Vernon art teacher travels to China

| 15 Feb 2012 | 09:35

    Hirkaler's trip with Columbia University will aid her classes here VERNON — Lisa Hirkaler, an AP art teacher at Vernon Township High School, spent much of this past July in China as part of Columbia University’s Weatherhead East Asian Institute in association with the National Center on Teaching about Asia (NCTA). Part of the advanced placement art history classes requires students to be conversant with non-Western art, and Hirkaler brought back a wealth of knowledge, inspiration and photographs from places like the Forbidden City in Beijing to the unearthed Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses of Xi’an. From the metropolis of Shanghai to the mountainous environs of the 7 Memorial Arches in Tangyue Village, scholars on the tour experienced first-hand the meticulous attention to detail of the Chinese art, architecture and urban development. “It was so inspiring,” Hirkaler said, “from the colors and the attention to the details of the dragon on the soffit of a temple to the neon light show on the Bund in Shanghai that rivaled the light shows on the Hudson River in New York City.” She added that the inspiration was consistent, from the ancient architecture right up to the modern architecture of the 21st century. There was a spiritual aspect to the tour as they visited several temples including the Jade Buddha Temple, Lingyin Temple, Temple of Heaven and Lama Temple. Hirkaler also climbed the Great Wall of China and hiked the Yellow Mountains. Once atop the mountain, she was afforded a chance to paint with traditional materials in traditional landscape style. The trip also included several excursions to operas, which featured traditional mask forms. The mask is part of the 3D Design curriculum at VTHS and now will include a few authentic masks to use as inspiration, as well as photographs that captured the essence and set of the opera. Another focus in the 3D art curriculum is the ceramic figure and the Shanghai Museum of Art and Terra Cotta Warrior Tombs provided more forms of inspiration. Bringing experience home Hirkaler’s students recreate simplified models of the architecture in her Advanced 3D class, including the dragons on the roof lines. The juxtaposition of old and new was evident as they also visited Beijing, a bustling city and the contemporary art 798 District. In an effort to reinforce some of these first-hand experiences, Hirkaler brings the photographs into the class via Smartboard technology and Powerpoint presentations. She also presents at the NJ Art Educators Convention and the National Art Teachers Convention. “I try to bring culture and diversity to my students as we do not have access to museums or cultural centers in Sussex County. I bring my students to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and to Columbia University, my alma mater.” It is her goal for the students to have a first-hand experience with art, even after research and technology provides the background exposure.” “The Asian Art Collection at the Met is remarkable,” Hirkaler said. “The students really respond to Columbia University and the urban experience.” Hirkaler has been named a Scholar in Residence at Vernon Township High School and is a Nationally Board Certified Teacher. According to its Web site, the Weatherhead East Asian Institute has been the center for modern and contemporary East Asia research, studies and publication at Columbia, covering China, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea, Mongolia (Inner Asia), Tibet and, increasingly, the countries of Southeast Asia. In 2003, the Institute was renamed the Weatherhead East Asian Institute in honor of the Weatherhead Foundation.