Exploring Together at Portway Junior School

At Portway Juniors they have their own small woodland, planted with the Andover Trees United Director, Wendy Davis, and a woodland trail that runs through it, along the edge of the school field. The wood is fairly young and consists of a mix of native species. Today’s group of children were a Year 3 class, with their teacher Alex Walker, and after a similar start to the other four introductory sessions, we moved outside to explore this area.

The children seemed keen to identify or name different tree species and to talk about whether or not they were healthy. The introduction given by Becky in the classroom to Ash Die Back Disease, and the offering of stethoscopes and magnifying glasses to look and listen more closely, gave the children an opportunity to consider the trees as living beings, ones on whom our own health and well-being depends.

‘Before today I just thought trees were wood, with leaves…’

We found a few young Ash Trees amongst the Sweet Chestnuts, Oaks, Beech and others, and helped the children to use their senses to notice the bark and buds, the fallen leaves, and the wildlife that uses the woodland as their home.

‘I loved spending time in nature… ‘ ‘I’ve learnt different types of trees.’

On our way out of the classroom we heard a Peregrine Falcon squabbling with a mobbing crow, and looked up to watch them pass, then talked together about the pair that next on St Mary’s Church in the centre of Andover. On exploring the wooded area we found a cluster of pigeon feathers too and tried to work out who had eaten the pigeon – a fox? the Peregrine?

On our next session we will be walking to Charlton Lakes and documenting our experiences of the Ash Trees that grow there. Children have suggested that we collect different objects and materials on our way, that we could make artwork from found materials. They also suggested that we revisit the ways of working that we introduced them to today, using rubbings, writing, drawing and printing into their project sketchbooks.

Becky and I noticed the children’s interest in the health of the trees, and the fact that we rely on them for our needs too. We wondered if following this up and looking into the science a little more, and the interrelationship of tree and human health might be a good way to go with this group.

‘If all the trees go, there won’t be any oxygen, and we won’t be able to survive.’

It’s these glimpses of emerging ideas and concerns, that give us the starting point we need for planning a session which grabs the children’s imagination and holds their interest.

Today was the final introductory session with the five partner schools. Next comes our shared Inset (teacher CPD) for all the teachers involved, at the end of January in the CAS Chapel in St Mary’s Churchyard, central Andover. The Inset will give everyone a chance to meet, discuss how the first session went, and explore the value of art in outdoor learning, focusing particularly on child-centred ways of working. It will also give the teaching staff a chance to see our exhibition venue, ahead of our shared exhibition there in July 2020.

I’ll also start taking more time now to document my own experiences of Ash Trees, both in Andover, and where I live in Wiltshire. With the school sessions underway, I’m developing a clearer picture of where we will be visiting next, and the kind of themes we will be exploring with each group, so I can respond through my own artwork, and continue with my research into the cultural and ecological role of Ash Trees.

One thing I’m keen to do is identify places around Andover that are linked with Ash Trees, and visit them. I’ve found Ash Tree Road on Google Maps, and today the children pointed out that one part of the school lies on Ashfield Road. If you know of any other place names in and around Andover that are Ash Tree related, or have a favourite Ash Tree you’d like to share, please do get in touch.

A Frosty Start with Appleshaw St Peters

The mist stayed with us throughout the morning at Appleshaw St Peter’s Primary School. With a similar range of materials and the same introduction as the other four schools, its really interesting for Becky and I to see how the children respond.

Appleshaw has lovely wooded grounds with quite a few Ash Trees, as well as a few other species. After introducing ourselves, the project partners, and our plans for the year ahead (including the Ash Tree Stream exhibition at Chapel Arts Studios at the end of the Summer Term next year), we took the children outside.

There was quite a lot of work that used words today, with several poems developing out of our request to the group to pay attention to their senses.

The thick frost on the ground, frozen spider webs hanging from bushes, and the pale mist filling the spaces between the trees and across the fields, lent the landscape a real character. The children certainly seemed inspired.

“We normally do sketching indoors…” Girl talking about her experiences of art

We started by basing ourselves under a beautiful big Oak tree, which dropped its leaves into our boxes of materials and onto our paper, then we moved away once the frost melted and the dropping leaves became drips of water.

