Youthful explorations of art

April 27, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

On a recent trip to the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, 9-year-old Zoie Dobrzanski describes "The Head of Lincoln," by John Gutzon Borglum, the artist who sculpted Mount Rushmore.

"It's realistic, and has a big nose."

Her Fountain Rock Elementary School classmate Gretchen Mummert, 9, says she's been to the museum many times.

"I like to look at the paintings," she says.

Looking at the paintings, the sculptures, the wide variety of art at the museum on the lake is fun for her.

But this is not just a walk in Hagerstown City Park or a get-out-of-the-classroom field trip.

"It's a learning experience," says Amy Blank, coordinator of the Museum Literacy Project. Blank, a graphic artist and substitute teacher who is completing her art education degree, developed the curriculum for the project along with Washington County teachers.


The program, which began in the 2001-02 school year, is funded through Maryland Fine Arts Initiative grants, says Lee Weaver, supervisor of visual and performing arts for Washington County Public Schools. Last year 1,500 to 1,700 Washington County fourth-graders were part of the program. This year's numbers are about the same, and a pilot program for third-graders also is under way.

Lesson plans, objectives and procedures are included in a teacher's museum visit organizer.

A lot of preparation takes place in the classroom before the kids get off the school buses and walk into the galleries.

They will find out what's involved in an art critique - description, analysis, interpretation and evaluation. They will learn the elements of art - line, form, shape, texture and color among them.

Each child brings a pencil and a graphic organizer, a format to help cover all the required topics. Clipboards are handed out to help them with the writing they'll need to do.

Small groups are assigned to different works of art in different galleries.

The kids view the different works - from Old Masters to Cristo's "Wrapped Car," a 1984 mixed-media study for a sculpture.

"Garden Sprite," L'Deane Trueblood's bronze sculpture of a little girl reading a book, perches on a windowsill in the museum's sunny Diana Gallery.

It gives Daniel Giffen, 10, a happy feeling, he says.

After critiquing the art, students have an opportunity to choose a favorite piece to sketch before sprawling all over the gallery floors, quietly concentrating, drawing, creating.

Victoria Oleyar, 9, has chosen a portrait of a little girl. She likes it because it reminds her of her baby cousin. "Art is one of my favorite subjects at school," she says.

The students have a good time, they work hard, and they carry the experience back to the schools in the extended writing program, Weaver says. "I think it's a very good package."

"People don't realize what an asset (the museum) is in the community," says Tom Renner, who teaches art at Fountain Rock and Greenbrier elementary schools. "The kids just love the trip. They really get into it."

Blank says it's important to provide children with opportunities to see other aspects of life. "Art is exciting."

Spence Perry, president of the museum's board of trustees, enjoys seeing the museum bustling with school children on a weekday.

"The arts tap into humankind's better nature," Weaver says.

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