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Volume II: The emergence of the artist, artwork, and community connections


HEATHER THOMA Contributing editor

Volume II: The emergence of the artist, artwork, and community connections

W H Y A RT ? L E A R N I N G T H E L A N D , C R E AT I V E LY Sophie Anne Edwards production caused by industrialization 4elements Living Arts brings together art and land-based work for very specific by emphasizing that artisans be part of the whole process of creation. Industrireasons. We believe that the combinaalization focused on breaking down the tion creates change. production of goods into smaller parts, each worker responsible only for a piece ‘Western’ approaches tend to separate of it, as the focus was on productivity learning into distinct disciplines; we also and efficiency. Similarly, cultural shifts separate ourselves from the environment in the 19th century saw the separation and therefore from our impact on it. of art and science, and an erosion of the Western culture has privileged separacommons by dividing up the landscape. tion, particularly since industrialization, It might seem a stretch to consider the which is why the credo of influential 19th century when talking about early 19th century textile artist and designlearning education. However, the impact er William Morris was that all objects of those processes and the values inhermust be both ‘beautiful and functional’. ent within that shift – productivity, speThe Arts and Crafts movement, which cialization, privatization separation from Morris influenced, reacted to the shift in

the material and the process – are values that significantly direct and impact how we understand, organize, and create the world today. With 4elements we encourage interdisciplinarity and connection between art practices and the land. Learning about the land through creative engagements provides opportunities for a full spectrum of learning: intellectual, physical, emotional, spiritual, cultural and social. We need these interconnected forms of learning to help build different kinds of relationships to the land and to each other. This is a shift in ways of being in the world and knowing the world, that

4elements Living Arts

Why art? Learning the land, creatively


The Art of Land-Based Early Learning

we all need, and the planet requires. In 4e’s work, we try to connect children to the whole process of art-making from the sourcing of materials to the making, along with the ecological, social, emotional, and community-based connections of the process. We encourage them to approach art-making as an engagement with a whole series of decisions, choices and a way of thinking creatively, a practice - a methodology - that is applicable to many aspects of learning and our lives. Creativity is an essential skill in all aspects of ‘getting things done’ from scientific research and program development, to teaching and building a team, from designing a product to creating a new business. What we have learned through our work with children is that creativity, when coupled with intention (focus and discipline) and the attendant skills learned through art-making, provides an important set of skills that can be applied in very direct ways to every aspect of our lives.


Why art? Learning the land, creatively

“Creativity should not be considered a separate mental faculty but a characteristic of our way of thinking, knowing, and making choices.”

– Lo r is Ma la gu z z i

Rather than focusing on a particular art workshop, a finished product, or a specific technique (although technique is a part of mastery), we focus on the process of art-making and learning about the world through this art-making. In the process - through the discipline of art-making - mastery, technique, learning, connections and art are made. Art-making, like those quiet moments in the bush, helps us to remember who we are, and privileges a different set of values: connectivity, creativity, embodiment.

4elements Living Arts

Art-making with natural materials brings together creativity and connection with the natural world. "We are little. Part of a huge continuum of connections between generations and with nature. The cottage is nearly a hundred years old... I remember so many things that happened there, [my husband] remembers more, but the place remembers the most.” Textile artist Judy Martin, blogpost Sept 21, 2010 Again and again we observe children making cognitive connections as they challenge themselves and learn techniques and strategies, but also build self-awareness and confidence to express themselves; they communicate and share their learning with their peers and families. Working with and through natural materials provides opportunities for children to explore their questions about, and build connections to the natural world and the places around them. 

Volume II: The emergence of the artist, artwork, and community connections

“Every child has a sense of belonging when he or she is connected to others and contributes to their world.” Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years (2014) Ontario Ministry of Education.

4elements Living Arts

Chapter Name


The Art of Land-Based Early Learning

e m e rge n c e o f the

m at e ri a l emergenc e o f the

e me rge nc e of

Eco l ogic a l Process of an s en s i bi li t y/ co nne c t i o n

art w or k

eco lo gi cal

art i st i c p rac t i c e


e m e rge n c e o f t h e

c o mmuni ty

Process of an ecological artistic practice

4elements Living Arts

emergenc e o f the

a rtist

The Art of Land-Based Early Learning

A RT A S A R E S E A R C H D I S C I P L I N E Sophie Anne Edwards and Heather Thoma

