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Fourth-Graders Explore Connections between Art and Nature with Brandywine River Museum Trip and Exhibition

By Amy Reynolds, Communications Specialist
This article appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of the Tower Hill Bulletin

As Lily Leung '26 made her way down the River Trail at the Brandywine River Museum, she made a quick sketch of a flower she spotted along the way. Her tour guide then stopped for a moment to ask the students in the group which colors they saw reflected in the water. Blue, green, brown—she jotted that down, too.
 
Inside the museum, the students then looked at paintings by N.C. Wyeth, Paul Weber, George Weymouth and others who also used the natural Brandywine Valley landscape for inspiration in their own artwork.
 
When Leung got back to school, she and the rest of the fourth-graders looked at their inspiration sketches—notes they took from both the River Trail and from inside the museum—and created their own masterpieces that were displayed at the museum last summer. Leung was inspired by a painting of a brown bird in a pink tree and decided to base her finished piece of art off of that.
 
“I’m excited to see my painting at the museum,” Leung said before the opening of the students’ art exhibition. “And the trip was fun because I liked drawing the scenery and seeing different paintings from different artists. Going inside and outside was nice because we saw almost everything.”
 
The art and nature field trip in early May, which was organized by Lower School art teacher Jane Chesson and Lower School science teacher Nancy Tate, gave the fourth-grade students the opportunity to investigate aspects of landscape art, animal and plant life, habitat and watershed both inside and outside of the museum.
 
“The most exciting thing for me was being able to take a step back and watch the kids really be artists,” Chesson said. “So many of them knew exactly what they wanted to go back to and draw from or paint from, and they were so excited and so focused. They looked like artists on a research trip, and that was really neat to be able to see them have that opportunity and be very independent.”
 
But the trip wasn’t just an opportunity for students to relate to artists and then work on their own art skills. Students also had the opportunity to learn about the nature present in the Brandywine Valley, and to learn how art and science are often interconnected.
 
“STEM is really my thing, but I understand STEAM,” Tate said, acknowledging the addition of art to the shorthand for science-technology-engineering-math. “The people who are passionate about the arts look at a STEM project and go, ‘Well, wait a minute, there’s a lot of art in there.’ In class I’ll ask something like, ‘Does Mrs. Chesson ever talk about patterns in art?’ It helps the kids to make these connections to see that they’re not learning one topic as a standalone, that it is connected to other disciplines, like art.”
 
For both Chesson and Tate, learning outside of the classroom—especially outdoors—is crucial.
 
“When you’re out in nature, it’s a complete sensory experience,” Chesson said. “You’re hearing sounds, you’re smelling the smells of nature, you’re able to touch things. You’re able to have all of your senses activated by what you’re experiencing.”
 
Head of Lower School Susan Miller said one of the many benefits of taking students outdoors is that learning becomes spontaneous and student-centered. 
 
“It’s experiences like these that help us appreciate the beauty that surrounds us, pay greater attention to details—whether in a blossom, a rock or a painting—and develop a greater sense of gratitude,” Miller said. “Our teachers are always looking for and creating opportunities like these that allow our students to remain curious, to wonder, to ponder and to think.”
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