Follow Your Art: Exploring American Impressionism at Weir Farm

Summary

Students will learn about the history of American Impressionism, including the work of J. Alden Weir, and create their own Impressionist-inspired artwork.

Coin Type(s)

  • Quarter

Coin Program(s)

  • America the Beautiful Quarters

Objectives

  • Students will learn about a style of painting known as American Impressionism, including its history and characteristics.
  • Students will learn about American Impressionist painter J. Alden Weir and his home, Weir Farm.
  • Students will create their own Impressionism-inspired artwork of an everyday situation or object.

Major Subject Area Connections

  • Language Arts
  • Art

Minor/supporting Subject Area Connections

  • Social Studies

Grades

  • 3rd
  • 4th
  • 5th

Class Time

  • Sessions: Three
  • Session Length: 30-45 minutes
  • Total Length: 91-120 minutes

Background Knowledge

  • Students will have a basic knowledge of the following:
    • Nature
    • Natural Resources
    • Historic site
    • Farm
    • Art
    • Painting
    • Brush strokes
    • Sketching
    • Abstract
    • Realistic

Terms and Concepts

  • Impression
  • American Impressionism
  • Alden Weir
  • En Plein Air (French for "outdoors")
  • Landscape

Materials

Preparations

  • Bookmark the links above in advance.
  • Make copies of the following worksheets about Weir Farm National Historic Site

Worksheets and Files

Lesson Steps

Session One

Essential Questions: What is American Impressionism? What are the key characteristics of American Impressionism? Who is J. Alden Weir? What is he known for?

  1. Write or project the word "impression" on a dry erase board, chalkboard, and/or an interactive whiteboard. As a warm-up activity, ask students to conduct a word association exercise by writing down what they think of when they hear the word "impression". Ask students to share out their responses. As a whole group, brainstorm a definition and write it on the board. Example definition can include:
    • Impression: An opinion or feeling about something or someone
  2. Using a different color marker and/or ink, add the suffix "-ism" to the word "impression". Tell students that they are going to learn about an art style called "impressionism". Ask students to predict what they think an impressionist piece of art will show or demonstrate. Example responses can include:
    • Art that expresses a person's opinion of something
    • Art that shows how a person's feeling about something or someone
    • Art that shows someone's interpretation – or impression – of something
  3. Share 3-5 examples of Impressionist art. Use images from the National Park Service's Weir Farm Artwork Galleries (www.nps.gov/wefa/learn/photosmultimedia/historic-artwork.htm) or the National Gallery of Art's Impressionism slideshow (www.nga.gov/features/slideshows/impressionism.html#slide_1). Ask the students: Based on these examples, what are some characteristics of Impressionism? Specifically, ask students about what is being painted or sketched, the use of color and/or brush strokes, and how the subject(s) are portrayed (i.e., realistic vs. abstract). Write the characteristics on the board. Example responses can include:
    • Features everyday landscapes and/or people
    • Uses small brush strokes of color
    • Uses colors to show the effects of light and/or shadows
    • Shows the artist's "impression" of a subject (i.e., abstract version)
  4. Ask students why they think an artist would want to create an Impressionist painting? Share the responses with the class. Example responses can include:
    • Brighter colors are fun and eye-catching
    • More freedom to express yourself
    • More creativity
    • Shows a different view of how the artist sees the world
    • Expresses an artist's individual interpretation - or impression
  5. Using NPS resources as references, specifically, "Reading 1: A Truly American Impressionism" (www.nps.gov/teachers/classrooms/weir-farm-home-of-an-american-impressionist.htm) and "Learn About the Park" (www.nps.gov/wefa/learn/index.htm), explain to students key historical details about American Impressionism and J. Alden Weir. Examples of key details:
    • What is Impressionism?
      • Impressionism is an art movement that began in France in about 1874.
      • It is often characterized by painting outdoors, or "en plein air" (French for "outdoors").
      • It uses small brushstrokes of color and depicts scenes of modern life viewed at a specific moment in time.
      • Artists depict their "impression" of a scene by simulating the effect of light using colors vs. neutrals, gray, or blacks for shadows.
    • Who led the American Impressionism movement?
      • Previously, artists painted landscapes in a realistic manner. The new Impressionists' work was both shocking and exciting.
      • American artists studying in Europe were some of the first to see this new style of art, including J. Alden Weir.
      • In 1882, Weir traded a painting he owned and ten dollars for a 153-acre farm in Branchville, Connecticut. Weir and his family, as well as many American artists, spent a lot of time at this farm.
      • Weir shifted his art from portrait and still life to focus on the inspirational nature of the landscape at his Branchville farm.
      • Weir soon gained a reputation as a landscape painter and leader of the American Impressionist movement.
      • Many of Weir's paintings depict his family and life at his farm. Many of the people are recognizable and the places can be identified on the landscape.
    • What is American Impressionism?
      • Like the French, American Impressionists use applied colors directly to the canvas through little dabs and strokes that make up the picture. From a distance, the colors create the illusion of flickering light.
      • The painters did not use neutral tones and blacks and grays for shadows; instead, they used color.
      • Unlike the French Impressionists, the American Impressionists maintained the use of three-dimensional volume in their paintings, and they used a more neutral or natural palette.
  1. Using the NPS resources listed above and/or other school-based online and print resources, ask students to research and answer key questions about American Impressionism. Use the American Impressionism Research graphic organizer worksheet, as needed. Answers may include:
    • What is American Impressionism?
      • An art style or movement in painting that captures a moment in time, an 'impression' of a scene inspired by light, color, and pattern
    • What are three (3) characteristics of American Impressionism?
      • Shows scenes of everyday life
      • Often features the natural world (i.e., landscapes, nature)
      • Uses natural, subdued colors and small, loose brushstrokes
      • Based on an artist's "impression" or interpretation of the subject
    • Who was J. Alden Weir? 
      • An American Impressionist artist
    • What did Weir feature in his artwork?
      • Everyday scenes, including his family and landscapes from his farm
  1.  

