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Juneau naturalist fuses science and art with Nikiski North Star students

Posted: September 30, 2012 - 6:23pm  |  Updated: October 4, 2012 - 12:46pm
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Reece Barndt studies a seed pod before drawing it last week in an art class taught at Nikiski North Star Elementary by visiting artist-in-residence Kathy Hocker.  M. Scott Moon
M. Scott Moon
Reece Barndt studies a seed pod before drawing it last week in an art class taught at Nikiski North Star Elementary by visiting artist-in-residence Kathy Hocker.

Jazper Coplen presses down heavily with his pencil when he draws.

The dark lines of lead on the fifth-grader’s paper were bold, but not easily erased, so the 10-year-old drew a large x over several false starts before settling on a sketch he liked.

Coplen, along with 21 other students in his class at Nikiski North Star Elementary, spent several class periods with the artist-in-residence Kathy Hocker, a naturalist and illustrator from Juneau.

Hocker began her second session Wednesday with the fifth-graders by introducing them to a table of unusual objects she had for them to practice drawing.

“They’ve done drawings of feathers, we start with feathers because it’s a simple shape, but it’s also got lots of interesting details,” Hocker said.

The students couldn’t stop asking questions as Hocker lifted everything from seed pods and feathers, to jaw bones and skulls from the table while she talked about using observational skills to make inferences about the origins of each object.

Coplen was fascinated by the jaw bones.

“What animal did those come from?” he asked as Hocker patiently explained again that each student should write those questions down in their notebooks.

He persisted, “What is that?”

Finally, when it came time for students to pick and objects they wanted to draw, Coplen settled for taking the skull he’d been pointing too and carrying it carefully back to his table.

Most of the bones disappeared first.

Reese Barndt had a different idea, though, and the 10-year-old headed straight for the seed pods.

“It feels like wood and it feels hard,” she said after she spent several minutes carefully replicating dark jagged lines along the base of the seed. “I wanted to see what it came from and it looked like a flower that was opening and I thought that was pretty cool. I’m glad no one took it.”

As she spoke, Barndt gently rubbed her fingers along the base of the large seed pod.

“It’s a fantastic seed that came from a photograph tree in Hawaii,” she said. “I asked (Hocker) where it came from.”

Coplen was pretty sure he ended up with a cat’s skull.

“You can tell because of how small this structure is,” he said, pointing to the top of the skull.

He pointed to each aspect of the skull and each line he carefully labeled in his sketch pad.

“The ear hole is right here and then here’s some cracks that might have happened when it was alive,” he said. “I started out with the basic eye and this bone going down through the nose. Then I kind of drew this little gripping thing that gets thinner over here ... This is the start of its spine. Right underneath his chin would be his voicebox.”

Hocker spent two weeks at the school, working with kindergarten through sixth grade classes, trying to integrate the science of observation with the art of drawing.

“I’m learning to adapt what I do to the younger grades,” Hocker said. “With the kindergartners, for example, we really focus just on the drawing and looking more than anything else. We do a lot of talking about what (they) see.”

Near the end of the session, each student left their sketchbook open and the class took a miniature art walk comparing objects with drawings.

“I wonder what animal’s jaw this is?” wrote Sam Berry, 10, in his sketchbook. “I wonder why its teeth are so brown?”

Hocker said the students at Nikiski North Star were exceptional observers and she appreciated the barrage of questions even if she couldn’t take the time to answer all of them.

She told the students that when they draw from observation they have a better memory for the object they’re studying.

“It gets into our brain and sits there in a whole different way than if you just look at something,” she said. “So if you want to learn more about something one of the best things you can do is draw it.”


Rashah McChesney can be reached at

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Media Critic
Media Critic 10/03/12 - 12:11 pm
Missing the point

I guess the obvious questions go unanswered: What is an "artist-in-residence" ??? Is it a paid position? Just at Nikiski? Who picks the artist? ???

spwright 10/03/12 - 12:30 pm
Traveling Artist

FYI The Artist in Residence is a Traveling Artist that moves from School to School to teach Our Children Art.

Yes it is a Paid Worthwhile Employee Position & worth every dime spent. Go witness this for yourself.


Watchman on the Wall
Watchman on the Wall 10/03/12 - 01:06 pm
Drawing is a means of expression

Very good for people to draw to help them express ideas, or Beliefs for many areas. I know that art is used in many investigations of abuse to help victims express themselves for healing and apprehinding abusers.
Art is good most of the time, but it can and has many times crossed over into evil intentions, which is not good for any.
We have a young lady that attends my fellowship who is a very good drawer of many varied subjects. She in fact designed T shirts for an upcoming Ladies Bible retreat which each Lady purchased their T which was printed out north kenai i think. We also have several other young kids that are very good at drawing and it's fun to view their ideas on paper.
There are many areas available for people to express their thoughts or ideas like this one with art, as well as the opinion section allowed here on the Clarion done in writings which sometimes are very artful in their presentations of ideas in order to express thought and feeling as well as Beliefs.

Back to the art issue as a means of expressing ones Beliefs or ideals and consider the New Flags supposedly of America which have started to surface Globally with an idea of promoting a certain Belief system want too?
The art depicting OUR American Flag of stars & stripes has been redone with the stripes now streaks of red over white, and the stars replaced & now the Obama seal with white streaks across the seal. There is also a Flag of the USA with the very same changes of Red streaks and Obama's seal replacing the Stars.
I will not bore everyone with a long drawn out meaning of this New Look for OUR Nations Symbols of Freedom, that we Pledge allegiance to as ONE Nation Under God, or should i say we use to pledge allegiance to it.
This National symbol is now being designed to show a fundamental change of belief in the Flag of the USA and OUR allegiance to Freedom under God, now replaced with an Obama Flag pledging allegiance to Obama as OUR freedoms vanish under this god.

Please DRAW your own conclusions from the Obama art.

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