Branching Out

Here at the Children’s Museum of South Dakota we are blessed with a beautiful outdoor prairie area; so, when the weather lets us, we like to be outside. And what better area of study in the outdoors than Nature Art. This Curious Kids Club session challenged kids with the question, “How can we create art from items in nature?”. At the beginning of the first session we brainstormed how to use items we found in the Museum’s backyard to make art. This prompt challenged the kids to think about art in a new way and at several points during the discussion, the children just wanted to replicate pieces of art work that they had seen before. Even after a nature walk where they could gather items that caught their interest, the children were at a loss for where to start. So, I gave them a new prompt, “How can you breathe new life into the pieces that you found? How can they be representative of you?”.

The children mulled this question over and many found inspiration in creating detailed dioramas and mythical creatures. But S.S. looked lost. As she toyed with the branch of a willow tree, I tried to find out why she was stuck.

Teacher: Can you pick out the piece that you like the most out of everything you gathered?

S.S: This willow branch.

Teacher: Can you tell me why that piece is your favorite?

S.S: It’s bendy and shaped like a whip so you could whip it.

Teacher: Is there any other reason you picked it?

S.S: (Silence)

Teacher: I think it means more to you than just a whip. Can you explain why you were drawn to it?

S.S: (Sigh) Fine. We have a big willow tree in our backyard and while we were gone it got struck by lightning and died. It was my favorite tree. We could play in it and I would take branches down to use as whips. I miss my willow.

Upon hearing this, I challenged her to find a way to use natural materials to represent her beloved willow tree. After this interaction, S.S. began working on a drawing of the willow she loved.

This willow became her inspiration for the entire month long exploration. She found new ways to represent the tree she felt so strongly about through other pieces of nature and new art concepts. She weaved willow saplings through wire to create a statue. She worked with rocks to make a willow that could be cleaned up as simply as it was made. She even made her own world where the willow tree in the corner could always live to give shade to the inhabitants. By the end of the month, S.S. had worked diligently and created many meaningful pieces that could soothe some of the feelings of loss for the original willow tree.

After watching her journey, I am so proud of her for letting herself be vulnerable to find what the materials had in store for her. Instead of just following the path of another artist, she found peace in self-expression. And isn’t that what art is all about?

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