Session Two

Essential Questions: What is Weir Farm? Why was it important to J. Alden Weir? Why is it important today?

  1. Show students a visual of the Weir Farm National Historic Site Quarter, including the reverse, found on the U.S. Mint's website: usmint.gov/coins/coin-medal-programs/america-the-beautiful-quarters/weir-farm-national-historic-site. Ask students to make predictions about Weir Farm based on the image. Share their responses out loud.
  2. Explain that as part of the America the Beautiful Quarters® Program, the U.S. Mint features national parks and historic sites on quarters that are specific to a state, territory, or district. One of the 2020 quarter designs features Connecticut's Weir Farm National Historic Site; the design shows an artist wearing a painter's smock, painting outside of J. Alden Weir's studio at Weir Farm.
  3. Using the information found on the NPS website (www.nps.gov/wefa/index.htm), describe Weir Farm. Examples of key details:
    • Weir Farm National Historic Site honors the life and work of American Impressionist artist J. Alden Weir.
    • The site includes 68 acres of landscape consisting of 15 historical structures, including houses, barns, and art studios.
    • The landscape features gardens, stone walls, a pond, and hundreds of historic painting sites.
    • Weir Farm has been home to three generations of American artists, including J. Alden Weir, his daughter Dorothy Weir Young, and her husband Mahonri Mackintosh Young, as well as Sperry and Doris Andrews.
    • Today, Weir Farm is a national historic site that is dedicated to American Impressionism. To date, over 250 works of art have been identified as historic painting sites throughout Weir Farm National Historic Site.
  4. Show students 3-5 pieces of Weir's artwork from NPS' artwork gallery (www.nps.gov/wefa/learn/photosmultimedia/artwork_julianaldenweir.htm), including some artwork of his farm and family.
  5. Ask students why they think the farm was important to J. Alden Weir. Share their responses with the whole class.
  6. If students can attend a field trip to Weir Farm National Historic Site, proceed to Step 12.1. If students are not able to attend a field trip to Weir Farm National Historic Site, proceed to Step 12.2.
    1. If Visiting Weir Farm National Historic Site: Explain to students that they will experience the site firsthand. In addition to learning more about the history of Weir Farm, they will have the opportunity to create artwork while they are there, similarly to J. Alden Weir and the other artists who visited.
      • At the site, instruct students to find a landscape or area that they find inspiring.
      • Have students sketch and/or paint the scene that they find inspiring. Use Weir Farm: Art Activity worksheet, if needed.
      • After completing the art activity, ask students to complete the Weir Farm: Journaling Activity worksheet, including sensory notes describing their experience creating art "en plen air" (outdoors).
    2. If Not Visiting Weir Farm National Historic Site: Explain to students that they will be complete an activity where they compare historical photographs of Weir Farm to paintings that J. Alden Weir created. They will also create their own artwork inspired by Weir's paintings and photographs of the Weir Farm National Historic Site.
  1. Ask students to share their sketches and/or paintings and describe their experience creating art outdoors.

