Brent’s Brilliant Birds

An intersection of art and science at Hill Center

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Brent students engaged in the collage process. Photos: Sara Gibson

There’s a flash of beak and a flick of the wing at Hill Center where third grade students at Brent Elementary School (301 North Carolina Ave. SE) have created a delightful aviary on the walls of the Young Artists Gallery.

The project, a collaboration of art teacher, Sara Gibson, and science teacher, Mike Mangiaracina, is an extension of the school’s eight-year relationship with Bridging the Americas, a program of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Migratory Bird Center. Elementary school classes in the United States and Latin America are paired to learn about the migratory birds that connect their communities and the need to protect them in both their summer and winter homes. Brent students participated in the annual January Bird count and have created collages depicting their feathered friends.

Ms. Gibson encourages students to notice the elements of art – shape, color, pattern and texture – as they exist in nature (in their birds and the birds’ habitats). And asks them to consider how, as artists, they can apply these to their own compositions, “depicting the natural world in ways that are creative, dynamic and accurate.” Indeed there’s something about the layered paper that captures both the softness of a feather and the rough edges of a nest. To Camille, “it felt like I was creating something that would someday, when I wasn’t looking, fly off the page because it looked so real.”

The kids studied the work of artists John James Audubon and Charley Harper, and completed detailed drawings of their subjects, before setting scissors to paper. The project sparks reflection and insight, and satisfaction with a job well done. According to Milo the project “is cool because we got to make actual birds. It was so fun because it was challenging – you had to keep trying and working on it.” Or Max, “…it felt like we were designing our own kind of birds.”

The experience sticks with the kids for a long time. Fourth graders are often eager to know “who has their bird” the next year. Swift recalls a former student, now in middle school who, returning to Brent on his day off, to assist with the class, could still remember the subject of his own collage.

The show is on view in the ground floor gallery at Hill Center, 921 Pennsylvania Ave, SE. Ms. Gibson and her third grade artists and scientists invite you to come see their work. They hope that it will “inspire you to look at and depict the world around you in new and interesting ways.”