CRMS Teaching Artist and Art Teacher UniteApril 25, 2016
Where art and science meet
Not to long ago I had a delightful visit at the Camden-Rockport Middle School. Middle school art educator Kristen Andersen had invited me to learn more about a collaborative teaching unit that she had undertaken with teaching artist Tim Christensen. I met Kristen many years ago and have visited her classroom on occasion. (I love it when teachers contact me to visit and learn what they are up to. So, please contact me if you’d like to share. It gives me the opportunity to share what you are doing so others can learn from you)! I met Tim at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts five years ago where he was facilitating a clay workshop at the Maine Art Education Association conference. Tim is a full-time artist and in addition does school residency’s.
Tim and Kristen put their heads together to develop this unit. They are working with the Farnsworth Art Museum’s Stories of the Land and It’s People program. In Tim’s personal work as an artist, he is documenting the habitat of animals and microcosms that are living today that will become extinct, some in our lifetime. The way he explained it is we know that the wooly mammoth existed during the Pleistocene epoch. The mammoth was identified as an extinct species of elephant by Georges Cuvier in 1796. So, we know the mammoth existed but we are unsure of its habitat. In order to preserve this information of the animals and microcosms living today Tim has taken it upon himself to document their habitats on pottery. Animals live here and they have systems that support them – its about the interactions and relationships. And, we know that pottery has told stories for hundreds of years.
Ninety grade 7 students are participating in this undertaking along with the science teacher Patty Crawford and Language Arts teacher Katie Urey. In fact, the artwork has been created during several of Patty’s classes. (Kristen is on multiple teams so her schedule doesn’t coincide with all of Patty’s classes). The work directly relates to the grade 7 science curriculum and students are writing haiku poems in Katie’s classes.
Each student is responsible for 3 clay tiles about 2″x4″. They started by drawing a name out of a hat of an organism and researched it. The tiles were underglazed black on raw clay. The drawings are being carved on one tile to create various shades and textures by using a variety of marks (lines, crosshatching, stipples to name a few). The technique is called sgraffito on porcelain. A second tile has the facts that they learned about their animal and the third has their haiku poem. Each tile has two small holes at the top which will be used to hang the tiles on copper rods that will be hanging between wooden braces. It will be like an abacus. The exhibit will be an educational tool so others can read and learn and try to match up the fact tiles with the image tiles.
The connected unit has been supported by principal Jamie Stone who moved to Camden-Rockport Middle School from an expeditionary school in Baltimore. They’ve connected with the Coastal Mountains Land Trust who is very excited about the work. They set up locations and field trips so the students could visit a location where their organism actually exists. This study is providing an opportunity for students to become stewards of the land (in their back yard). On the field trip many of the students actually saw them. The land trust plans to exhibit the traveling show on location this summer.
This unit is a great example of how the expertise of both the art educator and teaching artist are critical. Tim’s expertise as an artist as well as his knowledge of the science helps elevate this unit to a higher level of teaching and learning.
When visiting classrooms and schools Tim’s role is to supplement the teacher’s knowledge in the area of pottery and all of the components of ceramics that accompany it. In addition, he supports young people who are considering being an artist and show interest in expressing themselves visually. Tim is a role model and a living example that anyone can be a full-time artist if the field is chosen. He wants students to know that “they can have a rich full life and be heard if they develop their artistic skills”, said Tim.
Kristen finds that the Camden-Rockport Middle School art curriculum is enhanced by the artists that she invites into the school. Kristen has done at least one major installation every year for several years and it is not viewed as an extra but an important part of the students’ education. The installation creates a collaborative atmosphere for the entire school.
The artwork will be on display for the community to view on Thursday, April 28, 5:30 to 7:30 PM for Arts Alive Night being held at the Camden-Rockport Middle School.