The children were a bit cold after an hour outside, but after a break inside to look at each other’s work and thaw out a little, we moved back outdoors and challenged them to learn from each other’s artwork, to experiment with layering different resources together, and to persevere with a piece of artwork even when it didn’t turn out as they had hoped.

“My favourite thing is drawing and making all the stuff that we can see and hear…”

“If you’re doing art in nature, you connect with nature” – Girl reflecting on her morning

We will continue our discussions with Zoe Yelland, the class teacher, as the project develops and we plan the second session. At the moment we seem to be heading in the direction of exploring words and sounds, poems and stories, and their relationship to our embodied experiences of trees in general and Ash Trees in particular.

Taking Art Outside with Andover C of E Primary School

This morning was Becky and my first session of the project with Andover Church of England Primary School, a town centre school with whom Andover Trees United has worked a number of times before, carrying out tree planting and other activities. For Ash Tree Stream we are working with Class 3 and their teacher Charlotte Down.

Although there are no Ash Trees on the school site, we gave the children a chance to use their sketchbooks to explore and record the trees they do have, in a range of different ways. In our next session in March, which will be a full day, we will walk together through the town, following the River Anton towards Rooksbury Mill, to find and record the Ash Trees that grow along its banks.

Today Becky gave the children an introduction to how Ash Die Back Disease affects the health of Ash Trees. We explained to the children that we wanted to give them a chance to celebrate the Ash Tree, and to notice them and the ecosystems that they support, while they are still here. We also explained the particular significance that the Ash Tree has to Andover, through the origin of the town’s name, and its links with the local river.

The children made use of the resources on offer to take rubbings of leaves, logs, a wooden fence and other features, discussing the patterns and textures as they did so. We explored ways of combining the different media together to record our sensory experiences, observed the way that the frosty ice crystals highlight leaf veins and other structures, and compared the shapes and sizes of different leaf prints.

One boy used rubbings of different found materials to create ‘a woodland scene’, whilst another created a thickly layered and textured page out of the resources on offer. As with sessions at the two previous schools, we stressed the importance of being playful and experimental, of there not being a right or wrong way to explore and record.

“Think of the whole field as being your art…” – A boy sharing his work with a classmate

In the time between now and our next session in March, the children will continue to work with Charlotte, using their sketchbooks to link all their learning together. They will also take their books home to share with family and record experiences of Ash Trees near to where they live.

As they do so, we will keep in touch with school, to follow where their journey takes them, and plan consecutive sessions that build on their ideas and interests. To kick start this shared planning, we finished this morning’s session by gathering together a list of ideas that the children would like to contribute to session 2, and the equipment that they think we will need.

There’s always a lot of work involved in setting up a project, but it is all made worthwhile for me when I kneel beside a child on a school field, and experience their sense of wonder as they notice the beauty of a fallen leaf, or the movement of a fast escaping worm.

“I never thought it would be this much fun… I really want to do another rubbing!”

Starting Out at Vernham Dean

This morning was the first Ash Tree Stream session at Vernham Dean Gillum’s Primary School at Vernham Dean, a village about 9 miles north of Andover.

The content of this first session was similar to that at Harrow Way last week. I want to offer the schools the same general starting point and then the freedom to take the project off in different directions as time goes on. The main differences with this first session were that Vernham Dean is a very rural school, unlike Andover-based Harrow Way, and that I was working with Year 3 and 4 children today, whereas at Harrow Way the students were a fair bit older, being in Year 8.

It was a beautifully bright and frosty morning today, with the low sun shining up the valley as we explored out in the school grounds. We used a range of ways to support the children to record what they noticed about the Ash Trees that grow there, and a number of other tree species too. Becky wasn’t able to join us this time, so Jacob, an ATU volunteer and qualified teacher came along to support the session.

In each of these introductory sessions, we are asking the children what they’d like to do next. Session 2 with each school will be a full day, spent getting out into the surrounding area, finding, recording and interacting with the Ash Trees and other features or species that we find there.

At Harrow Way some students suggested focusing on footprints, identifying animals by their tracks and maybe casting some. They also were keen to take photographs and to make artwork from fallen branches and other found materials.

Today at Vernham Dean the group talked about mapping, and finding ways to share the location of local ash trees with others, creating leaflets or tree labels, and recording the trees with different kinds of drawing.

