Museum provides this curriculum unit with a focus on connecting story telling and art. These lessons will build on color, line, gesture and symbolism of telling stories.

Westward Ho, Shall We Go! Webquest
This web based unit provides young children opportunities to learn about pioneers. This will increase comprehension skills and knowledge of the trip made west.

If You Were a Pioneer on the Oregon Trail
This EDSITEment unit provides a look at the events of the Oregon Trail. Resources from this site include images, questions, activities and cross curricular objectives.

Art Activities

Quilt-Block History of Pioneer Days with Projects Kids Can Make

The art of quilt making produced prized possessions in pioneer life. This book will lead children through paper craft projects about the art of storytelling with quilts.

Art and the Western Movement
Find art activities and examples of art during the time of the Western Movement that is appropriate for upper elementary through middle school students

Western and Pioneer Activities from The Getty
This site provides an overview of art activities including painting with red mud for children of all

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