The Sounds, Sights & Feel of Nature

Lesson Plan

Lesson

Students will examine Bierstadt’s painting Wind River Country, identify what they see, and imagine what’s missing. They will then touch objects similar to those in the painting to connect visual and tactile experiences. An auditory and movement exercise follows, with students making sounds of objects in the painting and moving around like the objects while making their sounds.

Intended Age Group

Early childhood (ages 3-5)

Length of Lesson

One 30 minute lesson

Standards Area

Visual Arts

Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • list at least three things they see in Bierstadt’s painting;
  • imagine at least one thing that might be missing in the painting;
  • feel comfortable touching and tactilely exploring items inspired by the painting; and
  • feel comfortable making sounds and moving around like the items in the painting.

Lesson

  1. Warm-up: Play “What’s Missing.” Show children four to five objects then have them turn their backs and close their eyes. Remove one of the objects and have the children turn around and open their eyes. Ask them to not say anything (if they are old enough) and to see if they can tell which object is missing. After a short wait time, have the students say what’s missing.
  2. Show children the Bierstadt’s painting Wind River Country. Help them examine the painting carefully and call out what they see. Keep going back to painting to help them see more and more.
  3. Have the children remember a time when they’ve been outdoors. Ask them what they remember seeing: animals, plants, etc. Ask them, “What’s missing from the painting?” Help them think of ideas (e.g. birds, other small animals, humans, etc.)
  4. Take out the objects you brought that resemble items in the painting. Allow children to touch them and describe how each one feels.
  5. Say that now they are going to imagine they are the bear in the painting. Have them first make sounds like a bear and then have them make the sounds while moving around like a bear. Continue the same process with a few other items (e.g. grass moving in the wind).

Materials

  • A variety of objects to play “What’s Missing”
  • An assortment of objects from the painting such as part of a dead log, long grass, part of a pine tree branch, leaves, etc.
  • About the Art section on Wind River Country
  • One color copy of the painting for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen

Standards

CO Standards

  • Visual Arts
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening

21st Century Skills

  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

Wind River Country

Wind River Country

1860

Albert Bierstadt

Who Made It?

Albert Bierstadt was born in Solingen, Germany in 1830, and was brought to New York at the age of two. He returned to Germany when he was twenty-one years old to study at the Düsseldorf Academy. Eight years later, in 1859, Bierstadt made his first trip to the Rocky Mountains when he joined a government expedition led by Colonel Frederick W. Lander (for whom Lander, Wyoming was named). Following this trip, he opened a studio in New York, where he drew from his sketches, photographs, specimens, and Indian artifacts to create large landscape paintings. Through his artwork, Bierstadt introduced Easterners to the scenery of the Rockies. While still in his early thirties, Bierstadt became one of the most successful and highly paid painters in the United States.

What Inspired It?

The Wind River Range is part of the Rocky Mountains, located in western Wyoming. Bierstadt identified the river here as the Sweetwater River, and the prominent mountain as Fremont’s Peak, known today as Temple Peak. Bierstadt liked the Wind River area enough to return there after he left the Lander expedition. As one of America’s early artist-explorers, he was looking for personal adventure and hoping to establish his artistic “territory.” The Wind River area is the subject of many of his works. Around the time Wind River Country was painted (1860), interest in the American West had reached a high point. This was in part due to western movement along the Oregon Trail; and to the writers, artists, and surveyors who had reported on the region over the past thirty years. Interest in finding American landscapes that would rival the European Alps was also growing. Bierstadt’s paintings satisfied on both counts—they delivered both heightened grandeur and specific details and places.

Details

Scale
Scale

Bierstadt liked the theatricality of a large painting. Wind River Country measures 42 ½” wide x 30 ½” tall, and some of his later pictures were four times that size. Sometimes, Bierstadt would show his work on a stage with dramatic lighting and viewers could pay admission to look at the painting with opera glasses.

Sense of Depth
Sense of Depth

Bierstadt was very interested in early photography, shooting photos on his journeys west that he could view through a stereoscope for a three-dimensional effect. Working with photographic source material in his studio may have contributed to Bierstadt’s convincing illusion of space. Looking at the mountains we can see clearly that some are close to our vantage point, while others are far away.

Light & Dark
Light & Dark

Warm colors highlight areas touched by the sun. The viewer’s eyes are drawn to lighter areas, particularly the mountains in the distance.

Composition
Composition

Bierstadt guides the viewer through the painting by arranging elements of the scenery along diagonal lines.

Details
Details

The foreground is full of details—carefully rendered foliage, rocks, a hollow log. In his studio, Bierstadt drew from multiple field sketches and photos to compose a pleasing picture. The scene we see here is a composite view, not an individual scene that the artist witnessed.

No Reference to Humans or Civilization
No Reference to Humans or Civilization

We see nature here as untouched by humans. The landscape appears rather inaccessible; there is no clear way one would be able to navigate through the scene.

Rawness of Nature
Rawness of Nature

The image of a grizzly bear feeding on an antelope contributes to the sense of scale and adds drama to the scene.

The Highest Peak
The Highest Peak

Bierstadt uses several pictorial techniques to suggest the importance of the distant peak. It is placed only slightly off-center, and has framing elements on all sides—trees, clouds, and the darker mountains in front of it are parted aside. The hazy air makes the peak lighter and brighter.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.