Creating art in nature: Art at Cedar Point offers unique art class experience
calendar icon07 Sep 2018 user iconBy Kathe C. Andersen
Registration for the summer 2019 Art at Cedar Point course, "Working with Watercolor: For Journaling on Nature" with Professor Aaron Holz will begin in November. See the link below the story for more information.
Lincoln, Neb.--Their art classroom for two weeks is located approximately 280 miles from either Richards Hall or Woods Art Building on campus in Lincoln. It is located in western Nebraska near the city of Ogallala and Lake McConaughy.
Art at Cedar Point is a two-week, interdisciplinary art course offered by the School of Art, Art History & Design each summer and taught at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Cedar Point Biological Station, a field research facility and experiential classroom.
The station, in operation since 1975, “sits in the heart of the western high plains near the juncture of tall grass and short grass prairie, on the south edge of the Sandhills and the North Platte River Valley,” according to its website.
“The core mission of most biological stations is about place-based research,” said Jon Garbisch, associate director of Cedar Point. “It provides a setting where we are not a national park or a state park in the sense that we are preserving it as pristine. It’s much more about having an area where we can protect long-term research plots where it’s okay to manipulate the environment. We’re not a place where you go and admire things and stay hands off.”
It’s not uncommon for biological field stations to also have some kind of humanities embedded within their science context, Garbisch said. A conversation with previous Director Emeritus John Janovy’s wife, Karen, who was the long-time education coordinator at Sheldon Museum of Art, led Garbisch to connect with Cather Professor of Art Karen Kunc.
“It was Karen [Kunc] who came up with the idea that we could do one advanced art class that rotates through senior faculty and have a few resident artists and an art camp,” Garbisch said. “It’s grown out of Karen pushing a couple of faculty to come out here. You come here for a holistic experience. You’re embedded in the environment. The interaction between students, the interaction between students and their instructor, and the interaction between those people and the resident scientists for the summer is just something that happens naturally.”
This summer’s class, “Making Your Mark: The Figure and Nature” was taught by Associate Professor of Art Santiago Cal from June 4-15. Ten students took the intensive studio course, creating artworks based on their experience at Cedar Point.
In addition, 12 artists in residence were in residence for one- and two-week residencies throughout the summer at Cedar Point. And Art at Cedar Point also organizes community outreach events that include a speaker series and hiring Nebraska undergraduates to gain teaching experience through an art and science adventure camp for area students.
“It’s been really fun,” said Ian Cuevas, a junior art major originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, taking this summer’s Art at Cedar Point course. “There’s a certain amount of freedom that you get with, one, a high-level class, but, two, just being in a place where everyone wants to be learning. They also want to go off and explore. It feels less like a class and more like sort of an artist’s residency.”
For Kristina Insingo, a senior art major from Floral Park, New York, Art at Cedar Point was a whole new experience for her.
“It’s been really eye-opening because, obviously being from New York, this kind of stuff is completely new. I’ve never been so in touch with nature,” she said. “Just going on hikes and seeing the monuments and going and doing and adventuring—it’s just really cool to be part of a different kind of culture like this.”
Insingo said she knew she was signing up for something different, but she didn’t realize exactly what it would be like.
“It’s amazing. Honestly, when I signed up for Cedar Point, I was like, sure, something different,” she said. “I wasn’t really expecting living in a cabin, and bugs and spiders and snakes. I wasn’t really ready for that, in a sense. But not being ready for it just allowed me to be more open to it. And it’s just so beautiful out here. I didn’t even know this existed in Nebraska.”
Art at Cedar Point has been offered since 2014. Courses have focused on photography, printmaking, mixed media and now this summer’s drawing and the figure in nature course. Next summer, Professor of Art Aaron Holz is projected to teach a watercolor journaling course.
