1. Methodological analysis of Frederic E. Church paintings
Five landscape paintings by Church have been selected for in depth examination. Students use the methodology described by Prown (1982) to interpret these paintings for artistic, historical, and scientific content and to develop an understanding of aspects of nineteenth century American culture. The paintings are:
West Rock, New Haven
The Natural Bridge, Virginia
Heart of the Andes
(1862). Prown (1982) writes that "analysis proceeds from description, recording the internal evidence of the object [painting] itself; to deduction, interpreting the interaction between the object and the perceiver; to speculation, framing hypotheses and questions which lead out from the object to external evidence for testing and resolution."
In the descriptive stage, students study the paintings for their internal content and evidence. They begin with "substantial analysis," in which the paintings' physical dimensions, extent of use and distribution of materials, and articulations are noted. The paintings are then analysed for their content, beginning with the broadest description of the various elements of the paintings and proceeding to more detailed consideration of these elements. Then, the "visual character" of the paintings is considered, beginning with two-dimensional organization, moving to three-dimensional configurations, and to such formal elements as color, light, value, and texture.
In the deductive stage, students engage each painting through sensory, intellectual, and emotional interactions, bringing to bear their own experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Here, they search for "unrestrained interpretations of the evidence elicited by the description," all the while offering deductions which remain reasonable in light of the descriptive evidence. Sensory engagement includes consideration of the stimuli the viewer would experience if placed in the world of the painting: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. Intellectual engagement requires the viewer to ask questions of the paintings and seek reasonable answers, as for example the time of day, season of year, features of defined space, and actions in the paintings at the depicted moment, just before, and just after the moment represented. Finally, the emotional engagement of the viewer to the painting is sought, with an effort to define the full range of emotional interaction with the depicted scene both positive and negative emotional reactions.
The speculative stage of analysis enables the viewer (the student) to give free reign to his/her thinking about these landscape paintings, the desired outcome being "as much creative imagining as possible, the free association of ideas and perceptions." The evidence derived from descriptive and deductive examination leads to the development of hypotheses about the overt and the subtle, the objective and the subjective, the conscious and the unconscious currents which run through and comprise the painted landscapes and their artistic, historical, moral and spiritual, and scientific content and meaning. A program of research is then defined and outlined as a way of checking the validity of the speculative inferences drawn from the art works. The research program that follows places greatest emphasis in this curriculum unit on gaining knowledge of concepts in geological and ecological sciences by focusing on current and historical writings from the scientific literature.
2. Program of research review of the scientific literature
The scientific research component of the speculative stage will be particularly useful in informing us as to the usefulness of considering landscape paintings to introduce the study of scientific concepts in geology and ecology. I develop here a brief outline of the directions my students take in seeking to understand the scientific content of each of the selected Frederic Church paintings.
West Rock, New Haven
West Rock Ridge has received extensive scientific study by geologists and ecologists over the course of the last two hundred years. There is a considerable body of early material published on the geology of West Rock and its associated trap rock ridges (Pine Rock, Mill Rock, and East Rock). Students are given access to reprinted material from the writings of the nineteenth century geologists Benjamin Silliman and James Dwight Dana of Yale, and James Percival, Connecticut State geologist of the middle portion of the last century (see Davis. 1898.). Twentieth century research on the southernmost trap rock ridges of the Central Valley includes material published in Connecticut State Geological and Natural History Survey Guidebooks and Yale geology course materials for fieldtrips in Connecticut, which I have assembled and included in my geology classroom library. Ecological work on West Rock dates to the early years of the twentieth century with the writings of George E. Nichols (Yale Forestry School) on trap rock upland ecology. West Rock is recognized as having the second highest concentration of rare and endangered plant and animal species in the state of Connecticut. Numerous studies have been carried out on West Rock habitat types, plant life, and invertebrate and vertebrate animal life, and I have been assembling this published information for the West Rock Ridge Park Association, supported by funding from the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, Natural Resources Protection Project.
With the input of various members of the Connecticut Botanical Society, I have developed a preliminary list of the herbaceous and woody plants of West Rock Ridge. I have prepared a list of some 240 species of birds found at West Rock (60% of the state avifauna), including nearly 70% of all bird species known to breed in Connecticut. I also have comprehensive data on National Audubon Society/New Haven Bird Club Christmas Bird Counts and Summer Bird Counts since the inception of these counts, with specific information on the birds of West Rock Ridge, what we call Area C of the counts. My own field work at West Rock has focused on the amphibians, reptiles, and mammals of the ridge, in addition to my study of breeding birds. The materials I have collected on West Rock serve as the basis for the students' research on Frederic Church's painting of this New Haven landmark and its scientific significance.
