Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Alamo Tour: In the Gardens and On-Line

     This past week we studied the Alamo!  We've caught several errors in our various books that were recommended by a certain curriculum. Fortunately we own books from Texas were the most trustworthy sources. ;)  Today we visited the Alamo and this information came in "mighty handy" as Davy Crockett would say.  

     Interestingly, while we were in the gardens of the Alamo looking at huge placards of the history of Texas under each of its six flags, I overheard my daughter explaining some of the Spanish history of Texas to some men.  Then my son jumped in and answered a few of their questions.  I was exceedingly pleased at the amount of information they had retained from their reading. The group was amazed as well and said they really should read the placards themselves, since they were English teachers from New York.  lol They complimented the kids on their terrific education and they said they were homeschooled. The men looked at me in amazement and chuckled and said that they now have a more favorable impression of homeschoolers. Then they started asking me several questions about the Alamo.  I'm not sure if they were part of a large group, or if others overheard and started gathering around, but there I was giving a tour of the Alamo history in the gardens!  It was a lot of fun!

     While we were inside the Alamo,  I told the kids to look for the list of names of the defenders of the Alamo and find out where they came from.  They might be surprised!  Did you know that the defenders came not only from Texas, but also several states in America and several different countries in Europe?  We were surprised by some of the names of the defenders as well, which probably revealed a lot about the loyalties of their parents.

George Washington Cottle of Missouri

Andrew Jackson Harrison of Tennessee

Patrick Henry Herndon of Virginia

William J. Lightfoot of Virginia

George Washington Main of Virginia

Napoleon B. (Bonaparte?) Mitchell

     Then there was Benjamin Rush Milam. (he was likely named after the Benjamin Rush who  signed the Declaration of Independence) Milam died in an early skirmish in San Antonio.  He is famous for saying a famous phrase while trying to enlist men to journey with him to fight for Independence, "Who will go with old Ben to San Antonio?" 

Then there was the early Texas settler, Washington Lafayette Denman.

     Naturally, after Texas Independence, many babies were named after William Travis, Davy Crockett and Sam Houston.  We've all probably known someone personally with at least one of these names.

     Tonight we watched the Davy Crockett movie with Fess Parker.  Since my son and I had read Davy Crockett's journal a few weeks ago, we were able to more accurately separate myth from reality in the movie.  Throughout the movie, my son kept saying, "He really did that.  No, that's a bit different."

     Davy Crockett did fight in the Creek Wars with Andy Jackson.  When Davy insisted on leaving the Creek Wars for a while to provide for his family, he did face cannons. However it was the General and not the Major who threatened to fire at him if he left. Andrew Jackson did make his classic comment, although in more colorful language, when Davy Crockett called his bluff.  Davy did live by the motto, "Be always sure you are right, then go ahead."  Davy did represent Congress in his state legislature in Nashville.  Davy did represent Tennessee in the US House of Representatives in Washington DC under the Jackson administration.  Davy did open his first session of Congress with his famous descriptive yarn.  Davy did get in a heated argument with President Jackson over the Indian Removal Act and left Congress. Davy did travel to Texas to see about becoming a land agent. Davy did accurately shoot the Mexicans from the Alamo. Whenever they saw him over the walls of the Alamo with his gun, they fled!  Partly due to him, Santa Anna lost 10 men for every man killed in the Alamo.  Santa Anna suffered huge losses during that seige. Although he considered it a victory, his officers knew another victory like that would do them in.

     Davy did not enter Texas in the desert fighting Indians! Despite the movie set for the Alamo being in West Texas, the real Alamo is near a river in a city that had buildings (even in 1836) in South Central Texas where the hill country meets the blackland prairie. Within this region is an aquifer from which bubbles numerous rivers such as the San Antonio River.   After a long, hot, dry journey through the desert from Mexico City, the Spaniards found this area to be an oasis. As a result, the Spanish established San Antonio de Bexar as the seat of government and built the Spanish Governor's Palace, presidio and five missions, such as the Alamo, there.  Davy actually entered Texas from the Northeast and into the Piney Woods.  Yes, there are Piney Woods in Texas.  In fact, East Texas is home to Davy Crockett National Forest as well as Sam Houston National Forest.  Texas is far more diverse than movies typically show.

     The New Yorkers' questions allowed me to see the missing pieces of the Texas puzzle for them.  I tried to help them put the pieces in place.

