Leaving the art room and all of its human-made supplies behind, Wampus Elementary School fifth graders went outside on a beautiful fall day to create art.
Using leaves in resplendent autumnal colors, pinecones, sticks and grass, the students created Earthworks sculptures, which are constructed on the ground and made solely from materials found in nature.
The students in art teacher Katherine Constantine’s classes worked in small groups to carefully choose and arrange their materials. They placed the colorful leaves in various designs, and some added small twigs or pinecones on top. Students created sculptures in different shapes, including a rectangle and a heart, and outlined them in sticks and pinecones. Some added height by driving bigger sticks into the ground.
The project is based on the Earthworks movement, the 1960s American style centered around creating art from nature. Before they built their own Earthworks piece, students studied the work of artists Andy Goldsworthy and Maya Lin.
“This project gives students insight into the different ways that artists create, and students discover there are many ways to engage in the artistic process,” Ms. Constantine said. “I really enjoy creating Earthworks with my students. It is so interesting to witness their problem-solving skills as they have fun creating.”
“This project also gives students the opportunity to consider the ephemeral nature of the work because it isn’t permanent like a framed painting, drawing or a sculpture in a museum or gallery space,” she added. “It exists temporarily in nature, and the only evidence of its existence is through photographic documentation.”
When it was time for students to build their Earthworks on a warm November afternoon, Ms. Constantine reminded them they could consider some of the same processes they would use when painting or drawing: focus on color, shape, composition, and scale. Students could choose their materials and layer them if they wanted. “It’s really going to be up to you. This is an exploration of materials,” she told them.
The students positioned their sticks and leaves and decided what to add or remove. “We need more weight,” one student said. “We need more yellow,” another responded.
One group tried a few different designs.
“We finally came up with the idea to put a stick in and build leaves around it,” fifth grader Alex Petlyuk said. “It’s kind of like a fireplace.”
“I liked it because it’s really hard and challenging and it’s fun to do,” he said of the project. “It’s beautiful and I like spending my time doing stuff with nature.”
Students enjoyed using unconventional materials and getting to create outside.
“You can make anything you want and it’s such a pretty project,” Siena Rappaport said.
Adriana Mariani said she likes art but feels she isn’t good at drawing. She enjoyed the Earthworks project, especially because she got to see the fall colors in the natural world.
“I like decorating with nature and placing the leaves,” she said. “It’s really fun. I don’t have to use a pencil and paper. I can use my hands and see how it turns out and use my imagination.”
Ethan Berland added: “This project is good because we get to use nature and we get to make stuff that we want to make with friends out of leaves and sticks and pinecones. We get to go outside and get fresh air and use natural materials.”
Ms. Constantine told students about the ephemeral nature of the sculptures, and that they might blow away or fall down in the coming days. That’s OK, she told them. “It’s all part of the process,” she said.
When the class ended, students left their Earthworks behind to be enjoyed by all who passed by and saw what remained.