• June 6, 2018

    Visiting artists broaden students’ perspectives

    Urban Art As the Beatles famously sang, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” This spring it was artist friends who were making an impact in Upper St. Clair classrooms. Three visiting artists recently shared their expertise, artwork and passion with students from Streams Elementary and Upper St. Clair High School.

    “These types of learning opportunities are invaluable,” Angela Stevenson, Streams art teacher, said. “Seeing an artist at work first hand has been a tremendous opportunity that has sparked a fierce focus and concentration at this time of the school year!”

    At Streams, Larry Barth, a renowned bird carver, worked with fourth graders as part of a cross-curricular project that will result in a permanent art installation of a "Flat Flock" of birds within the school.

    “Students were able to tie into their science unit, looking at the skeleton system of birds and how they are able to take flight, teaching humans to create airplanes,” Mrs. Stevenson said. “They also were able to investigate the different habitats and climates of the birds they chose.”

    Mr. Barth provided students with a detailed overview of his artistic process, which included in-depth research and observation within a bird’s natural habitat, basic drawing techniques and the importance of specific details such as a bird’s beak and tail as key differentiators between species.

    “I could hear a pin drop as we combined 40 plus students at a time to listen to Mr. Barth’s initial presentation, as well as his demonstrations of how he goes about drawing and painting his birds,” Mrs. Stevenson said. “They were able to see how their science notebooks had a direct correlation to Mr. Barth's sketching and research techniques he used to start and complete one of his famous wooden bird carvings.”

    The “Flat Flock” art installation will be comprised of groupings of fourth graders’ individually created birds to form different flocks. Students will draw and paint their birds and then glue them down to plywood, which will be installed near the entrance to the school.

    “This experience helps our students gain confidence and excitement in their work as they will leave behind their artistic legacy,” Mrs. Stevenson said. “And, it shows how you can think scientifically, artistically, mathematically, and still apply those interests as an adult into a variety of professions.”

    Upper St. Clair High School students recently had the opportunity to participate in a three-hour urban art workshop with Shane Pilster of Rivers of Steel Arts. Mr. Pilster leads similar workshops at schools throughout the Pittsburgh region as well as at the Carrie Furnaces.

    Students gained hands-on experience with style-writing, letter design and aerosol painting techniques while learning about the underground culture of graffiti, its history and how it continues to evolve as an art form. Students listened to a brief lecture and then set out to use aerosol paints to create works of their own designs using both text and images.

    “Students really responded to the Urban Art workshop,” Robyn Smigel, high school art teacher, said. “They jumped at the chance to learn how to use spray paint in an artistic way, such as using different caps on cans to create different width lines, learning how to blend colors and getting to create artwork on a larger scale than they are used to.”

    In addition to Mr. Pilster, the high school recently collaborated with artist Tom Sarver who spent nearly three weeks working with International Baccalaureate Art and 3D Studio Art classes as well as a cohort of sophomores. Click here to read about his experience at USCHS. As part of the high school’s, Artists in Residency project all sophomores had a workshop with Mr. Sarver as well as a workshop with artists from Attack Theatre, linking students’ experiences in World History to visual and movement art.

    Ms. Smigel finds the use of visiting artists as an effective way to extend learning beyond the school’s curriculum.

    “Visiting artists enhance our existing curriculum and increase understanding between the arts and broader cultural movements,” Ms. Smigel said. “These programs expose students to a range of artistic approaches in new media, and fosters discussion about contemporary art and ideas, such as installation art or street art.”