Stour Valley Art Project
The Education Programme has been a central and integrated part of Stour Valley Art project since the project’s inception in 1992. Artist-led workshops for groups of any age group from the formal education sector are run over a two week period during the summer or autumn term. These sometimes coincide with the artist’s residency but more often follow it.
The wood itself is a magnificent educational resource which is enhanced by the sculptures. Although a managed commercial woodland, with broad straight rides and regimented 1930/1940s plantings of beech and other hardwood, there is a huge variety of deciduous trees and conifers, each with their own shape, colour and undergrowth. The wood is high on the North Downs, away from the sound of traffic and is frequently windy. The experience of being in the wood, seeing the sculpture, smelling the earth and touching and handling the natural materials to hand – wood, chalk, flint, vegetation - and of making a creative response to them, together provide a rich educational opportunity with potential for further exploration back in school.
The aims of the education programme are to:-
- Develop an awareness of the Stour Valley Arts Project through children and their parents
- Enable pupils to work with environmental sculptors at the King’s Wood site in order to create works of art
- To give pupils the opportunity to explore a woodland setting and to engender a sense of appreciation of the natural environment
- To give pupils the opportunity to gain an understanding of the work of the artist on site
- To give schools the opportunity to explore links with the staff at King’s Wood with a view to creating further opportunities in the future
Artists are invited to apply to run the programme through advertisements in artists’ publications, followed by a shortlisting and selection process. An artist with a different approach and skills is selected each year, ranging from those with a particular knowledge of environmental work, to a textile artist, painter or artist on paper. The appointed artist then decides on a theme for their series of workshops, for example Walter Bailey in 1994 looked at Pattern and Symmetry in Nature, in 1995 Kate Miller chose Lightness and the Fall of Light and in 1996 Jackie Brown concentrated on Lines and Rhythms in the Woods. A student apprentice from Kent Institute of Art and Design is usually available to assist and support the artist and provide local knowledge.
Each year the shape of the programme is broadly the same and has been refined through feedback from pupils, teachers and artists over the years. The co-ordinator of the Stour Valley Arts Project approaches schools which she thinks might enjoy the opportunity of making creative work in the woods. The workshops are apportioned over the primary, secondary and special school sectors. The term before the education programme will be run, teachers from the selected schools are invited to a planning meeting with the co-ordinator and the artist at SVAP’s headquarters in the wood, to discuss possibilities, and deal with practical issues. Topics covered include not only the big picture – the sculptures in the wood, the work that might be tackled and the environmental dimension to the visits – but practical details such as dates, numbers in each group, length of day, transport, suitable clothing, food and drink, toilet arrangements. The teachers then discuss with the artist which pupils they would like to bring and which curriculum topics they would like to cover. From this, a programme of two day visits for four schools is put together over a two week period the following term, with half day preparatory visits by the artist to each school.
At the preparatory meeting in school, the artist shows slides of his or her work and talks about the work in King’s Wood and perhaps the work of other environmental artists. Then the theme for that year’s project is introduced and schools are given a written brief by the artist. There is also time for some practical work to start the thinking process before the pupils’ visit.
Workshops with each group take place over two consecutive days and go ahead whatever the weather, so appropriate clothing and footwear are essential. There is a contained area in the woods with flat ground which has become a kind of open air studio where much of the drawing work, especially with the younger children, takes place. On the first day, the Countryside Officer from Kentish Stour Countryside Project takes half the group on a walk to look at the wildlife and flora of the woods and to see the sculptures. Meanwhile the other half of the group stays with the artist looking for a place to work and deciding what to do. Then the groups swap places. By the end of the day each child will have had a stimulus in the wood and a focused period making work. The second day starts with another walk in the wood to reorient and become refocused and then the pupils become involved in making new work, which develops more quickly after a night of digestion.
The two day workshop is essential. Children need time to adjust to working in the wood, being without a clock, having relaxed rules and routines and concentrating on one project for a long period. The first day is spent getting used to the changes and second is where the really creative work begins to happen. The process within the workshop is particular to each artist but will include discussing and looking at materials, finding the right place and the right group of people to work with, feeling the woodland through all the senses. The artists use naturally occurring materials from the wood – chalk, charcoal, flint, wood and vegetation to make sculptures, drawings, hangings and installations. The sweet chestnut wood taken from King’s Wood is used to make brown paper and much of the drawing is onto rolls of carton paper.
As well as the formal education programme, local schools are encouraged to think of King’s Wood and the sculptures in it as a resource and to develop their own visits and activities. This has become increasingly popular, attracting visits all year round, and has led to the appointment of a part-time education co-ordinator organises the annual artist-led workshops and manage requests for information and scheduling of independent groups.
In 1996, a teacher’s resource pack was produced, written by Kate Miller, which continues to be a popular source of inspiration for teachers leading study groups in the woods. It contains information on the natural history of the wood, commercial timber production, the art project, the education programme and the student apprenticeship scheme, and has suggestions for creative investigation. A new teacher’s pack was devised during 2000.
© Copyright Joanna Morland 2000