Geology topics to be explored by my students include: plate tectonics; faulting; rock types (igneous and sedimentary); volcanic (extrusive) and plutonic (intrusive) igneous rocks; columnar basalt; trap rock ridges and talus slopes; gravitational disturbance; glacial topography; meandering rivers and river erosion; floodplains. Ecology topics include: habitat types and biotic zonation; ridgetop habitats (xeric soils); slope habitats (mesic); floodplain/lowland habitats (hydric soils); rare and endangered plants and animals; breeding biology; adaptation; taxonomy; island biogeography.
The Natural Bridge, Virginia
The Natural Bridge figures prominently in historical writings dealing with Virginia's topographic landmarks (see University of Virginia Library website for a key exhibit on "Landmarks of American Nature Writing."). The College of William and Mary has an excellent website on the geology of Virginia, and this is the primary source of information for us on geology of The Natural Bridge in Virginia's valley and ridge geologic province. Our attention to ecological subject matter will take into consideration the distributions of "southern" species of vertebrates and invertebrates, based on an examination of scientific literature I have recently begun to collect.
Geology topics addressed include: geologic map of Virginia; physiographic map of Virginia; tectonic history of Virginia, including orogeny (mountain-building, fold and thrust belts); valley & ridge province; karst topography (natural bridges, sinkholes, caves, and underground drainage systems); natural hazards; economic geology. Ecology topics include: Eastern deciduous forest (oak-chestnut and oak-pine-hickory forest); southern species distributions; rare and endangered riverine habitat/species.
My brief search for scientific literature on Mount Katahdin has led to the identification of several key publications on Katahdin geology. Mt. Katahdin is at the northernmost end of the Appalachian Mountain chain and the Appalachian Trail. The Maine Department of Conservation, Maine Geological Survey literature available through the Worldwide Web contains some useful information on Katahdin geology. A useful source of information on Katahdin ecology is found in Bennett (1988).
Geology research topics on Katahdin include: glacial geology (the "Ice Age," continental ice sheets, glacial recession, cirque basins, arítes, alpine glaciers, glacial valleys, moraines, glacial lakes, glacial topography); igneous rock types; geological time scale; erosion; climatology. Ecology topics include: alpine ecology; island biogeography; plant zonation; rare and endangered species.
Heart of the Andes
I have not yet collected extensive information on South American geology and ecology. (The Cocha Cashu in the Amazon of Peru is a region that has seen considerable field ecological study.) However, I have a library of pertinent information on tropical geology and tropical ecology of Central America, including classic studies of neotropical ecology at Barro Colorado Island (Panama), La Selva rain forest (Costa Rica), Monteverde tropical cloud forest (Costa Rica). Further investigation of Ecuadorian geology and ecology will undoubtedly turn up key references that can be made available to my students. Church did careful studies of South American flora and fauna in preparation for his paintings of neotropical landscapes. My library holdings in the birds of Mexico and Northcentral America, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Venezuela will provide assistance in identifying bird species depicted by Church.
Geology topics for study include: climate; geomorphology (study of landforms); tropical soils; nutrient cycling. Ecology topics include: tropical plant and animal communities; altitudinal zonation; density and dispersion of forest trees; biological diversity; life history strategies; plant-herbivore interactions; frugivory; agricultural/forestry systems.
Church's painting of the volcanic cone Cotopaxi, one of the most active volcanoes of the Andes mountain chain in historic times, is a strikingly visual representation of a catastrophic geological event. An idealized image of Andean topography, it is nevertheless a valuable teaching aid for patterns and processes in geological and ecological sciences.
Geology topics include: volcanism; orogeny; hot spots ("Ring of Fire"); volcanic rock and volcanic deposits; eruptive styles; volcano topography; case histories of volcanic eruptions; economic impacts. Ecology topics include those listed under
Heart of the Andes
3. Program of research flora and fauna in field and laboratory
In my science teaching, I place emphasis on hands-on laboratory and field experiences. An important aspect of the teaching of this unit is the study of a rock and mineral study collection and fresh plant material and live animals as a way of seeing the pertinent geology and the living organisms that inhabit (some of) the natural landscapes depicted by Frederic Church. Given our location, this is most easily done for the geology and the biota of West Rock. I have assembled a teaching collection of rock types (West Rock dolerite, New Haven arkosic sandstone) from West Rock. I have samples of volcanic rocks (tuffs and vesicular basalts) from the volcano fields of northcentral New Mexico. I will have collected representative rock samples from Mt. Katahdin area for my first use of this unit. And, I have expectations that limestone rock samples from Natural Bridge, Virginia will be obtained shortly.
At various times during the teaching of the unit (and based on their seasonal availability), I bring in samples of plant and animal life from West Rock habitats: upland, slope, and floodplain. Students use field guides to help in the identification of species, and they make observations on structural adaptations and learn about physiological and behavioral adaptations. As part of their examination of representative biota, students prepare a series of sketches of the plants and animals they see in the laboratory.