     Moses Austin, an entrepreneur from America, negotiated an arrangement with Spain to bring settlers from America to Texas.  Spain had tried unsuccessfully for years to bring their own colonists.  Some Canary Islanders had settled in San Antonio but that was about all that came.  Then the French claimed Texas for a while which angered the Spanish.  Additionally the Comanches kept invading from the north and west.  Therefore Spain realized that American settlers on the untamed Texan frontier could make this a win-win situation for all.  Unfortunately Moses Austin died about the time that Mexico gained its independence from Spain.  His son, Stephen Austin, renegogiated with Mexico and successfully brought the first settlers into East Texas, called The Old Three Hundred.  Men who brought settlers into Texas under these terms were land agents who were called empresarios.  Another empresario was the Baron de Bastrop who was a delightful gentleman with a secret past from Holland who helped the early settlements of Texas in numerous ways. Although he left Holland in disgrace, Texas loved and honored him.  Today an East Texas town is named after him.

     Seeking land on which to settle and begin new lives, many Americans chose Texas due to better land prices than they could get in America.  As the settlers immigrated into the Mexican territory of Texas, they willingly made agreements with the Mexican government to become Mexican citizens and convert to the Roman Catholic religion. 

     In time, Santa Anna  declared himself not only dictator of Mexico, but also the Napoleon of the West.  (My kids thought we were done with Napoleon!  I keep telling them that Napoleon is classic.  He will not quietly go away.  In fact, he's like the Energizer bunny.  His influence will continue to pop up in history again and again and again...)  Santa Anna destroyed the Constitution and took away the rights of the Texas settlers.  As a result, they had taxation without representation.  Hmmmmm, is this sounding a little familiar????  When Stephen Austin went to Mexico City to negotiate, he was thrown into prison for over a year.  Hmmmm, isn't this called tyranny? As a result the Texians (American settlers) and Tejanos (Mexican citizens living in Texas) banded together to seek a return to the original consitution.  Hmmmm, doesn't this sound like the Colonists' first efforts with England in the 1770s?  Unable to come to terms, the Texans finally declared Independence.  

     In my reading last week, I found it fascinating to read how the massacre of every gallant defender of the beseiged Alamo, under the valiant leadership of William Barret Travis, Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett, has been added to the pages of history with heroic figures of yore like King Leonidas and Roland who we had learned about in our studies of Ancient Greece.  King Leonidas led the Spartans who were annihilated by the Persians in the Battle of Thermopylae.  Only one man escaped to warn Athens of the loss, which inspired the victorious Greek success over the Persians at the Battle of Salamis. 

      Roland, part of Charlemagne's army, led his men against Spain.  When the Basques killed Roland and every one of his men, their heroism spread through the land.  The Song of Roland is a classic piece of literature that commemorates his heroism.  Likewise, the massacres at the Alamo and Goliad led to the infamous battle cries during the final battle at San Jacinto.  "Remember Goliad!" "Remember the Alamo!"  On April 21, 1836, Sam Houston captured Santa Anna and Texas became a Republic.  Texas is the only state in the nation to have been a Republic. (Edited July 10, 2009-I have recently learned of another American state that was a republic before entering the Union. Can you guess?)  Every April 21, San Antonio celebrates Texas Independence with Fiesta with parades by the Alamo and on the San Antonio River.

     Because of the uniqueness of Texas history, I am having the kids write a research paper on the similarities of American Independence and Texas Independence.  It has been a fascinating study for me to outline the direction this paper will take.  Using the IEW methods of doing a research paper, the kids will do one paragraph a week over the next several weeks.  They add to their "Works Cited" page weekly. Then at the end they will put all the paragraphs in order, write the transitional sentences between paragraphs and write the introductions and conclusions.  Done!  To guide them, each week I present the kids with the topic of their paragraph. Then they have to pull the resources from the shelves and learn to use the index or table of contents to find the pages with appropriate information. Although this is not really difficult, my kids prefer to "write from the brain" instead of taking the time to back up their facts from sources.  So I guide them in their thinking, by asking questions and giving them tips if needed.   

     Although we have studied Texas history before, my kids have enjoyed studying some of their own state's history within the TOG curriculum.  It will be interesting to see which aspects of this, if any, will makes its way to our next unit celebration. Stay tuned!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Congratulations to my Daughter who got Published Too!

     A few posts ago I shared our excitement over our son getting published in the literary magazine, Magnum Opus.  I just found out that they have published my daughter's article too!  Whereas my son's article made the actual magazine, my daughter sort of got an honorable mention, so she has been published at the magazine's web site. 

     There's been a bit of publication fever going on around here, which has been quite exciting!  I have had the honor of being contacted by two different groups to send them links to specific articles that I write, which they have/will publish through their sites for their readership.  My kids and husband are always delighted to hear when I get contacts for this. In fact, we have all been amazed at "who" has stepped into the world of my blog and shared a comment or writing request. My kids have even said in awe, "Mom, you're getting famous!"  I don't know about that, but it is exciting!       

