Last fall, as a part of the TAEA (Texas Art Education Association) Conference, I attended a workshop at the Umlauf Sculpture Gardens in Austin, Texas. Home to the sculptural works of 20th century artist, Charles Umlauf and other contemporary sculptors, the lush grounds of The Umlauf are a perfect place for explorers’ minds to wander freely. As described on their website,
“The Umlauf is the perfect place for visitors of all ages to get comfortable with sculpture and with museums, especially if traditional museum rules make you nervous (Stand still! Be quiet!). Outside in the xeriscape garden you can walk by a sculpture, or walk all the way around it. Sit and enjoy expansive views, or simply savor a single sculpture. You can listen to the birds and the waterfall, or watch the water flow between the two ponds and under the wooden bridges.”
It is in this lush garden that the environmental art workshop took place. The director of The Umlauf, Sheila, began with an introduction to environmental art–showing a slideshow of environmental art by artists such as Andy Goldsworthy, Nils-Udo, and Robert Smithson. She then gave each attendee a brown paper bag and 20 minutes to find natural supplies and a site for our own environmental art installation. She gave us no restrictions–we could pick leaves, sticks, grass and berries, dig in the dirt, move rocks, and set up our installations anywhere we wanted. The only stipulations were that our supplies had to fit in our bags and we could not use any “man-made” materials. At the end of 20 minutes, we walked around the garden, stopping at each installation while the artist talked about their work and took a digital photograph of their artwork.
At the end of the lesson, Sheila downloaded all of the images onto a cd, which was given to each participant.
This is a fantastic lesson that I’ve been itching to use ever since experiencing it myself! Not only are students learning about the processes of environmental artists and learning to talk about their artwork, but they are also taking a closer look at the elements that make up their surrounding natural environment–learning about the native plants, geology, and living creatures as they create new meanings from these objects.