and when an opportunity arises, we dig into our deep apron pockets and come out with a material or a tool that can encourage the child’s curiosity in a new When we join a group of children for way. For instance, for a child engaged the first time as visiting artists-in-reswith plants, we might pull out a pencil idence (atelieristas), we don’t tell the and a piece of good paper from our children what we do, so from the very pocket and invite the child to explore first moment we are inviting them to the leaf or the plant through drawing or Art can also be considered to be a disci- be curious, to ask questions and to rubbings. Magnifying glasses might be pline, a methodology in which we con- form theories about us and what we do. pulled out too. If children are creating duct research, explore relationships, and We invite children to propose how to stories, watercolor pencils and paper answer their questions, how we might create things: intention and focus shift can be an invitation to communicate the simple creative exploration from senso- struggle through a particular ‘making’, story through images. We often bring what might come next, to test ideas and ry engagement to an engagement with different materials to the room each the characteristics of materials and tools, the world. Throughout the two voltime, so that the children soon come umes of Land-based Early Learning we and how we can share what we learn. to understand our pockets as portable profile how materials and tools can be We spend time with the children at studios, and as sources of attractive and coupled with questions, theories, thinktheir ‘stations’, in their engagements, useful tools and materials. 4elements considers the art that we practice and teach to be a way of thinking, being, and making that prioritizes creativity, ecological and community connections. The tools, materials, creativity and discipline of an arts practice can be applied by children in all areas of study.


Art as a research discipline

ing through making, learning through process, and building relationships to place, ecology and community.

4elements Living Arts

Volume II: The emergence of the artist, artwork, and community connections

“Caldwell’s work reflects an accumulative way of making. Her mapmaking is generative, arising from an immediate experience of location wherein she observes, gathers, and translates her understanding. On every travel excursion she takes her portable studio of lightweight materials and tools: Japanese paper, pre-stitched fabric, a soft graphite crayon, India ink, brushes, a small plant press, a mortar and pestle, a digital sound recorder, and a magnifying glass. With these materials and tools, she is able to work freely on site.”


writing about mixed-media/

textile artist Dorothy Caldwell, in Silent Ice/Deep Practice 4elements Living Arts

Chapter Name


The Art of Land-Based Early Learning

I can’t tell you how much the children and I enjoyed Blaire's visits each week. She was fabulous and taught me many things that I can apply next year at my new assigned school where there may not be an "artist in the classroom". Many thanks to you and all who got this program up and running. A valuable connection was made between the children and the artist from within their own community.

– Gi na M c A f ee, Teacher


Art as a research discipline

4elements Living Arts

Volume II: The emergence of the artist, artwork, and community connections

The ‘portable studio’ builds awareness that all areas of the classroom can be creative sites of research and making, that it happens not just at the art table, and that a pocket can be a tool box. While children sometimes present formal research projects and theories to test, there is always constant theorizing and testing that children are doing in indirect and meandering ways. A great deal of research happens in the sidelines, in the lateral ‘movements’. Great innovations can emerge from just a change in perspective, by seeing a situation in a different way. From frustration at something “not working”, through per- many of the characteristics children sistence and openness, children move develop through their arts practice. into new solutions. Within each element of an arts practice our goal as atelieristas is to encourage children to build awareness The elements of an arts discipline are of what is happening, through interrelated, always in movement, and reflection and documentation: what the artist (of any age) starts or returns are their questions, what theories do within any of the stages or elements: they have, what tools did they use, what care and response-ability; community worked or didn’t. The children begin to of practice; creation; listening to and observe themselves in the process: with; time and intention; research. The What am I learning, what do I need to graphic on pages 12 and 13 expresses do differently? When they have ques-

tions, we help them to discover how they can find their own answers. These are all key elements of artistic development, and of research practices. Problems become possibilities. New capacities come into play, which then help them to meet other challenges that will arise in their lives. (See pages 47 and 49 for two stories of art practice opening up new possibilities for young students to meet challenges.) When we don’t give immediate answers, and we allow space for the child to

4elements Living Arts

Art as a research discipline


The Art of Land-Based Early Learning

follow an interest, to set their own learning pace, to identify their own possible research directions and strategies, we support self-determination, and a sense of agency. We might introduce additional questions or materials as provocations to extend or scaffold a child’s theory or exploration; and we might introduce a creative technique and teach it to a group of children. By not demanding that all the children follow a certain series of steps or reach a particular outcome, we allow for all kinds of outcomes to unfold. The steps they take then arise out of their own desire to see something through, or share something that is in their mind. Whereas if all the children are asked to create the same artwork, they learn to follow directions, but do not have the opportunity to learn how to think through the making process for themselves in a full way. We see our role as collaborators to assist children to follow their questions through research practices into understandings and makings; we offer the arts as flexible and effective methods for building creative research practices that can last a lifetime. 


Art as a research discipline

4elements Living Arts

The freedom I seek is not one that lets me do what I want to do, but the freedom that equips me to be able to do what I need to do.

