On Friday morning at the University of Wyoming Art Museum, about 15 children, armed with stencils, paper, feathers, pine cones, branches and string, set about creating art inspired by a week spent in the Laramie outdoors.
During the final day of Bug Boot Camp, students in grades 2-6 participated in art and science activities that capped a week spent learning about insects, soil, food systems, pollinators, birds, aquatic life and more.
Their charge was to make a cyanotype photograph using fabric soaked with a chemical solution, rendering it photosensitive. After placing their objects on the fabric, they would expose them to sunlight, creating silhouettes and shapes on the fabric.
“The parts that didn’t get exposed to the light, they’re still green,” explained Jess Beilharz, an artist-teacher at the museum, as she held up an example.
Students drew and cut out stencils of creatures they studied during the past few days, such as caterpillars, hummingbirds and beetles.
Eight-year-old Cameron Culhane created a stencil of a bird as he explained his favorite day of the week involved the study of birds and air quality.
“I like birds a lot,” he said. “Some birds eat a lot of bugs.”
Bug Boot Camp, which just completed its second year, was a joint effort between the Art Museum and the UW Biodiversity Institute.
Katie Christensen, curator of education and statewide engagement at the museum, said the first year of the program was inspired by an exhibition by artist and scientist Brandon Ballengee in summer 2016.
Organizers decided to continue the program this year because it was so popular.
“We thought, what a great way to get kids exploring their own backyards and parks, and art and science really aren’t all that different,” she said.
Boot camp participants spent the first two days at LaBonte Park learning about insects as they relate to soil quality and food systems, then plants and pollinators. They spent a day at the Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center learning about birds and air quality, then a day at the Laramie River learning about aquatic insects.
Nine-year-old Jonathan Vaske said learning about aquatic life was his favorite part of the week.
“We got to get in the water, and I found a huge, dead crayfish,” he said.
Science and art were intertwined as students observed their environment with an eye toward both disciplines, working with both scientists and artists in the process.
The week finished with a reception for parents where students shared their artwork and their newfound knowledge about Wyoming’s natural world.
“Hopefully, they’ll be able to talk about what an artist does, what a scientist does, how they are alike, how they are different,” Christensen said.
She said some students weren’t accustomed to spending most of a day outdoors, but everyone gained their footing as the week progressed.
“It’s experiential learning and object-based learning, which is really important for kids to have a variety of learning environments,” she said.
Though informal, the camp was also a way for students to be part of a learning environment while school is out.
“The idea of continuing to learn throughout the summer is really important to both the Art Museum and the Biodiversity Institute,” she said.