Anyone who has seen the documentary Rivers and Tides, about environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy, can’t help but be amazed at the epic art that can be created with just leaves and rocks. Now artist and outdoorswoman Alyson Stone, with Lyon Arboretum’s education assistant Emma Makepa-Foley, is teaching Outside Art, a new Honolulu Museum of Art School class that uses nature, Hawaiian culture, and basic art principles to perhaps plant a Goldsworthyesque seed in students, and get them away from an increasingly screen-oriented life and into nature. The class starts Feb. 1 in Mānoa at lush Lyon Arboretum the museum’s partner in this exciting new program.
“You can’t make art without nature,” said Stone as she walked through the lush arboretum grounds this past Saturday. “Nature is inherent in art—colors I couldn’t dream up on a palette exist in nature. There are bananas here that are a bright magenta that is incredible. And especially being a ceramist, I love how pure that form is. People before me took the red dirt on their land and made vessels they needed.”
Stone grew up backpacking in Colorado and has trained in wilderness first aid. This past summer she worked at the Women’s Wilderness Institute in Boulder as a guide on weeklong backcountry trips and the program director’s assistant, and later this month will help lead the after-school outdoor education program Wild Kids (based at Le Jardin Academy, but open to the public), which will also include a backpacking trip in Montana. She also holds a BFA in ceramics from the University of North Texas. (Plus she is an experienced rock climber and certified vinyasa yoga instructor!)
Combining her background as a ceramist with her love of the outdoors, Stone aims to make children feel “ownership of being in the woods. I want them to learn they can have access to nature and feel safe being in nature.” And, as a result, perhaps students will develop a sense of stewardship toward nature. “Maybe they’ll think, ‘I’m enjoying it, and it’s my job to take care of it too, so everyone can enjoy it,’” said Stone.
Lyon Arboretum is an ideal place to hold the class, said Stone, because “it gives enough of a feel of being out in nature, but isn’t too wild. The grounds provide them with stimulation, while letting children feel safe.” Whether kids are experienced hikers or have not had many opportunities to experience the outdoors, the class is a great way for them to be creative, and explore the natural world.
Walking down a trail, Stone picked up a dried hala tree seed and swiped her finger over one end of the oblong pod to reveal natural bristles. “Hawaiians used this as a brush,” she says with admiration. The class will cover topics such as how plants were part of traditional Hawaiian culture—Makepa-Foley has studied la‘au lapa‘au (Hawaiian herbal medicine).
Stone explains that the 11-week class, held on Saturdays from 9 to 11am, will unfold in sections. “First we’ll take kids into the woods to experience nature and get them to identify patterns and textures—things that are in art and that are also in nature. They will do drawings so they can start really seeing nature,” she says. Then the class will put what they’ve observed into a cultural context, with an emphasis on Hawaiian traditions, learning how “people have seen patterns, textures and lines in nature and mimicked them in art forms and artifacts, as well as how things we consider art now, were utilitarian objects in the past.”
From there, the class will see how nature offers many ways to create things, such as a traditional hale pili. Students will make headpieces, masks, and lei.
Finally, students will identify and gather natural materials to be used in a large collaborative landscape installation. After building maquettes, they will create the full-scale installation, which family and friends can come to see at the “art opening.”
Stone can’t wait for class to start, and see how students respond to the innovative curriculum. “Maybe,” she said, “it will spark something deeper in them.”
Feb. 1-April 19
For children in grades 4 to 6
Correction: Due to a writer’s error, this article previously misidentified Alyson Stone as Alyson Swett. Swett is her maiden name.