Historic Preservation in Art Education

Article excerpt

More students become interested in these issues when they have time to visually analyze a property in their artwork and when that local property is considered important or in danger. When the student artwork is complete and is entered in the contest participation in the competition can result in community recognition, awards, and a publication credit.

Blue Grass Art Contest

Central Kentucky is known as the Blue Grass region of the state, in part because of the deep blue-green shade of the fescue grass. For centuries, limestone rock in the subsoil has helped nourish the fescue that provides calcium for strong bones in the area's thoroughbred horses. The Blue Grass region is also well known for its gently rolling hills divided by patterns of white fences on "signature horse farms," with spacious stately mansions in the predominate Greek Revival style. In towns or cities across the region, central Kentucky students have many architectural styles and details from which to choose. This region boasts many 18thand 19th-century styles of American architecture. In central Kentucky each year, when the announcement concerning the Blue Grass Trust visual art competition is released, area high school art teachers immediately help their students get ready to enter the contest. The main topic of the contest is historic preservation, and many students venture out into the community to research their sites before they begin studio work. This article is about historic preservation as subject matter in art class, and the cooperation that exists between some schools and various institutions, and resources for secondary art teachers.

One art teacher uses the contest each year as the focus of an assignment for her drawing class. The students study architectural rendering and demonstrate their knowledge of perspective and various drawing techniques. She says "it's perfect" for their curriculum (Thompson, 1999, p. 18). The first place winner in 1999 was one of her students. (See Figure 1.) She proudly adds, "You're always pleased as a teacher when you have a student who wins a contest or accomplishes something for himself (Thompson, 1999, p. 18). Other area high school teachers use the contest to help students learn about historic preservation and to have them struggle with related issues in urban planning.

Historic Preservation in Art Class

These teachers use art studio activities as a vehicle to introduce difficult preservation issues such as private ownership versus public passion, saving rural properties, and determining "significance" of a property. Some students are already aware of properties at the national and regional level considered "endangered." More students become interested in these issues when they have time to visually analyze a property in their artwork and when that local property is considered important or in danger. When the student artwork is complete and is entered in the contest, participation in the competition can result in community recognition, awards, and a publication credit. For example, 13 pieces were selected in 1999 to be included in a calendar sponsored by the Blue Grass Trust. Student artwork in the calendar and in local newspaper articles attracts public attention to the historic properties pictured. A few of the student works and historic sites are described here.

The Blue Grass Trust Competition

The Blue Grass Trust in Lexington, Kentucky sponsors the annual visual art contest for historic preservation, one of the many events they sponsor as part of the celebrations planned for Historic Preservation Month each May. According to one teacher, the Trust "is educating a future community" (Thompson, 1999, p. 18) with several projects and initiatives. The visual art contest is just one of the projects.1

In doing research for the visual art entries, students study building materials, architectural style, city planning, religion, housing, politics, law, American history, local historic events, and personalities of the central Kentucky region. …