Connecting art and history

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By Kirsten Laskey

A piece of art and a piece of history can appear to be two separate things.

Are there any ties between an oil painting depicting George Washington crossing the Delaware River and the accounts of the Revolutionary War?

Perhaps through more than what meets the eye.

This summer, Los Alamos Middle School teachers Jon Pyle and Dana Kline will discover just how art and history are linked.

Pyle, a social studies teacher, and Kline, a special education teacher, were accepted to the National Gallery of Art’s Teacher Institute Summer 2010 in Washington, D.C.

The theme for the institute is “Crosscurrents of American Art: 18th and 19th Centuries.”

Pyle explained he learned about the institute from a postcard advertisement.

He talked to Kline about the program and they agreed it sounded “right up our alley.”

The two teachers applied as a team and were accepted into the institute last week.

Kline said the institute offers a six-day training that focuses specifically on American art and teaching history through art.

Lectures, gallery talks, discussion groups and hands-on activities will be utilized.

Participants will look at artwork from the Hudson River School that was done by John Singleton Copley, Benjamin West, Thomas Cole, George Catlin and others.

The institute will be held July 25-31.

It wasn’t easy getting into the program. Pyle said only 50 teachers in the U.S. are admitted into the institute.

Plus, the program offers an opportunity for Pyle and Kline to collaborate together and provide inter-disciplinary teaching.

Kline commented, “I think this will be a really effective teaching tool for us.”

She added, “Accessing curriculum in a standard way through reading a textbook is sometimes not the most effective way. Art is a universal language that people can understand.

“I think students of all abilities (should be able) to access the curriculum we’re teaching.”

Pyle said, “(Art) helps students develop a deeper understanding of where we’ve come from and who we are as a society … it gives a fuller picture.”

Kline said sharing models for interdisciplinary teaching and strengthening students’ visual literacy is one of their main goals for their time at the institute.

Of course, to go to the institute takes money. Therefore, an account has been established at the Los Alamos Public Schools Credit Union to accept donations to attend the program.

Also, people interested in making a donation can contact Kline at D.Kline@laschools.net or Pyle at J.Pyle@laschools.net.

Kline said, “This is our desire to go to this inter-disciplinary teaching and collaborative teaching … this would really benefit the students at the middle school.”

Pyle added, “We want to be able to be better teachers and the reason is to better students.”