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The first couple of weeks in FYE Introduction to Art History were packed full of studying artwork with a focus on art from pre-historic times up to the era of the Romanesque in Europe. When we weren’t in the classroom learning historical context and analyzing specific works of art, we took trips to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College.
On our first trip, Jessica Hunter-Larsen led us to a monumental painting. Our class was tasked with analyzing each aspect of the piece beginning with basic details and eventually finding a possible meaning of the Renaissance work, which featured Mary, Jesus, and Joseph seated in an almost tropical wilderness. Next, we visited the exhibit, “Everyday Extraordinary: From Rembrandt to Warhol.” Here, we all chose one work of art and were asked to spend ten minutes writing down our observations for a “slow looking” activity. For this exercise, we were challenged to look deeply, slowly, and intently, focusing on the details and objects represented in the piece to learn more about how they fit together as a whole. We then shared things we noticed after gazing at the art for the prescribed amount of time – which for me, was an etching by Rembrandt. Due to the small and hard to make out details, I spent much of the ten minutes examining the work up close. I discovered so many aspects of the print that I never would have seen had I looked at it for just a few seconds as I made my way through the exhibit. There were more people and animals in the print than I saw at first glance, hidden from initial view by the print’s small size and the intricately inked lines.
When next we returned to the Fine Arts Center, we were armed with a graphic organizer to guide our individual examinations of what types of elements comprised a visually arresting, cohesive exhibition. We took note of how the exhibit was structured, what types of art work were included, and how the wall text was utilized. We will use what we noticed to inform our own process of curating an exhibition. I chose to examine the Chihuly exhibition because it seemed outstanding to me as a whole. Aspects that fascinated me about the exhibit were the overwhelming emphasis on color and the variety of three-dimensional and two-dimensional pieces. After reading the wall text, I also learned about how some of the pieces were made and their backgrounds.
We have learned so much and have more to come. Now I have to dive into the Renaissance and make some decisions about our exhibit but keep your eye out for more blog entries from my classmates!
Suddenly fourth week is in full swing. It is amazing that we have only been weaving for less than a month! The works we have produced are ones to be proud of for sure. We have spent late nights avidly weaving many yards,
problem solving, and eating an unreasonable amount of freeze pops to arrive where we are today.
As the final projects emerged from the looms, the personal style of each weaver became delightfully clear. Curiosities were explored and challenges overcome in a spectacular show of wit and determination. The morning was spent adding finishing touches and hanging our pieces for our final critique. Today we are having a show in conjunction with the printing press and bookmaking class in Coburn Gallery!
We have our fabrics on display in creative ways to enhance the viewer’ experience, and show off the variety of techniques each student has employed. There are pieces that boast double or triple weave, silk painting, and even an invented weave structure! The show is not one to miss. It will be a satisfying bookend to a very fulfilling block.
On Thursday night, as we neared the end of another busy week, the students of German 202, and a few members of the Max Kade house, CC’s German language house, gathered together at Professor Ane Steckenbiller’s house to eat a delicious home cooked, Mediterranean dinner, and to play an exciting German murder-mystery game. The game was set at a dinner party, and was centered around a group of characters, each one played by a different player. Through a series of clues and dialog between players, it becomes clear that the characters all have some connection to one another, and some connection to a murder that’s been committed, and that the murderer is in their midst. The goal of the game was to solve the murder by the time the dinner was complete. It took three hours, but with the help of the two native German speakers who were present, and some ice cream sundaes, we successfully completed the game.
Hi! My name is Grace, and I’m a senior geology major here at CC. This block I’ll be sharing my experience in Igneous Petrology. I fell in love with geology because of how differently it makes me see the world. One of my favourite authors, John McPhee, says it well “A million years is a short time – the shortest worth messing with for most problems. You begin tuning your mind to a time scale that is the planet’s time scale. For me, it is almost unconscious now and is a kind of companionship with the earth.” Like every geology class I’ve taken, I know that studying igneous petrology will further shift my perspective of our planet.
Igneous petrology is the study of the origin, composition, and chemical structure of igneous rocks. Igneous rocks are rocks that are formed by cooling magma. Rocks like granite form when magma cools below the surface, and volcanic rocks like basalt cool at the surface during volcanic eruptions. We spent our first day of class discussing how and where magma bodies are formed, and how they reach the surface to cool and form rocks. Magma can be generated in both the mantle in the crust. The specifics of these processes can be complex, but there are essentially only three ways to melt a rock and create magma: you can raise the temperature, lower the pressure, or change the rock’s melting temperature by adding volatiles such as water. It’s fascinating to think about the fact that every igneous rock started out this way, hundred to thousands of kilometers below our feet. The mighty Pikes Peak that towers over our campus today was once a liquid that slowly cooled and crystallized, then got uplifted to the surface, to become the iconic granite mountain that it is today.
