The ‘Nanjing Window Project’
When I was informed that I would be teaching the Year 9 Art elective course in the second semester of 2015, I immediately began brainstorming ways in which I could create a killer unit of work. I wanted to involve students in the creative journey and deliver a quality learning experience. I wanted to generate an exciting encounter for these students in their first year of elective art classes, and provide a memorable period of engagement and involvement for the middle school. Working as part of a large Art Department at the Caulfield Campus of Caulfield Grammar School, with supportive leadership, I knew even my wildest ideas would be championed.
With an initial interest in using printmaking as my focus art making method, I started to look at the artist Harry Clarke and his magnificent black and white illustrations as inspiration. After discovering that he had made stained glass windows earlier in his practice and knowing that the school also had a series of commissioned stained glass windows around the school, I started to feel that this could be a great focus for my class. The plan was to involve students in a major collaborative art making project, and as a team they would design and create their own stained glass window. The theme of this collective artwork would be based on each student’s individual experience of the Year 9 International Program. As every student visits the Caulfield Grammar School Nanjing Campus at some point during Year 9, they would all have a common visual language on which to draw motivation. This artistic stimulus would all come together to create the first Caulfield Grammar “Nanjing Window Project”.
My overall objective was to establish an exciting project based learning experience within the Art classroom. The learning focus involved how we could best convey the experience of China to our community. The target was to engage students in a task, which would result in visible artwork, contributing to the school environment. It involved individual art making tasks in class and cooperation and collaborative discussions with lead-lighting artist David Whitcher. Students utilised skills and knowledge built throughout the semester to contribute ideas to the project. I also wanted students to engage with the community and to engage with the wider art world. I wanted to encourage collaboration, because I often see students become too focused on their own work, rather than the process and sharing their ideas and influences.
In order to draw out the student’s ideas, my unit of work involved a number of endeavours. They undertook research of Chinese culture and imagery and used personal journal entries from their trip as creative inspiration. Throughout the semester my assessment of student work was based on individual art making activities focused on developing the creative use of formal art elements and symbolism. Students used line, colour and shape to create digital drawings, lino-prints and glass paintings. They also used personal experience as a conceptual basis and studied the art making techniques of Harry Clarke, David Wright and Margaret Preston. Throughout the term, students reflected on their own artworks and used online digital platforms to formatively evaluate other student’s artworks. The final window design, measuring approximately 1.3 x 2m, is truly a combined artistic effort.
As part of my research for this project I undertook professional development in a lead-lighting course. However, I quickly learnt that it would not be logistically possible for my students to build the window themselves within the restraints of the school timetable. Instead I decided to utilise the expertise of a local artist David Whitcher in my stained glass initiative. David was keen to collaborate and visited the school to discuss the idea. He treated the students like clients by pitching ideas and showing them his past creations. During class time he also helped run group and individual discussion and planning sessions. Over the course of the unit he drew up developing plans based on student ideas and we ran evaluation sessions to follow up and progress the final artwork.
When the final design was established and voted on by the whole team, it was finally time for David to cut the glass and make the window. The completed window was presented to the campus leadership team and installed in a north facing window of the yr8/9 building in Term 1 2016. The window project continues in the Year 9 program this year is set to be an ongoing project for at least 3 years, with many window spaces available to be filled. I was extremely happy with the way the course ran and next time aim to take students to visit the artist’s lead-lighting studio. The Nanjing Window Project is visible to all students in the school and has also been a great way to publicise the Visual Arts courses. I feel that the next window will be even more successful as students will have more knowledge of the goal they are working towards. There is also scope to diversify the content of the window and expand the conceptual focus to encompass other aspects of the Year 9 school experience.
Visual Arts Educator Y7-12 Caulfield Grammar School