“We created a course that is open for art majors and also other students to fulfill their arts requirement for an interdisciplinary engagement and for which broad perspectives can be brought together in an ‘out-of-the-ordinary place,’” said Kunc, who helped found the program and taught Eco Printmaking into Bookmaking at Cedar Point in 2015. “This kind of experience opens possibilities, resourcefulness, isolation from usual distractions, immersion into the vast environment, and provokes questions of values, our place in the world, a new way to think and create.”
Cal said when he created his course this summer, he kept his course loosely structured.
“I didn’t want to come in and just dictate projects,” he said. “I wanted them to define themselves in this place, and I have to say that they are doing very good work. All of the works are meaningful to them. None of the work seems like assignments, and all of the works are specifically tied to their experience or what they’re thinking about while they’re here.”
Cuevas, for example, harvested willow and yucca to create a mask and rope. He also made a corkboard that displayed an investigation for a paranormal investigator that was interactive for the viewer to solve the case of abducted campers. Other students were working with video and sound, as well as painting, drawing and other mixed media projects.
Not all of the students are art majors or even art minors. Justin Hicklin is a senior double major in biochemistry and Spanish. Art at Cedar Point was the first art class he had ever taken.
“I had been looking to come out to Cedar Point for other science classes since my freshman year, but I never had the opportunity to come,” he said. “My advisor actually suggested that I look at taking this ACE 7 [a general education requirement], so I guess that’s how I initially enrolled. But I guess my experience has been a lot more than an ACE credit.”
Even though he’s never taken an art class, he said his classmates and Cal were supportive of his ideas.
“It’s been interesting to me to see how inclusive everyone is out here and how willing they are to look at my ideas, and although they’re a little different, they really look at them and appreciate them,” he said. “Even though I’m only a beginner, they still treat me the same as if I’ve been doing this as long as them.”
Maris Stebbing, a senior philosophy major with an art minor from Norfolk, Nebraska, is on her third visit to Cedar Point. She came out after her sophomore year for a biology class, but their projects left her no free time to explore the space.
“I loved the space so much that I stayed here, and I worked in the kitchen for the rest of that summer,” she said. “And then last summer, two of my best friends were here taking the art class with Eddie [Dominguez], and I came and visited for a few days. And now I’m taking the art class. I’ve come full circle and seeing things I haven’t noticed before.”
It’s a different experience taking an art class at Cedar Point.
“For one, the class seems a lot closer than your average studio class,” Stebbing said. “It’s a different kind of social intimacy. Whereas you all chose to be here, and you know it’s because you love what it is and what you do. In a studio class, it’s more for a requirement.”
Toni Kemerling, a senior secondary special education major and art minor from Crete, Nebraska, said her Cedar Point experience was helping her see her environment in a new way.
“I think I’m starting to look at things differently,” she said. “I was telling Santiago that I see little bugs, and I’m examining them. I wouldn’t have done that before this. Now, I know a little bit about them and what the bugs do. I’ve looked up plants. I think when I go home, I will continue what I’m working on here because it’s something I want to continue for a long time. It’s like a journal-type of thing.”
Kunc said there is great value in having art and science mix at Cedar Point.
“Here we see that the research actions and processes of artists and scientists have a similarity, of dedication, hard work, attention to details and ‘follow through,’ a seriousness about making and testing ideas,” she said. “And to learn from and interact with each other is enriching, even if there are skeptics about what artists do among the scientists. Here is a way to impress them, and to share excitement about discoveries, and artists’ role as interpreters.”
For most of these students, the Art at Cedar Point class was an experience like no other they had.
“I will be bragging about this for years to come,” Insingo said. “It’s just so cool to be in a different environment and learn different things.”
J.P. Davis, a senior journalism major and art minor from Omaha, Nebraska, said he was learning in a new way.
“It almost doesn’t feel like a class,” he said. “It feels like a class because we’re learning so much, but this is the way school should be—applied learning. It’s so beneficial. The traditional classroom setting is kind of flawed, but every so often, there are classes like this where it’s like, okay, this is learning. It’s been great.”
For more information on Art at Cedar Point, including how to enroll in the class or apply for the artist-in-residencies, please visit go.unl.edu/artatcedarpoint.