The second session at each school will take place in February or March, so there is some time in between now and then for schools to take the themes and explore how they connect with existing and planned topics. We have also asked children to take their sketchbooks home to respond to and record the Ash Trees near to where they live.

In the meantime I have two more sessions to run this week, with Andover Church of England Primary School on Wednesday, and Appleshaw St Peter’s School on Thursday, with the final introductory session at Portway Junior school next week, on Wednesday 11th.

I’m also developing my own artwork, in response to time spent with both trees and children, and will share some of that as things evolve.

Day One at Harrow Way Community School

“Do you know what I’m going to do when I get home? I’m walking my dog and doing this – I’ll let my dog walk on my page and make footprints!”

Today we ran the first session of this year-long project, with Year 8 children from Harrow Way Community School, introducing them to ways of using art to explore and record. We are focusing on Ash Trees, but also incorporating the students’ experiences of the local environment as a whole.

Following introductions to me (Project Artist), Becky (ATU Education Officer), Andover Trees United and CAS (Chapel Arts Studios), we initiated a group discussion in response to the question ‘What Can Art Be?’. We wanted to get a sense of what the group understood art to be, and to begin a document that we could add to and update over the length of the project.

After sharing examples of my own artwork, and the ways I combine different media to document multi-sensory experiences of places, we took our sketchbooks outside onto the school field and began to experiment.

We focused on a group of trees to one side of the field, which included some fairly young ash trees, laid out the resources on a groundsheet, and invited the group to explore the area and record their experiences in their sketchbooks.

The group were encouraged to be playful and experiment, to combine rubbings, printing, text and found objects in ways that worked for them, whilst paying attention to their senses and their feelings.

“This is my first time doing art outside

“I loved collecting Ash leaves”

Each child will use a sketchbook or journal across the length of the project, both within and outside of the 3 project sessions facilitated by myself and Becky, so that they can keep a record of where their investigations take them.

At the end of the morning, we came back together in the classroom, to hear the students reflect on their experiences, share their artwork, and start to plan for our next session in February, when we will be walking to and working at nearby Charlton Lakes.

Central to this project is the belief in the need for the students themselves to be involved in the planning. We want to work with them to develop a project that gives them opportunities to learn about where they live, in ways that are fun, that involve all their senses and which places that learning within the context of global environmental issues and their local heritage.

Next week I will be working with Vernham Dean Gillum’s School. Please come back then for more updates, and get in touch if you would like to share your own stories, artwork or photographs relating to local Andover Ash trees.

Introducing Ash Tree Stream

Ash Tree Stream is a one-year visual arts project, led by artist James Aldridge, in partnership with Andover Trees United, CAS (Chapel Arts Studios) and five schools in the Andover area:

Ash Tree Stream will enable children and staff to use visual arts processes to learn about Ash trees and Ash dieback disease, outside of the classroom, and within the context of local cultural heritage and climate change.

The project will provide an opportunity for children to meet and learn about the work of a professional artist, many of them for the first time. James will support the children to develop new artistic skills through documenting their experiences of Ash Trees and their place in their local heritage (Andover is thought to get its name from ‘‘on dubr’ meaning Ash Tree Stream).

New artwork by James and the children, along with project documentation, will be shared with the wider school community and the public, through an exhibition at the CAS exhibition space in central Andover in Summer 2020.

Together with Andover Trees United Education Officer Becky McGugan (funded through the Ernest Cook Trust), James will support teachers to explore the value of art within outdoor learning, as a way of enabling learning through the whole person – their body, emotions and imagination, as well as intellect.

After declaring a climate and ecological emergency earlier this year, and taking part in a recent National Assembly with Culture Declares Emergency, I am keen to use my work as an artist to promote awareness of the crises that we face, and what each of us can do about it.

This funding from Arts Council England and CAS will enable me to develop a new body of work through my own research into Ash trees and Ash Die-Back, and ways of working with schools/communities and their local trees that can be applied to other towns. This comes at a time when an appreciation of the need for and value of trees within our communities is increasing in the face of climate and ecological breakdown.

James Aldridge, Artist – October 2019

Please do come back and follow our progress here, and keep in touch on social media by searching for the #AshTreeStream hashtag.

If you would like to tell us about the Ash Trees in your area, or share your own Ash related artwork, we’d love to hear from you, just go to the Contact page and send us a message.

Thank you.