From the ground, it looks like random clumps of dirt, prairie grass and school kids in colored T-shirts. Only artist Daniel Dancer, suspended by a crane up in the air, is able to see the whole picture.
Dancer shouts into a megaphone, “It looks great! It’s beautiful! We are collaborating as a meadowlark in Lawrence, Kansas. We’re connected to each other and to the sky.”
On cue, the Schwegler School students and staff start whistling a learned tune, and cardboard musical notes float out of the meadowlark’s beak. The kids in green start waving back and forth to simulate prairie grass. There’s a minute of silence, and then on the count of three, everyone shouts.
“Get your sky sight on!”
Sky sight, the Schwegler kids know, is the ability to picture something from a distance, rather than from within. The image of a meadowlark that they created was not apparent to anyone on the ground, so imaginations had to be ignited. As the school kids and staff knelt on the ground in a symbolic gesture of harmony with the earth and with each other, they were cooperating as a community to form a piece of “art for the sky.”
“Art for the Sky teaches the importance of seeing through eyes of future generations and all living things,” Dancer says. “What’s good for the whole is good for us, and vice versa.”
Sky sight is one of six fundamental disciplines that Dancer incorporates into his projects with groups in doing Art for the Sky. The other five, which feed into sky sight, are intention, interconnection, collaboration, gratitude and impermanence.
Dancer’s Art for the Sky projects grew out of his work with Stan Herd, the Kansas field artist who created art with his tractor on land crops. Dancer was a photojournalist for Herd, collaborating with him in a tour, “Exhibits in Focus: Art for the Sky,” and a book project, “Crop Art And Other Earth Works.” One project with Herd was of a Native American head on 25 acres of land. Dancer spontaneously brought out the students of an elementary school to act as beads on the headband. Years later, Dancer bumped into one of the kids in that project, who told him that that experience was one of the most memorable of his educational career, instilling in him the reminder to always look at situations with his sky sight.
Since then Dancer has worked with approximately 150 groups incorporating more than 150,000 people in human and sky art projects. The recurrent theme is images associated with climate, preservation and nature. That is why the number “350” is in each of the images, as 350 is the safe upper limit parts per million of carbon dioxide in the air. (See more at 350.org)
Schwegler parent Lars Leon, initially proposed the project when he became aware of a grant that would provide funding. He acted as chair of the planning committee when the grant was secured. Leon was also instrumental three years ago as the PTO president when Dancer did his first project with Schwegler, forming a “Tree of Knowledge,” an image of an Orange Osage tree.
“We chose the meadowlark image for this project because it’s the Kansas state bird, and this coincides with Kansas’ 150th anniversary,” Leon says. “Some of the kids were here for the Tree of Knowledge, and it’s been great to see their excitement at having Daniel Dancer back for another Art for the Sky project.”
For the Schwegler students, the meadowlark image was a culmination of several weeks of focus on the Kansas prairie. Groups of kids visited the Kansas University field station and the Akin prairie as part of the study. Volunteers from the Grassland Heritage Foundation, and Kansas University set up research stations for the kids to incorporate a true science element into the field trips.
Art and music classes were integrated into the study of the prairie as well. The children did art projects incorporating what they learned or saw on the prairie and learned songs in music class for the meadowlark project April 26 with Dancer.
“Putting images and objects into art helps the kids connect what they’ve studied on the field trips or in the classroom,” says Sandy Groene, Schwegler art teacher. “We used native plants from the prairie to make cordage that went into a dreamcatcher, and the kids were really into it. They also made kites and did beading with Julia WhiteBull.”
On the day designated for the meadowlark image, everyone involved cooperated, even the touchy weather. The students and staff excitedly took their rightful places on the image and became a piece of sky art that demonstrated the importance of the Kansas prairie.
Schwegler principal Jared Comfort, says, “I hope that our students take away a sense of community and an appreciation for teamwork. It’s not every day that you get the opportunity to be a work of art.”
Fifth-grader Claire Walther indicates that the lesson has found its mark: “I learned that we can all make art.”