–Paulus Berensohn,

Finding One’s Way with Clay

The Art of Land-Based Early Learning

E X P E R I M E N T S, " F A I L U R E S " AND IMPROVISATION Melissa Volpini We decide to have a fun outdoor day with multiple stations to act as provocations. We have a large cloth on the ground with clay and water; a collection of natural materials for 3D construction; and natural dyeing materials. Rather than staying within one ‘station’ Aundrey makes connections between the branches and the dyed fabric. He spends time dyeing strips of material and tying them onto one of the large branches. Another student, Ella, comes over to check out what Aundrey is making. She notices that he doesn’t have any pink fabric on his branch. She takes strip of fabric over to the clay provocation and puts it into the clay water.


Experiments, "failures" and improvisations

Ella then ties the fabric onto Aundrey’s branch. They continue working together, adding and tying strips of fabric onto the branch. The branch ends up being an amazing piece of art. As an educator, it was fantastic to observe Ella make a connection between the clay water and the dyeing process. No one gives her that idea, nor suggests that she try finding a different dye; she wonders about using the clay water as a natural dye and takes a risk to try something - a true demonstration of the importance of risk-taking! In the end, there is just as much learning through failure, as there is with successes; you just need to be willing to take a risk.

4elements Living Arts

“I am very interested in the behavior of art rather than the achievement of art. I see all the arts as apprenticeships for the big art of our lives.”

– Pau l u s B ere ns o hn,

Potter, ecologist, and educator. From article by Amelia Pedlow, in Julliard Journal, March 2010 As I reflect upon the importance of ‘process’ and ‘becoming an artist’, I appreciate how the results stemming from a simple inquiry related to natural dyes, had a great impact, not only on the process of student learning, but also how this inquiry was also a true reflection of what the Reggio approach actually means! 

RIFFING Sophie Anne Edwards There is a lot of ‘riffing’ going on between research teams. There are the teams that have explored natural dyeing, and the questions ‘Where does colour come from?’, the team that explored the question ‘Why does this milkweed fluff have a seed?”, the design teams, and the experiments with building with sticks, fabric, and other materials. Each conversation and experience builds on the last; a child discovers something and this sends off a spark into another part of the classroom. We experiment, then find we need to provide ‘training’ into how to use a tool (like needles, or watercolour brushes) so we provide mini-workshops, or integrate this skill-building into the “making” experiments. Then these skills are passed on.

Exploring natural dye crosses into painting. Fibre is used in the marble run design and glued to the design to demarcate edges. A boy takes fibre and wraps an ornamental gourd.Then suddenly, a few children are wrapping chairs and creating a 3D installation.

Exploring fibre crosses with balls of yarn and paint in the schoolyard. Sticks cross with fibre for sculptural creations. 

4elements Living Arts



The Art of Land-Based Early Learning

L A N D A RT : L O O S E PA RT S , O U T S I D E Sophie Anne Edwards Creating designs or 3D sculptures with sticks, stones, leaves, grasses, sedges, sand, pebbles and other natural materials teaches us many things.Through land art practice we can teach about about respecting nature, Mother Earth, the planet and about harvesting materials gently and respectfully. We observe where materials are found, where they grow, how they grow, and their relationships to the ecosystem. Because the land art responds to place, is made in place, and changes over time, the childresn learn about place and process.

deepens. And it’s done through art, through a creative challenge. Sometimes the land art challenge presented is to build something that will move in the wind. Or to create something that will change over time.

They learn about art, of course, and we build their art vocabulary by bringing attention to what they do, and by asking how they can consider form, materials, balance, rhythm, shape, scale.All of the artwork and experiences build a story about that place, and tell stories about our own relationships and experiences By exploring the practice of land art, to it. Land art workshops are sometimes participants can learn how the art they opportunities through which particmake can be like the natural world, ipants are invited to think about and constantly changing, from wind and sun, create works that reflect their lives, their animals and weather. With repeated hopes, their experiences in life, and their observation, and returning to the same relationship to the land. ď†Œ place, participants’ knowledge of place and that particular ecosystem 156

Land art: loose parts, outside

4elements Living Arts

Volume II: The emergence of the artist, artwork, and community connections



Land Art can literally be done anywhere • Establish the area and borders of the if you are creative with your invitation to children. For example, even a paved or grassy, flat schoolyard can be a great canvas for exploring the movement of the sun, or for exploring movement and seed transfer by placing fluff or other moveable objects on the ground, and tracing/ tracking/drawing their movement over the pavement. Explore negative and positive space, and contrast by placing objects, including bodies on the ground prior to a rainfall, and removing them after to see the differences (a la Andy Goldsworthy).

activity area. • For safety, make sure to use a buddy system, even if participants are creating a solo work, that they are within sound or sight of their buddy or the facilitators. • Point out poisonous or noxious plants like poison ivy. • Discuss how to gently, and respectfully harvest materials. • Land art books can be a source of inspiration, but can sometimes also intimidate people. • Try to challenge participants and talk with them about their creation and help to troubleshoot the frustrations.

