July 28, 2009

Portraiture at Forest Hills Cemetery

It has been hot and humid outside, but at the Summer Discoveries Program, we prefer that to rain. This morning, a group of 9th graders visited us for a tour and art project. Our focus was on portraiture. We walked around the cemetery and saw contemporary and traditional portraiture, and then they made self-portraits from wire. A good (if sweltering) time was had by all! They were also excited to spot the Great Blue Heron by Lake Hibiscus.

Here are some of the happy campers with their portraits:

A work in progress

Adding personality with pipe cleaners and beads

Group leaders love to participate too!

The teens and their chaperones asked great questions and enjoyed the walk, even though it was super hot outside. We made several stops on our tour, the first of which was contemporary sculpture Nightshirts by Leslie Wilcox. These five incredible and haunting sculptures are made of stainless steel screen and staples. They depict a Victorian family. One of the participants today pointed out that it was interesting that the artist chose to put these ghostly sculptures on living trees. Other students thought that the artist had done this to honor nature and the cycle of life. Every time we look at something here at Forest Hills, I feel like a student shares a new perspective that makes me look at the artwork differently. It is very refreshing!
We also visited the wonderful contemporary sculpture Sentinel by Fern Cunningham. The artist created this portrait to honor all of the strong women in her family. The teens liked how expressive she was, and how she was like a guardian for the cemetery.

Another highlight of the visit was seeing the Great Blue Heron by the lake. There's something really spellbinding about the bird's unusual shape, color, and size.

It was a wonderful visit with a great group. We're looking forward to more great weather and wonderful insights from our visitors.

Erica Smiley
Summer Discoveries Program

July 25, 2009

The Summer Discoveries Program Discovers Animals!

It has been an exciting three weeks at the Summer Discoveries programs. We have had campers from three to seventeen years old, from communities as close as Dorchester and from as far away as Duxbury. While the weather hasn't always been easy, we're always amazed at campers who will brave the rain in order to see all of the amazing sights that Forest Hills Cemetery has to offer!

One of our subjects of focus this summer has been animals. In addition to all of the amazing wildlife at Forest Hills Cemetery, especially at Lake Hibiscus, the cemetery also contains a wealth of animal sculptures with deep symbolism. We have been exploring these sculptures, and the wildlife, with children and they have been creating "Animal Amulets," foil-carved necklaces with an animal of their choice. We have encouraged them to think deeply about which animals represent them, and we have enjoyed learning more about their personalities and personal values as they discuss their animal choices.

Here are some examples of practice sketches for the amulets:

The kids have continually impressed us with their originality and depth of thought and feeling.
We have also enjoyed discussing the various animal sculptures around the cemetery, including the Warren Fischer griffins, the Barnard Dog, the Kitchell Snow Eagle, and the various dove and lamb sculptures throughout the cemetery.

This is the Warren Fischer family plot. On the hill overlooking the graves, there are two of these magnificent griffin sculptures, one on each side. Many of the children recognize them as griffins right away, and several have referenced Harry Potter. It is exciting to hear the chilren talking about what makes griffins a great animal to mark a grave- they have talked about the idea of the griffins as protectors, guardians, and a symbol of the family's strength and power.

This wonderful dog scupture marks the grave of Henry Barnard. His wife had this created for him when he died, and when she died, she was buried here as well. The children love talking about this sculpture. Many of them talk about their own dogs, and how much they value them for their loyalty, protection, and companionship.
One of the most exciting sculptures we discuss has been this bronze eagle, which marks the grave site of Lieutenant Kitchell Snow. Snow was a pilot who died at 24 when his plane crashed. The children have discussed the eagle as a symbol of his loyalty to America and his bravery.

In addition to the sculptures, we have been lucky to have many exciting animal sightings this summer. Just Friday, we saw the amazing cormorant enjoying a large fish for its lunch. Here are some of the other animals we have seen on our walks:
I'm proud to say that I did some rock-climbing to get this photo of what I believe is a red-tailed hawk. It was the biggest bird I have ever seen in the wild.
When you see a snapping turtle this big, it's easy to imagine that dinosaurs once roamed the earth. This turtle was on the shores of Lake Hibiscus for two days before the lantern festival. You can identify a snapping turtle by its spiky tail and shell. Don't get too close, though! They are very strong and have very long necks.
There are some big (and rather loud) bullfrogs at the lake. The children love watching them jump and swim!
And of course, with all of this rain, there are the ubiquitous snails.

It has been a wonderful summer at Forest Hills Cemetery, and it is going quickly. Laila and I are looking forward to another great three weeks of the Summer Discoveries Program!

Erica Smiley

July 7, 2009

Summer Discoveries begins!

We, Erica and I, were very excited to receive yesterday the Boston Refuge Camp, with 30 children, who came to explore the Forest Hills. This was a wonderful group, who really enjoyed doing the Animal Spirits tour with us, which included a Scavenger Hunt, and stops at gravestones and sculptures related to the theme.

We began with the monument of the Warren Fisher Family, which is guarded by two Griffins. We talked about the role animals play in the cemetery, how sometimes they can be chosen to be guardians of the tombs, ornaments in the graves, or symbols that reflect the personality of the people that have found a permanent home in this beautiful place. Then we walked to the sculptures "A place to stay" by Michael Beatty and Mike Newby, and to "Lethe" by Frank Vasello. For a grand finale of our tour, we searched for live animals (and the evidence they leave behind) in Lake Hibiscus. We saw turtles, wild geese, and plenty of birds!

Our art project, Animal Amulets, was very successful, the children worked hard making drafts and drawings on aluminum foil of their favorite animals, and thinking about what their amulets would represent. For example, some of the boys chose lions and tigers because they represent strength and courage. By the end of the tour, all our participants were wearing proudly their amulets, with a big smile on their face.

We look forward receiving more groups this week and throughout the summer, and sharing with them the wonderful art and nature we have discovered here, at Forest Hills!