By Poskas, Sara Orr; Gallagher, Michael P.
School Arts , Vol. 99, No. 8
Every October the Westover School, in Middlebury, Connecticut, calls off classes for one day, and heads for the mountains. Mountain Day, spent hiking in the Skinner Mountain Range in Hadley, Massachusetts, ends with a picnic for the entire school on top of Skinner Mountain, overlooking the beautiful Connecticut River.
We made use of Mountain Day to bring together our large-format photography and sculptures classes to work on collaborative assignment based on the work of artist Andy Goldsworthy. Goldsworthy is best known for his sculptures made of all natural, found objects (ie. leaves, ice, stone, wood). The sculptures are in no way permanent, are built outside, and gradually are reclaimed by the natural environment. In order to preserve his temporary sculptures, Goldsworthy carefully photographs them.
On Mountain Day the photography and sculpture students hiked together in pairs. After lunch, they had twenty minutes to create their first Goldsworthy sculpture. We provided the students with disposable cameras loaded with color film. The majority of the students made their trial Goldsworthy out of colorful fall leaves. The film from the disposable camera was developed after Mountain Day, and the images were later presented to the students. This served as a perfect, hands-on introduction to the project, which integrated the skills of sculpture, photography, art history, writing, and environmental appreciation.
Before students began working on the extended project, we thought it was important to provide information about the history of landscape in art from an art historian's perspective. Westover's art history teacher and the school's extensive slide collection were invaluable resources. Additionally the school's collection of art books enabled students to refer easily to the work of Goldsworthy. Westover's art history teacher gave a slide lecture on the environment and landscape in art discussing the Lascaux cave paintings, medieval manuscripts, French Impressionism, and the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Students learned that Goldsworthy is one of the first artists who created art forms where the art is landscape, as both subject and object. More simply put, Goldsworthy's art is not just about the landscape, it is the landscape.
Westover students from the two classes paired off and worked closely for three weeks designing, sketching, building and photographing their sculptures. To give them an idea of what many artists have to do in the professional world, we required the students to apply for a grant. The students wrote a grant proposal that included a calendar, statement of intent, sketches, a list of materials, and building site location, including considerations of light requirements for photographing the work. In the written proposals, students had to convince the funders that the project was clearly conceptualized. If a proposal was not well prepared, work could not begin until revisions were made and the statement of intent had a clear focus.
The beautiful fields, woods and pond on the Westover campus provided an optimal resource for building Goldsworthy-type sculptures. Students needed only to take a short walk to the school's woods where they could then begin working. As the students built their sculptures, they were careful not to damage the natural environment. …