Curriculum brought alive for art students abroad

Maggie Smith

Over Feb. break, 27 art students, accompanied by Redwood art teachers Lauren Bartone, Susanne Maxwell and Drake art teacher Martha Cederstrom, traveled to Florence, Rome, Pompeii and Naples to explore the history of various disciplines of art.

According to Maxwell, one of the goals of the trip was to bring the curriculum she was teaching her AP Art History students alive.

“In a science class, you could talk about how seeds grow, or you could go plant the garden. It makes a big difference when you’re actually doing and seeing and feeling and touching and experiencing the work,” Maxwell said. “There’s so much of our common humanity that is connected back into the arts and where we come from, and how these things have influenced who we are and where we are today.”

Leaving Florence, art students continued on their 11-day Italy trip over February break.
Leaving Florence, art students continue on their 11-day Italy trip over February break.

According to senior Kate Theriault who went on the trip, standing in front of artworks had a significant effect, especially David by Michelangelo.

“People can tell you how tall [David] is, but until you actually see it and you’re standing in front of it, there’s nothing that can really prepare you for the awe of that experience,” Theriault said.

Senior Lucas Marchi, who takes AP Art History and AP Studio Art, said seeing artwork in Italy was more meaningful than learning about it in the classroom.

“It gives a lot of context for [the art] too, because you don’t see just this one picture and this one work, you see all these other pieces around it, and you see the building that it’s in,” Marchi said.

Junior Lily Derecktor also felt that viewing the art in person that they’d studied in class led to an increased understanding of some of the 250 works students have to memorize as part of the AP Art History course.

“I think those who did [go] have kind of a step-up in the class because all those works are so important and there’s so much context and there’s so much history,” Derecktor said, “When you’re there to see it, it’s more memorable.”

Derecktor added that experiencing older works gave her a deeper appreciation for modern art, which was refreshing to see after looking at so many older pieces done in similar styles.

While the most recent trip was designed for the Art History curriculum, any student in the art department was invited. According to Maxwell, painters, photographers and ceramists also attended.

Maxwell had previously taken art students to Italy and France in the 1993-1994 school year, but hadn’t had enough time until this year to plan another trip. This year was perfect, she said, because it coincided with the creation of the first AP Art History class in the district.

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AP Art History teacher Lauren Bartone said that her motivations for planning the trip came from repeated student interest in traveling and her own experience studying in Florence.

“For me, that feels like part of my home, and those are works of art that I studied at the same age that a lot of my kids are, so I kind of felt like ‘We’ve got to take them. We have to finally get it together,’” she said.

At first, Maxwell said they planned to bring 20 students on the trip, but because of high demand, they increased the size of the trip to 27. Students signed up for the trip last spring, before they had started taking the class.

Maxwell said that the planning for this year’s trip took an immense amount of work, particularly scheduling the excursions and the restaurants for the group dinners, but it all paid off in the end.

“It was a lot of work and well worth it. I don’t regret a minute of it, and I couldn’t have done it without a good partner, so Ms. Bartone was excellent,” she said.

Bartone also said that collaborating with another art teacher was helpful in planning the trip.

“In the past, I’ve been intimidated by doing that planning and the bureaucratic kind of work that it takes to do international travel, but we felt like we could handle it together.”

According to Bartone, the group’s shared interest in art aided in the bonding of students on the trip.

“They’re all kids that love art enough to give up their February break. There was no sleeping in; there was no relaxing; it wasn’t a vacation at all. They worked really hard all day long,” she said. “That’s a self-selected bunch of kids who are really fun, and positive, flexible, resilient people.”

Maxwell also said she loved seeing the connections developing between students on the trip, both on their group text and their shared Instagram account.

“I think it’s a friendship of a group of kids that will always have that connection with each other. It was really special,” Maxwell said.

Theriault also said that the relationships she formed with the other students was one of her favorite components of the trip.

“It was so amazing getting to know people because if you looked at a list of everyone going on the trip, it was so broad. So many people, from leadership kids, to drama kids to AP Art History people,” Theriault said. “And that one thing that was bonding us all was art.”