On our second day of class we went from talking about massive bodies of magma to the microscopic properties of igneous rocks. One of the things I have always enjoyed about geology is the wide range of spatial and temporal scales that it covers, and this class is certainly no exception. We started the day with a lecture on optics and discussed what some common minerals look like under the microscope, then jumped into looking at thin sections for our lab. A thin section is an ultra thin (usually 30 microns) slice of rock that has been cut with a diamond saw and then sanded down until it is perfectly flat. The rock slice is then mounted onto a clear glass slide that can be studied under a petrographic microscope. Here is a photo of what one of our thin sections looks like under the microscope:
The bright colors you see here aren’t the true colors of the minerals in this rock. Instead, they’re interference colors that are caused by the light from the microscope breaking up as it passes through the crystals in the thin section. If you’ve ever shined a light through a prism and created a rainbow, you’ve seen interference colors! The interference colors that we see in thin sections can help us identify what minerals we’re looking at, since the physical properties of different minerals cause them to produce different colors. The first time I ever looked at a thin section, I was blown away by how much detail a thin section can reveal about the history of the rock. The proportions of different minerals, the shapes of their crystals, and the boundaries between crystals can all provide valuable clues about the rock’s crystallization history.
We were able to visit the Great Sand Dunes before heading back to CC. At the visitors center we wrote a few poems using a children’s field guide poem template. I will share a few simple poems written by classmates and some pictures from the day.
Eating, Frolicking, Juggling
Very cool animal dude
Writing, Sharing, Growing
Can’t wait to blog
Cook, Taste, Smell
I miss the taco
Our class had the opportunity to talk to a few expert women who taught us about the water rights system in the San Luis Valley and the different Rio Grande restoration projects that are happening. We also visited a potato farm and potato factory to gain a better understanding of the local industries and how they are affected by the availability of water in the valley.
On Thursday we spent the day at Trinchera Ranch, which is the fourth ranch I have visited this year with CC, but it is quite different from all the other ranches. Trinchera Ranch is the largest ranch in Colorado and consists of 173,000 acres privately owned. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which includes Mount Blanca–the third highest peak in the state, are located on the ranch. The mission statement for the ranch is to, “Practice sound stewardship to sustain and enhance the diverse natural resources of the Trinchera Ranch for recreational use and enjoyment, the overall health of the ecosystem, and economic benefit, while preserving the natural beauty of the ranch for future generations.” This mission statement encompasses a mutualistic relationship between humans and the land. Humans can benefit from the land economically and recreationally, and at the same time can benefit the land by managing it correctly.
As the ranch is so large, it holds a range of diverse programs. Aside from the conservation work on the ranch–primarily with the forests and streams, the ranch also holds opportunities for recreational activities such as hunting, fishing, mountain biking, and climbing. Some of the land is also used for scientific research, agriculture and occasional educational programs.
The workers (and dogs!) from the ranch welcomed us with much hospitality and generously shared their knowledge and expertise. They prepared an informative power point presentation about the ranch and the different conservation projects they are currently working on. After the presentation, we loaded into four pick-up trucks and they drove us to some of the conservation project sites. During the ranch tour we were lucky enough to see some elk and a coyote! It was an amazing opportunity to hear such a unique perspective on land conservation and to be able to ask the ranchers many questions about their views, the land and their lives.
Visiting such a strong conservationist ranch was a new experience that prompted a lot of thought. Among environmentalists, many people have different points of view about the meaning of conservation and preservation. Conservationists often believe that humans must control the environment in order for the ecosystems to thrive, while preservationists believe that humans should stop disrupting and interfering with what is “natural.”
Conservationists rationalized their view by acknowledging that nothing exists on it’s own. A person does not exist on his or her own; neither does a squirrel nor a pond nor a forest. The way humans exist and use natural resources has already changed the components and balance of existing ecosystems. Humans have inserted themselves into many ecological communities, breaking tight networks and influencing other species. As a species, we humans have already changed the environment by changing the composition of the atmosphere. In some places we have introduced foreign species and diseases. In other places we have extracted natural resources or contaminated them. The role we play in almost every ecosystem is difficult to undo. We have changed both biotic and abiotic factors all around earth. Because of our impact and disruption of what is natural, some conservationists believe that nature will destroy itself if humans do not manage the ecosystem. Since the ecosystem is already off balance, humans must manage the land to offset the human impacts. In addition, since humans must coexist with nature and benefit from the some of the resources it provides, natural occurrences such as large forest fires can no longer occur without major consequences. Since we are limiting the natural growth of nature, we must manage it in a way that is sustainable for human communities and the ecological communities to coexist.