4elements Living Arts

Land art provocations


The Art of Land-Based Early Learning

Many people begin land art by working flat on the ground or by making ‘teepees’ with a few sticks. Challenge them by asking questions about what they want to express, or how they could use different materials, in different ways. • Circulate to each child’s or team’s creation so that they can talk about their work, and others can share what they see and interpret.

U SI N G NAT U RA L M AT E RIA L S • Pick leaves and stems rather than taking roots. Taking flowers means that flower won’t produce seeds that year unless there is time for the plant to produce more flowers and seeds. • Never take bark from a tree, unless working with a traditionalist who knows how to do so without harming the tree. Instead gather bark from dead trees, or pieces that have fallen on the ground.


Land art provocations

4elements Living Arts

Volume II: The emergence of the artist, artwork, and community connections

• Avoid plants that are poisonous or

• Tells a story about you

• Shows up when it gets dark

noxious, such as poison ivy, giant

• Tells a story about the place

• Floats

hogweed, nightshades.

• Shows a range of greens

• Is a home or structure that we’re not

(or yellows…)

familiar with


• Depicts a rhythm (of the water,

Instill learning about place and ecology

• Uses three different materials

Make something that:

• Is as tall as you can make it

• Moves in the wind

• Has a moving part

• Erodes with the waves

• Is as long as possible

• Shows the movement of the sun

• Could be a home for a creature

• Creates a pattern

• Is a roosting/landing spot for birds

• Makes sound

• Provides building materials for birds

• Suspends above the ground and

• Changes as it dries

depends on a tree’s support

• Can your work tell a story about

the wind, the waves…)

• Changes as it gets wet

a very small, or hidden process or natural object?

PA RT ICIPA N T S • Team challenge (either same age groups, same gender, similar dexterity or mix groups to facilitate co-learning, or arrange mixed g roups to provide a range of abilities, 4elements Living Arts

Land art provocations


The Art of Land-Based Early Learning

facilitate co-learning, provide a range • What materials can be used for of abilities and perspectives in each group, and facilitate mentorship.

stitching, weaving, wrapping, tie-ing? • Why does something bend, or not

• For older adults, or those with

ferent seasons, or at different stages

create something at eye level (such as

of its growth (or dying)?

T O B UI L D REFLECTION • What did you observe about these materials? • Where do these materials grow?

LAN D ART To help children learn about art and design principles, circulate during the making, and during reflection, ask questions, or provide your own observations on questions like:

• What do these materials want to do? • What do you want to express? • Do these materials bend, weave, join

• What materials will help you do

differently depending on age, stage, or type?

what you want to express? • Is there a different material that can

• What strategies did you use to re-

express this idea?

spond to the task and the challenge

• What does this material want to do?

presented by the materials?

• How does the scale of the work

• How long did it take for the artwork

change what the artwork

to change?


• How quickly did the sun move over

• How can you create a rhythm by

the work?

using multiples of this material?

• How did rain change the ground, the materials, the artwork?


Land art provocations

can you create negative space within the piece?

bend? Does it bend differently in dif- • What can pattern communicate?

physical limitations, invite them to in branches close to them.)

• To create visual interest, how

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• How can the textures of the materials be used to communicate your idea? • Can your work invite the viewer to see differently, by bending down, looking up, seeing small, or seeing bigger?

I N V I TE R EF L E CT ION AN D SH ARIN G Do a studio rotation: rotate between the pieces and invite participants to share what they observe about the artwork, ask questions and for the artist/ artist team to speak about their project. This process builds vocabulary and teaches about how to interpret, and speak about art. It builds camaraderie and reflection skills. 

Volume II: The emergence of the artist, artwork, and community connections

"The kids in my class took part in a land art exercise on their snowshoe trip in February and loved it so much that they asked if we could incorporate it into our school Earth Day event in April. The kids who had been on the trip explained what land art was to all of the other students in the school and helped every student participate in creating some. They were very excited to take and post pictures of their creations!"

– Rebekkah Batman , Teacher

4elements Living Arts

Emergence of Ecological Community



Vol II: The emergence of the artist, artwork, and community connections


 Northeastern Ontario Arts Education Network

an Ontario government agency un organisme du gouvernement de l’Ontario

An agency of the Government of Ontario Un organisme du gouvernement de l’Ontario

Developed through grants and support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the Ontario Arts Council

The Art of Land-Based Early learning Vol. 2  
The Art of Land-Based Early learning Vol. 2  

Inspiring examples and ideas for using artmaking with children in land-based contexts, to build community connections and observational skil...