Monthly Mentor

Dr. Patty Bode (July)
Each month, a different member and NAEA awardee is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Patty Bode just wrapped up her second year as interim principal of Amherst Regional Middle School in Amherst, MA. She is an art educator, researcher, lecturer, and activist. Bode’s research, teaching, and community collaboration focus on advancing student and teacher voices in art curriculum reinvention and transformation—opening borders and questioning what counts as knowledge. Throughout her work, she consistently asserts critical multicultural perspectives and teaches racial literacy through imaginative practices in art education. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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« Experiencing the Landscape in Landscape Art | Main | What inspires you in your own art practice? »

October 21, 2016

Planning Your Meet-Up: The Power of Climate and its Effects on a Landscape

From: Annie Burbidge Ream

How might experiencing Land art be different depending on the season?
If you could pick a time of year to visit these sites when would it be?

Works of art like Sun Tunnels and Spiral Jetty highlight the dynamism and rapid changes of Utah’s landscape. Clear skies quickly turn dark; water levels engulf a lakebed and then disappear. To me, one of the most exciting things about Land art is no matter how many times you visit these places each experience is completely different and new.

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Sun Tunnels can be severely hot in the summer or a muddy mess during spring showers. During this past April’s meet-up most of the cars were stuck in the mud after a series of heavy rainstorms, and as we were pushing cars, I looked up to notice my friend and colleague’s hair standing straight up in the air. After commenting how cool it looked, we both yelled, “LIGHTNING!!!” and ran and tripped through the mud as fast as we could to the safety of the car. Exploring Land art means embracing the idea that you never know exactly what nature is going to hand you.

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Robert Smithson completed Spiral Jetty in 1970 and shortly after it was submerged by flooding waters only to re-emerge in the early 2000s. Today, due to drought, the water is a fifteen-minute walk down the lakebed from the artwork, the rocks of Spiral Jetty covered not by water but salt and sand. In the spring and summer, thousands of pelicans fly over your head as you stand on the artwork; fall brings crystalized bugs stuck in the lakebed; and winter is silent as six-foot-tall mountains of foam roll, flop, and dance over the landscape.

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Both Sun Tunnels and Spiral Jetty highlight the power of our climate and its effects on a landscape. By experiencing these works we are able to witness nature at its most extreme. We like to remind visitors to these sites to always be prepared. Check the weather; bring lots of water, food, proper clothing and footwear. We also ask that you “leave no trace” when visiting by carrying out anything you bring and leave the natural environment exactly how you found it. Visit our website for more details. 

An important aspect of programming for Land art at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts is creating teacher resources and providing professional development for K-12 educators across the state. We know that when we work with teachers to develop classroom content that connects Core Standards with artworks our impact grows exponentially and our resources serve even more students across the state.

An educator professional development workshop model we have been testing recently brings teachers and their families together for a Land art workshop. Teachers and their families start in the morning together learning about Sun Tunnels and Spiral Jetty and creating art in response. Then the teachers and families split into breakout sessions. The teachers explore how to incorporate Land art and STEAM curricula into their classroom, while the families do a number of hands-on experiential workshops to learn and experience concepts connected to these important works.

Here are some examples of lesson plans presented at educator professional developments on Sun Tunnels and Spiral Jetty written by my colleague, Laura Decker. These lesson plans highlight arts integration of some of the content mentioned above –nature, climate-change, and site.  

Earthworks Ecosystems Lesson Plan

Tunnel Vision Diorama Lesson Plan

Last week is our final Land art post folks! We will end by talking a bit about artists Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson, and highlight the challenges and successes of getting students out to visit these sites in person!




I am curious; do you feel that these types of land art could serve as a kind of "climate change barometer"? Having a large, easily recognizable landform, like Spiral Jetty, allows one to have a reliable and constant frame of reference with which to judge the changes in its surroundings.


thanks for your comment, Jacob. I absolutely agree that works of Land art are being used as barometers for climate change. Our science partner, The Great Salt Lake Institute at Westminster College uses Spiral Jetty as not only a way to judge water levels from year to year, but also conduct research and experiments about the lake and its ecosystems. Spiral Jetty creates a very visual picture of what is happening to our landscape and ecosystems in Utah.

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