However, preservationists ask the question, Is it ethical for humans to manage an entire ecosystem? Even with good intentions, a management decision may work to solve one issue while creating another one. Even managing the forest for the forest, and not for selfish reasons, can be detrimental to the ecosystem. Extreme views on conservation may be attempting to control the uncontrollable.
After the visit we continued on our journey to the Baca Campus. When we finally arrived, we claimed our rooms, made our beds and headed to the Desert Sage Restaurant, where a delicious meal of beef stir-fry, salad, rice and (local) potatoes, was waiting for us. The next day we would be visiting a potato farm and factory in the area and learning about water rights.
As I am writing this post, I am on the bus heading towards the San Luis Valley. Sleeping college students surround me, and I am reminded of all the pictures that were taken of me asleep in the van the last time I was on a CC field trip. The further away we travel from Colorado Springs the more snow that covers the landscape. I look out the window as we pass by snowy hills, mountains, and plains. The views are striking and it is clear that we are quickly approaching a rural Colorado. I begin to reflect on the first few days and the mini field trip that we had on the second day of the class.
A few things I have learned about the environment throughout my life: temperatures are rising, ocean acidification is increasing, icebergs are melting, biodiversity is decreasing, water sources are becoming more and more contaminated and learning about the environment is awfully good at making people feel depressed and disheartened about the future. I have talked to a handful of environmental studies majors who reported that at some point throughout their college career they felt overwhelmingly hopeless about making a difference on environmental issues.
One of the first readings of the course provoked a lot of thought for me as an educator. William Cronon, an author and professor, shares his reflections concerning his teaching. He gained insight that by the end of the course he taught, although he had done an excellent job at teaching all of the concepts and content, most of his students felt despairing about the prospects of the Natural World, and for inflicting that emotion he had failed. Cronon’s reflection reminded me of a study that I read during my time at TREE semester. The study explored why young people’s knowledge and values about the environment are often not reflected in their actions. The results showed that a significant factor in predicting a value-action gap is the amount of hope that the person feels regarding the future of the environment. Forward thinking will lead to forward improvements. The more hopeful our young people are, the more hopeful our planet is.
There are different ways to teach environmental education that vary in the information, skills and emotions that are “transferred” to the student. Environmental history (a large part of this interdisciplinary course), for example, is a dense discipline with lots of storage, however it only becomes useful if it is taught in a way that empowers students to become part of the history and to create change to benefit the future. In order to create a relationship between young people’s ideas about action and the environment, teachers, such as my professors and myself, must present environmental issues to their students in a promising fashion that illuminates the role that humans, culture and time have had in the progression of environmental history. Instead of viewing nature and humans in a dualistic view that emphasizes the incompatibility between the two, it is important to acknowledge the complexity, and dynamic/ever-changing relationship between the two. If students do not feel like empowered participants of history, change will never occur.
On Tuesday, my professor, Tyler Cornelius, inspired me, as he was able to teach us about environmental history using an approach that allowed the class to socially construct our own knowledge about the intricacy of the Colorado Springs landscape story. We drove up Gold Rd. towards Cheyenne Mountain and stopped at a viewpoint at high elevation. The viewpoint provided us with a sight that I would have only been able to describe as beautiful before taking this class. However, I arrived to the location prepared to analyze the picture from the eyes of an environmental historian. The view that I examined closely resembled the one of this picture. We all bundled up before dismounting the bus and then took 20 minutes to make observations on the landscape.
Each one of our personal histories shaped the way that we viewed the land. By noticing simple observations such as color and shapes (nothing that a child could not do), we were able to see ideologies that subsist in the land. We were essentially putting all of out efforts to think like children; using simple evidence to inquire and learn about the world we live in.
As a class, through discussing everyone’s observations and hypotheses, we were able to identify problematic situations in a holistic manner, acknowledging all the historical factors without casting blames. With my freezing cold hand, and the wind blowing in my face, I stared below at Colorado Springs and finally felt that I understood the city and natural environment that I sometimes call home (and sometimes am very hesitant to call home too!). I practiced the skill of viewing landscapes from the eyes on an environmental historian by making observations and deductions that illuminate the interconnectedness between different factors and ideologies acting on the land. I am practicing these skills right now, attempting to make sense of all the mountains and towns I see outside my window. Honing my inquisitive curious mindset, just like a child, as I search for the meaning hidden behind all the different colors that create these scenic images that are passing in front of my eyes.