Session Three

  1. Review with students what American Impressionism is, its key characteristics, and why Weir Farm National Historic Site is important.
  2. Explain to students that they are going to create their own Impressionist-inspired artwork that depicts a scene or situation from their everyday life.
  3. Divide the class into small groups and/or pairs. Explain that each group will capture a photograph of something at school that they are inspired by that happens in everyday life. The photograph can include a landscape, landmark, and/or scene. Depending on the availability of resources, either provide each group with a device capable of capturing photographs (e.g., Polaroid camera, digital camera, Smartphone and/or tablet device) or accompany students as they explore the school and/or community and take a photograph for them.
  4. Using the Weir Farm: Group Photograph Activity worksheet, have each group fill out the worksheet or answer the following questions:
    • Why did you choose this scene and/or situation?
    • What about this scene inspires you?
  5. Provide each member of the group with a digital or hard copy of the group's photograph. Using this photograph as reference, allow students to individually create their own piece of Impressionist-inspired artwork using a medium of their choosing (e.g., pastels, colored pencils, paint, markers). The art should depict their own personal interpretation – or impression - of the photograph. Allow each student to create a title for their individual art.
  6. After each member of the group completes their individual piece of art, allow the group members to compare their artwork to others in the group. Guiding questions can include:
    • How are our pieces of art similar?
    • How are they different?

Differentiated Learning Options

  • Group students together during the research phase.
  • Have students present their research and written response orally.
  • Allow students to use a scribe or computer to complete the graphic organizer, research, and/or questions. 

Enrichments/Extensions

  • Create an art gallery that includes the original photograph for each group, surrounded by the individual artwork from each student. Using Weir Farm: Group Photograph Activity worksheet as a reference, allow students to brainstorm a name for the collection.
  • Allow students to think of a special place and/or trip they have taken. Have them re-create the experience using an Impressionist-style sketch or painting. Have students write 2-3 sentences to explain why they chose this place and/or event and why it is special to them.
  • Ask students to choose a photograph from their childhood. Have students re-create the picture with their own interpretation using an Impressionist-style sketch or painting.
  • Allow students to use graphic design software and/or programs (i.e., Adobe Illustrator or design software) to create a digital version of their piece of art.
  • Have students research another national park and/or historic site and research key facts. Using that information, either write about or draw a picture of the park and/or national site.
  • Have students brainstorm what they would want to see featured on an America the Beautiful quarter design. Have students sketch out their design and provide 2-3 sentences to explain why they chose this design.

Assess

  • Evaluate the artwork, ability to answer questions, and students' participation to assess how well the students have met the lesson objectives.

Common Core Standards

National Common Core State Standards

English Language Arts: Literacy

Source: www.corestandards.org/

Grade 3:

  • ELA-LITERACY.W.3.7: Conduct short research projects that build knowledge about a topic.
  • ELA-LITERACY.W.3.8: Recall information from experiences or gather information from print and digital sources; take brief notes on sources and sort evidence into provided categories.

Grade 4:

  • ELA-LITERACY.W.4.7: Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.
  • ELA-LITERACY.W.4.8: Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital sources; take notes and categorize information and provide a list of sources.

Grade 5:

  • ELA-LITERACY.W.5.7: Conduct short research projects that use several sources to build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.
  • ELA-LITERACY.W.5.9: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

National Standards

National Arts Standards

Visual Arts

Source: www.nationalartsstandards.org/

Creating: Anchor Standard 2: Organize and develop artistic ideas and work

  • Grade 3: VA:Cr1.2.3.a: Apply knowledge of available resources, tools, and technologies to investigate personal ideas through the art-making process
  • Grade 4: VA:Cr1.2.4a: Collaboratively set goals and create artwork that is meaningful and has purpose to the makers
  • Grade 5: VA:Cr1.2.5a: Identify and demonstrate diverse methods of artistic investigation to choose an approach for beginning a work of art.

Responding: Anchor Standard 7: Perceive and analyze artistic work

  • Grade 3: VA:Re.7.1.3a: Speculate about processes an artist uses to create a work of art
  • Grade 4: VA:Re.7.1.4a: Compare responses to a work of art before and after working in similar media
  • Grade 5: VA:Re:7.1.5a: Compare one's own interpretation of a work of art with the interpretation of others

Connecting: Anchor Standard 10: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art

  • Grade 3: VA:Cn10.1.3a: Develop a work of art based on observations of surroundings
  • Grade 4: VA:Cn10.1.4a: Create works of art that reflect community cultural traditions
  • Grade 5: VA:Cn10.1.5a: Apply formal and conceptual vocabularies of art and design to view surroundings in new ways through art-making