The Ottumwa Courier

December 22, 2012

Expanding education of Gothic House, Grant Wood

American Gothic House Center to expand programs, education

Courier Staff Writer

ELDON — Holly Berg hopes the American Gothic House Center will continue to grow and expand its programs and educational opportunities in the new year.

Berg, the center’s administrator, said the center continues to fundraise to accomplish new ideas buzzing around the center.

One new initiative Berg wants to start, and she said she needs educators in the area to help it launch, is “teaching trunks.”

“We love to have kids come on field trips here but sometimes they can’t get here due to funding,” Berg said.

Berg also goes to schools for presentations on the American Gothic House, but she said trunks of information and supplies that teachers could check out from the center could be taken into classrooms.

“They could be done on their own or as something they could do before they come on the field trip or after to reinforce what they learned,” Berg said. “A lot of people think it’s just art here, but it’s history, it’s agriculture. It’s so many things. I want to develop a curriculum based around American Gothic and Grant Wood.”

While people may not immediately see the connection, Berg said, she’s been reviewing Iowa Core (new standards and expectations for K-12 students) and found that math could even be incorporated.

“In kindergarten, they learn shapes,” Berg said. “Well, Wood used repeating shapes and patterns. Things you wouldn’t even think to do, I want to develop a curriculum and make teachers’ lives easier.

“We want to be an asset to the area and I think that’s one of the things we can work toward.”

Berg said she also plans to work with area Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops to figure out what they can do at the center to earn badges.

“It drives support for us, and it’s our way to support the community as well,” she said.

Berg, who started working at the center in May 2010, spent her first year looking at what the center had, sustaining it and researching what the community’s needs, wants and interests were.

“So I talked to teachers, I went into the schools,” she said. “This last year, I tried to change up the lecture series. We had to do different things, bring in different people and different topics.”

She also collaborated with other area organizations, such as the Ottumwa Area Arts Council and Pioneer Ridge Nature Center.

A new “passport program” will appear this January, started by Bravo Wapello County, a new collaboration of area organizations to attract visitors to the county that started this year.

“Different organizations, attractions and events will be on the passport,” Berg said. “If people get a certain amount of stamps on it, they get a prize.”

Bus tours to the center increased this year, including tours from Alabama, Minneapolis and Chicago, as well as many from across Iowa.

“It might not be directly evident to the community, but these people eat somewhere, they get gas somewhere,” Berg said. “Mark [Eckman, director of the Ottumwa Area Convention and Visitors Bureau] facilitated getting the bus tours to stop for lunch at the Hotel Ottumwa. It’s different ways to partner with other organizations and businesses.”

The center has also set a new record for the number of visitors in a year. So far, they’ve hit 15,200, higher than last year’s total count of 14,000.

The center is also starting an endowment fund through the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, which will launch at the beginning of the year. The goal is to fully fund the center someday to make it self-sufficient.

As an initial part of the fund, the center is raffling off a print of the American Gothic House by local artist Chris Abigt.

“The wood and glass in the frame are from pieces of the house that had to be removed this summer,” Berg said. “It’s a new fundraiser we’ve never done before.”

Tickets are $1 each or six for $5 with the drawing held on Feb. 9 during the Grant Wood Birthday Soup Smorgasbord at KD Center in Eldon.

“This summer during restoration work, we tried to keep as much as we could of the original, but anything that was unsafe or too broken to keep on the house we took,” Berg said.

While the center’s next event isn’t until February, people can still visit the center during the week and head to the website to check out the raffle item and next year’s calendar of events, Berg said.

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