Monthly Mentor

Robin Schnur (January)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Robin Schnur is the Director of Youth and Family Programs at the Art Institute of Chicago, where she works with an amazing group of leaders and educators to design and produce programs, resources, learning spaces, and leadership opportunities for (and with) young people and multigenerational families. A deeply held belief in the value of art and of museums to contemporary life drives her teaching and the work she does to create spaces for people to author their own museum experiences.Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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October 14, 2016

Experiencing the Landscape in Landscape Art

From: Annie Burbidge Ream

How do both Spiral Jetty and Sun Tunnels help you experience the landscape around it?
Why do you think the artists picked these sites for their artwork?


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Land art is often site-specific. Robert Smithson used basalt rocks from Rozel Point in Great Salt Lake to create his spiral, while Nancy Holt placed human-made concrete tubes on the desert floor that line up with the sunrise and sunset of summer and winter solstice. Both artworks tell ever-changing stories about the landscapes they exist in.

What strikes me about the desolate places of the American West is its sublime vastness. Without human elements, the vistas are so large that it is hard to comprehend how close or far away landforms are. The scale of the desert shifts, salt mounds look like mountains, the sky never ends.

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Think about Sun Tunnels as a camera lens.
How does it focus the foreground, middleground, and background?

The circular tubes limit your view and draw attention to details in the landscape. Sun Tunnels not only allows you to look closely at the land, but also tracks time of day as the light changes and dances in and out of the concrete tubes.

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Notice the water levels in these two photographs.
What is different about them?

These photos were taken two-weeks apart in March of 2013.
What do you think is contributing to the difference in water levels?

Spiral Jetty frames our view and understanding of Great Salt Lake. We are able to use the artwork to see how the lake is affected by climate, weather, and season. (I will talk about this in more detail in next week’s post.)

Spiral Jetty
and Sun Tunnels frame and focus the landscape and bring big spaces to a human scale. At the UMFA we hope to frame and focus these sites for multi-generation and family learners through our educational programs.

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One of our most popular programs is the Spiral Jetty Backpack. This backpack can be checked out a week at a time to take out to Spiral Jetty and explore the art and science of the site. The backpack has participants consider the artwork through multiple lenses focusing on maps, drawing, materials, shape, science, and nature through hands-on activities and experiments. The backpack also includes looking prompts, discussion topics, and questions for families of all ages to talk about the artwork together. Backpack participants receive a take-home packet with the backpack including worksheets and activities that they can keep. After the adventure, the backpack is returned to the UMFA. This program was developed by my colleague, Virginia Catherall, and is so popular that it has a continuous waiting list of families wanting to participate!

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Please download a featured activity from the Spiral Jetty backpack about maps. If you would like more information about UMFA’s backpack program or to see the entirety of its curricula, please leave a comment below.

Soon we will begin developing the Sun Tunnels backpack. As a preview of that curricula and next week’s topic on educator programming, please download “Framing the Landscape.”

Download Lesson Plans:
- Spiral Jetty Map Activity by Virginia Catherall
- Framing the Landscape by Virginia Catherall



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