Botanical Illustration of Area Grain Crops and Weed Plants

Taylorville Junior High School
Taylorville, IL
Grade Levels: 7th
Teacher: Marsha DeWilde

This project resulted in instruction for 158 seventh grade students at Taylorville Junior High School. These students rotate on a quarterly basis through art class for a period of nine weeks. During the study of art history, students learned about the botanical illustrations resulting from the work of Carl Linnaeus. They observed many examples of botanical illustration, antique and modern. Students observed the artwork and painting techniques of local artist, Susie Robinson, who is completing botanical watercolors of area plants for her book publication “Wildflowers of Christian County,” due to be published this fall. They discussed the plants that grow in our area and learned that on average, only one or two students in each class live on a working farm. Those students shared what crops or livestock their families produced and what plants they were acquainted with. Students in the first quarter classes worked with ornamental plantings around the school building. The second and third quarter students studied purchased plants that I brought into the classroom. Students from the fourth quarter were able to travel to the Dudley Smith Farm and meet with Professor Ben Tracey who explained the purpose of the research at the farm and identified several crop and pasture plants for the students. Students in each quarter of instruction selected their favorite plant and completed field studies to include sketches, measurements, and notes about the chosen plant.

Then, using digital cameras purchased with grant funds, students carefully photographed the chosen plant. Back at school, students used the school’s computer lab and with PhotoShop Elements software, uploaded their photos, selected their best effort, cropped the photo, and printed out a copy to work from. In the art room, using the photos, field notes, specimens they gathered at the farm, and magnifying glasses, students made careful detailed drawings, which were later transferred to watercolor paper for painting.

This was a very satisfying project. Students learned to identify many native plants. After our farm visit, many pointed out and correctly identified the “pasture” plants evident in our playground area. Students learned to collect information in a variety of ways, using rulers, magnifying glasses, photography, sketch drawings, words, and expert resources such as Professor Tracey. Students were engaged in this activity and even though Professor Tracey had explained and identified several plants for them, each time he asked if they would like to see more, they responded with “Yes!” This activity generated quite a bit of interest in our community as it was featured in our local newspaper, The Breeze Courier, with two articles. The first one appeared in February and outlined the grant requirements and stated my plans for the project. The second article was the result of the reporter, Jane Long, traveling to the farm on May 10, while the students were present. This article featured interviews with Professor Tracey and myself and also included photographs. Both articles received front-page exposure.

This is a unit of instruction that I plan to continue in future years. Thank you very much for making it possible.