Seasons out of time

7th January 2000 at 00:00
An artist's work has inspired some rich resources for 5-14 teachers. Julie Morrice reports.

Imagine yourself lying in the hidden heart of a ripe cornfield, the crackling of golden grain around and above you, or the tickle of barley or the nodding heads of oats. Picture the hard, cold fields of early spring, the tug of sharp winds through tough grass. Then picture the fug of the byre, yeasty smells and the rough curls of early lambs.

An expressive arts package that brings a year of field trips to your door was launched in Peebles at the end of last term. Twelve Seasons is a beautifully produced pack of 12 posters and accompanying 5-14 curriculum teacher's guide, based on the work of environmental artist Valerie Pragnell and published by the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum (SCCC).

Pragnell's original artwork consists of 12 large, wall-mounted boxes, packed with found objects, photographs, paintings and scraps of poetry and a diary which she amassed while living and working in the Teviot valley in the Scottish borders.

Pragnell, who was artist in residence at Harestanes Countryside Visitors' Centre near Jedburgh for a month in 1992, said: "I just loved the landscape - so rich and rolling - and I thought it would be wonderful to study everything, see everything unfolding through the year. I went out every day and kept a big visual diary. I was always taking slides and black and white photographs.

"It really took two years of gathering. At the end of the first year I felt I'd hardly started looking."

The boxes - rich with feathers and fungi, bark, a strand of barbed wire tagged with fleece - became part of the summer 1996 exhibition at the Tweeddale Museum in Peebles. Every year the museum mounts an exhibition for the 10 feeder primary schools in the area and runs workshops based around the exhibits.

"It helped (the children) to look and see things in different ways," says museum curator Rosemary Hanney. "Teachers said it opened up a lot of children who normally wouldn't have talked in front of the class."

The workshops focused on visual art and drama, and immersed children in the agricultural landscape, with bales of hay and earth and bags of grain filling the gallery. "There was a really nice atmosphere," says Pragnell, "and a tremendous mess."

The SCCC became involved when, by chance, a member of staff saw the artworks and realised they were a tremendous teaching aid

"This is a gorgeous resource," says Ian Barr, director of the 5-14 curriculum at SCCC, "and it reminds us, at a time when attainment levels and other forms of bean-counting are top of the agenda, that learning is about joy, excitement and imagination.

"Obviously this is an expressive arts pack, but it is also a rich resource for environmental studies and for language work. It goes beyond the formal curriculum to help pupils and teachers think about how education connects with issues such as sustainable development, rural issues and the environment.

"This is the kind of resource we would like to produce a lot more of in the future."

The teacher's pack gives details of visual arts projects for levels A to F, based on the 12 posters, and will prove invaluable to primary teachers who find art ideas running low. Hilary Elliott, a teacher at West Linton primary, took a P12 class to the original workshops at Tweeddale Museum and is full of praise for the project. "If you don't get the art expert coming to the school quite as often as you might hope, then this is a tremendous support, especially if art is not your particular strength."

An artwork inspired by and evoking the life of one small patch of countryside has now been made available to every school in the country, and this localcentral combination was highlighted by John Christie, director of education for Scottish Borders Council. "Scotland is big enough to have a diversity of approach and yet small enough to be able to pick up on those different ideas and approaches," he said. "I am pleased to see good practice being taken forward and endorsed by the SCCC."

From field to box to page and now on to the Internet: the SCCC is developing an online project, based on Twelve Seasons, which will invite schools to publish their own seasons project work in art, design and environmental interpretation. "Imagine pupils from Shetland, the east end of Glasgow, from all over the country, all putting their own spin and interpretation on it," says Colin McAndrew of the SCCC. The site will also offer the chance to meet Pragnell online.

'Twelve Seasons', pound;20, is available from Sales Department, Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum, Gardyne Road, Broughty Ferry, Dundee DD5 1NY, tel 01382 443600The online project: Valerie Pragnell's original artworks are on permanent loan to the Scottish Agricultural Museum in Ingliston

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