Manifestations of America from Two Museum Collections

Article excerpt

Interested in reforming schools through the implementation of a comprehensive arts education, Transforming Education through the Arts Challenge (TEAC) provides support and encouragement for educators to partner with community arts organizations. The following Instructional Resource reflects a group effort made up of two TETAC teachers and three museum educators from two museums, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, and the Hunter Museum of American Art, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in partnership with the Southeast Center for Education in the Arts, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Working collaboratively, the team selected a theme based on language arts, social studies, and visual arts standards for 4th and 5th grades. Manifestations ofAmerica presents four views of American experience-artist responses to nature, society, and technological advances. The goal is for students to analyze, compare, and contrast how artists define America. Camel's Hump From the Western Shore of Lake Champlain

by John F. Kensett

About the Period

Prior to the Civil War, artists of the American landscape, known as the Hudson River School, sought to convey its expanse, glory, and infinite potential. The landscape and its conquest, often without regard for natural consequences, helped define the young nation's identity. Artists created depictions of reverence but with the detailed care of naturalists, providing an American geography enhanced by its majesty.

About the Artist

John Frederick Kensett (1816-1872) was born in Cheshire, Connecticut, into a family of skilled engravers. His training in graphics rendered him an exceptional draftsman. Eschewing the craft of engraving, Kensett aspired to become a painter. He spent 7 years in Europe studying the Old Masters. This experience profoundly enriched his understanding of painting, but Kensett remained steadfast in his adherence to the American luminist-realist tradition. The artist's work reflects superb draftsmanship, a refined sense of composition, overpowering aerial perspective, and an exquisite palette. Whether across valleys or wide expanses of water, the artist's broad vistas possess a shimmering effect of light that conveys a definite sense of hour and mood.

About the Artwork

Kensett began sketching in the Lake Champlain area in the summer of 1848, and Camel's Hump resulted from these early sketches. The view in the painting is taken from above the village of Westport on the New York shore of Lake Champlain. The cleared land, wagon traveling along the dirt road, and boats on the lake all attest to the spread of civilization across the American land. Set against the imposing background, Kensett's composition alludes to the tenuous balance between the pristine wilderness and encroaching domestication. The warm, golden tonality of the sparkling summer day reiterates the aura of optimism that depictions such as this were meant to convey. Through works such as Camel's Hump, American landscape painting selectively helped to define and elevate the national consciousness of who and what it was.

Activities

1. In a large group discussion, express how the geography of a region affects its culture. What is a "manifestation"? How does this work represent a manifestation of America?

2. In small groups, research world events, art styles and movements, and historical background information during Kensett's life. Create a group visual interpretation of the information gathered.

3. Examine information about the Hudson River School artists by using Internet resources, books, magazines, encyclopedias, and others. Place each artist on a timeline with names and dates. Do the artists have similar interpretations of America?

4. As John Kensett's pencil studies became the basis for his picturesque landscape paintings, ask students to keep sketchbooks of pencil drawings and notes for a week recording a visual description of the school's natural environment. …