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Exploring nature on canvas


Susan Havran almost stepped on a brown snake.

Patricia Hanson confronted her fear of spiders.

Andrew Siegel took up nature photography.

They were among dozens of pupils who embarked on an outdoor adventure to gather ideas for an art project with a lofty purpose: creating murals to mark the 25th anniversary of the nature education program at Harford Glen Environmental Education Center.

The center has been home to programs for county schoolchildren since 1948, when the Board of Education signed a lease for the property that consists of 245 acres and a 75-acre lake.

The 4-by-8-foot murals, which depict nature themes with acrylic paint, will hang in the center as a tribute to the understanding of nature that was gained over the years by the legions of pupils who have attended the programs. The five pieces - including a series on the four seasons - will be unveiled this spring at an anniversary celebration of the center's residential program, the overnight outdoor education program for fifth-grade pupils.

"It is my hope that years from now people will still be coming to the center to enjoy the art that these kids are creating," said Mark Herzog, assistant supervisor of science at Harford Glen.

About 50 fifth-graders took buses to Harford Glen last October and canvassed the site to make sketches. Equipped with art supplies, each group was assigned a different season and a different landscape - a meadow, a field, a backyard-type scene or woods.

The idea to draw scenes from the property came from Herzog, who decided he wanted more art for the center after receiving two murals from a local business.

"I realized how much they brightened a room," said Herzog. "Until then, I hadn't realized how bare the walls in the buildings were."

Herzog wanted to amass a collection of students' art to use as teaching tools, as well as decoration.

Herzog decided that the best way for the children to depict real-life scenes was to bring them to the center to explore and draw what they see. The outing gave pupils and their teachers lessons in nature and tips on surviving in the woods.

For example, pupils led by Havran, a Dublin Elementary teacher, donned wading boots and trekked into the deepest part of the woods to get pictures for their winter wetlands mural. On their hike to the creek, they learned about some dangers of the woods.

"We slipped and slid in the mud, so we were a dirty mess," said Havran.

And they had a run-in with a snake.

"It was huge! It was about three feet long," said Havran. "It was a brown snake and about the same color as the mud. That's why I almost stepped on it."

In another part of the woods, a group led by Joppatowne Elementary teacher Sharon Pardew made drawings for an autumn forest mural. Along the way they looked for animal tracks and tried to identify creatures that lived in the woods. Patricia, a 10-year-old Joppa resident, was preoccupied with the eight-legged variety.

"I was so nervous that a spider was going to crawl up my leg that I couldn't concentrate on anything else," she said, grimacing at the thought. "Eventually, even though I knew spiders were all around me, I made myself stop thinking about them and I started drawing."

After the sketching session, the youngsters spent weeks combining their sketches to create a scaled-down drawing of their mural, which they submitted to Herzog.

"I didn't want classic adult renderings," said Herzog. "I wanted fifth-grade work."

Some pupils went beyond their visit to Harford Glen to gather information for their drawings. Havran's class researched animals online and 10-year-old Andrew Siegel of Darlington went to creek banks around the county to took close-up photographs.

"I took pictures to be able to see things like what the banks along the creeks really look like up close," Andrew said.

Andrew's partner on the project, Jesse Schwarz, said the research helped make the mural accurate.

"Our mural shows people what animals lived here and just in case these animals aren't here 20 years from now, we are making them look real so they will be remembered correctly," Jesse said.

A group led by Donna Birkmaier, a teacher at North Bend Elementary, is creating a backyard in the spring mural.

The backyard mural includes the Harford Glen mansion, the icehouse, a shed, a magnolia tree, a garden wall and a lone robin pulling a worm from the ground.

"It's the art work of fifth-graders," said Jackie Quigley Lanphear, the art teacher at Fountain Green Elementary School in Bel Air. "What will make it perfect is that it's fresh and it's all their work."

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