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Reflections on the Watergarden

Dear REF,

Thank you again for asking me to write about my watergarden projects with the kids at RES. I've loved having our garden here at school, and have been using it for art lessons ever since The Redding Education Foundation gave Carrie Wessman the gift of a grant for the watergarden - about 4 or 5 years now! The kids absolutely love it when I take them there, and are fascinated by the garden, the pond, the fish and plant life, and the way that it connects with their art projects.

I've been using the garden every year with the Fourth Grade classes, to teach a unit on French Impressionism in art. We study the Impressionist group of artists, such as Manet, Monet, Degas, Renoir and Cassatt. We focus on their style of art by looking at reproductions of their work. We discuss the importance that the Impressionists placed on working outside, from nature, to capture the effect of light on objects, and how they used short, quick brushstrokes of color to capture the impression of a moment in time. I focus on Claude Monet's work, especially the artwork created at his gardens in Giverney. Now that I have a Smartboard, I can show even larger, more beautiful photos taken of his gardens, Japanese bridge and waterlily pond.

I was in France last summer, and plan to use my own photographs of Monet's gardens this year! The beautiful reflections in the water help to inspire the students when we go outside to draw from nature in the RES watergarden.

The students always respond with excitement after seeing Monet's gardens. They will then have the opportunity to see and sketch their own RES watergarden picture! This hands-on experience is important in art class, and it helps them to create the feeling of being an impressionist artist. They

really look at every part of the watergarden, so that they can sketch realistic images that can be used back in the classroom. This helps them to "know" the watergarden in a special way, and each student's work is a unique interpretation of the experience of drawing and sketching "en plein air".

I show the students how to get started with their landscape pictures. Then using portable easels, we go to the garden and they concentrate on creating their impressions of the watergarden for their paintings. Back in the classroom, I teach the students techniques with oil pastel and watercolor to create their own paintings from their drawings with vibrant colors, that capture the light, mood, and time of day that they are responding to in their work. The paintings are truly inspired by the watergarden - we are so fortunate to have this resource here on our school campus! For me as a teacher, the watergarden is an inspiration for my art lessons, and it has the bonus of being close and easy to access, especially when time is a consideration! For the students, I know from their verbal and written responses that the experience is very meaningful to them. They really enjoy that they are able to go outside during art class, look at real reflections in a pond, with real fish, surrounded by the beauty of the trees, flowers and plants, and create a great work of art that helps them to feel like "a real artist"! They love that they have their own interpretation of the watergarden that they created that will always remind them of their school.

I've been using the garden with some other art projects, too. I took a first grade class there recently, as I told you, to look at the trees and find leaves for our leaf printing project. The students loved the pond, and they were so thrilled to see all of the fish! I also use the garden for fourth grade art mini-class projects. The mini-classes are made up of students from all of the fourth grades, who would like an extra art day in their schedule, and are held during fourth grade recess. This year, I have a group of 19 students who are using the RES garden and watergarden as the inspiration for a series of paintings on large canvas board. These paintings will be placed around the school, to help beautify our school, and create an awareness and appreciation of art and nature.

Again, thank for letting me give you a little information on the ways that I've been able to use the watergarden in art class. It's been such a pleasure to have this unique garden for the students to use for art, as it is a great way to give the students the experience of drawing from nature, in a safe and lovely environment. I encourage all students to use this valuable resource, to draw from life, and explore the possibilities of the connections that can be made with art from observing nature.

Becky Holden
RES Art Teacher

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