Nineteen gifted and talented art students in Grades 2 through 6 at Poland Community School made connections to the history of their community during a special five-month art education unit called “Maine Landmarks, Their Stories.”
Working with RSU 16 gifted and talented teacher Ell Fanus and Poland Community School art teacher Jonathan Graffius, the students were charged with selecting a community landmark, learning about its history and the stories associated with it, and connecting their art to what they uncovered.
Chosing Poland Spring Resort as their subject, the students met with Poland Spring Preservation Society’s publicity director, Kate MacGregor, to learn more about the resort’s history. With this knowledge in hand, they then created a historic timeline and selected specific periods of interest.
“Mr. Graffius and I encouraged student-led choices and fed those interests by asking creative and critical-thinking questions,” explained Fanus. “We provided additional materials, shared resources on topics of interest and taught any skills the students needed to accomplish their evolving projects. In this integrated unit, the students applied art and academic learning standards in the areas of history, reading, research, speaking and technology.”
Of the students who focused on the great fire that destroyed the inn, one created a stained glass window depicting the fire while another created a ‘who-dunnit’-style game board outlining its possible causes. The stained glass windows of the resort’s All Souls Chapel inspired another student to learn more about the famous stained glass created at the turn of the twentieth century by the Tiffany Glass Company and one of the company’s accomplished female designers.
Other projects focused on the Chicago World’s Columbian Exhibition, where the Maine State Building was erected. The 1893 exhibition was the first to use electricity to illuminate the fairgrounds, inspiring one student to learn more about the scientist responsible for this feat, Nikola Tesla. Another student did research on the only female architect invited to design a building for the fair.
All of the students presented their final projects to more than 100 members of the public in a program at the Maine State Building. Each student, in period dress, related a short excerpt from the history of Poland Spring Resort, thereby highlighting the major events of its historic timeline. Those attending moved through the building to see all of the student presentations and to view its permanent displays.
“This student art event was a tremendous success, and members of the Poland Spring Preservation Society have already requested that another student art event take place at the resort,” noted Fanus. “Several parents also expressed their gratitude and appreciation for the depth and breadth of their children’s learning experience.”