Through his collaborations with nature, British artist Andy Goldsworthy has produced spiral shaped rock formations on the beach, life-sized nests in the woods, and many other dazzling outdoor sculptures—most of which decay into their surroundings over time. Recently, students at Strathroy Community Christian School (SCCS) were invited to make their own “Goldsworthy-esque” art. Like the famous British sculptor and Environmentalist, they were to use natural materials too—like sand, twigs, grass, and pebbles.
“I have a class that loves hands on work, is very creative and loves to get dirty,” said grade 5 art teacher at SCCS, Natalie DeSchiffert. “Right now in our art curriculum we’re really trying to get kids involved and interested in what they’re doing.”
That engagement took a few forms within the context of her lesson. Before students began gathering materials from outdoors, they were invited to learn about the artist inspiring their assignment.
“We started off by researching Mr. Goldsworthy’s work,” explained DeSchiffert. “I had the kids use a classroom set of iPads. They went into groups and had to pick one of Andy Goldsworthy’s works and look at it together.”
Each student described, analyzed, interpreted and judged a particular Goldsworthy sculpture, keeping the elements and principles of design in mind. DeSchiffert also wanted to bring a Christian understanding to the assignment. Together, the class considered how Andy’s unique approach to art, along with his commitment to sustainability, relates to bible passages like Genesis 2 (where God calls Adam to look after creation) and Ecclesiastes 3 (where the author reflects on there being a “season for every activity under the heavens”).
There are words found in both passages that connect to themes that Goldsworthy explores in his work, said DeSchiffert—seeds, growth, the cycle of death and decay.
The following week’s Goldsworthy inspired lessons were a little less discussion-based and a lot more hands on.
“I told my students that now we’re going to ‘be’ Andy Goldsworthy,” said DeSchiffert. “We’re going to create work in God’s creation, with his beauty and the things that He has given us. So bring in things you see around your house.”
Members of the class were eager to get started. DeSchiffert noted that “it was incredible to see how the students worked together”.
“Some of them would go back on their iPads, go back to Andy’s work and say ‘oh look at how he did that’, ‘I really liked how he blended that in’, ‘maybe we could do that.’
Next year DeSchiffert hopes that the weather will be better and that the students will have the chance to create and display their work outside. Placing the sculptures in a conservation area or somewhere public for the community to enjoy would be ideal, she said, adding that it would have also been neat for students to check on the sculptures as they gradually decomposed.
This time around, however, students took their sculptures apart themselves. And, where possible, sand was put back in the sand pit and rocks back underneath the playground.
“Some of the stuff can be used again for another purpose,” said DeSchiffert. “We have a farm field around the school, so we went along the perimeter of the property and put everything back.”
Although the students’ projects have been disassembled, pictures of each sculpture will be blown up and hung in the SCCS hallway, so that the rest of the school can learn about Andy Goldsworthy’s work.
“It was the first time doing this for me” said DeSchiffert. “I’m looking forward to doing it again.”