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Colonial Williamsburg Electronic Field Trip: "Yorktown"

     This week we took a time off from our usual history studies to focus on "Yorktown" through Colonial Williamsburg's award winning Electronic Field Trip series.  I have been yearning to have my kids partake in these for years, but the expense made them cost prohibitive.  They are now made affordable to homeschoolers by homeschool buyer's co-op

     Yorktown was the last major battle of the American Revolution.  Numerous events miraculously fell into place for the badly beleaguered Continental Army to finally become victorious.  Over the course of six years, this was only the second major defeat of the British (the first being Saratoga), but it was enough to cause England to withdraw from efforts to dominate America.  Within the next two years, King George III finally recognized America as being ", sovereign and indepedent states."

     One of the story lines was about Lt. Col. John Laurens who not only helped to capture Redoubt 10 at Yorktown, but also negotiated the terms of surrender with the British.  Laurens' story on the screen piqued our curiousity, so we dug deeper to discover more about this fascinating indivudual who fought for liberty for all, even slaves. His personal story came to the surrender table and, following General Washington's orders, he firmly resisted British pleas to lighten the terms of surrender.  Washington strictly ordered that as the British dishonored General Lincoln in Charleston in 1780, so would the British be treated the same at this surrender ceremony.  Denied the honors of war, they could neither fly their flags nor play a song of the victor. The kids and I agreed this was contrary to our way of thinking.  We cannot imagine a conquered group wanting to play a song of the victor.  As I told the kids, we have to put ourselves into their shoes.  For the conquered, to play the music of the victor is a sign that they fought honorably.    

     Col. Laurens spoke some French in the movie and that intrigued us.  Why would an American officer speak French?  Further research answered this question and helped us to more fully understand his story.  Since we don't speak French, we felt we were missing out on that part of the story. Therefore we went through the script and found the French parts.  I had the kids look for words they recognized that relate to English, like "courage".  Other words are similar to the Latin we are now studying. My son recognized one word immediately, "hommes" which was also part of the name of John Paul Jones' ship, he reminded us.  My daughter knew the actual meaning from her Latin. The rest we put through a French/English translator.  This was not easy but it was fun. We were surprised by the translations!  It definitely brought more meaning to our understanding of the story.     

     The on-line activities provided at the EFT website were enjoyed by my kids.  One, in particular, assigned them the duty to become an amabassador and tour Europe seeking aid for the American cause.  That was not as easy as it sounded.  They were sent back a few times to seek more aid. They were quickly feeling the fatigue of the real life ambassadors they had studied.

 There was also an interactive timeline of events leading up to Yorktown.  

     The Teacher Resources included informative diagrams on how earthworks were built, by means of gabions and fascines.  There were also diagrams of the inside of a cannon and how it was loaded to fire.  We have been to numerous cannon loading and firing demonstrations on our trips to Virginia.  The diagrams clarified, for me anyway, the precise process. 

     Additionally, there were diagrams of the 4 types of artillery used and their differences in trajectory, mobility and type of shot.  This has prompted much discussion around here.  In fact, my husband shakes his head in disbelief at what we have learned about artillery!

     Of course artillery is right up my son's alley, a real guy's topic.  My daughter and I, who are girlie-girls, were surprisingly able to get into this topic as well, because of the positively engaging field trip!  While evaluating the different types of artillery, many questions arose.  We did some extra digging for details at some extra websites.  Since my kids had the opportunity to e-mail General George Washington this week, they decided to ask him for burning details!

     My son was insistent that bombs could be shot from a field cannon which has a straight trajectory.  I figured they could, but I didn't think it was practical.  Not satisfied with my explanation, he e-mailed General Washington about it that night. In the morning my son asked if I had checked the e-mail yet and had General Washington replied?  Well, no.  I told him that the general was an hour ahead of us and probably was thinking about bed the night before.  My son piped up and said the general might have e-mailed early this morning.  I suggested he let the general eat his breakfast first!  It wasn't even 7am our time!  Shortly before the morning's live broadcast of "Yorktown", the e-mail to my son arrived!  General Washington seemed a bit surprised at the idea of using a bomb in a field cannon.  The trajectory is all wrong to use it effectively.  Of course he was extremely patient and polite in his explanation, which he signed, "Your most obedient servant, G. Washington."  Thank you General Washington for answering my son's imaginative question!

     Wed night my daughter e-mailed General Washington "What were the advantages you had with the field and garrison cannons, as opposed to the howitzer and the mortar?  Which ones were often preferred for use in battle?"  After the morning's EFT live broadcast, we found the reply in the e-mail and we were pleasingly surprised!  General Washington wrote an entire page to answer her questions in fascinating detail.  Thank you General Washington for taking the time to answer her questions so completely!  I gave each of my kids printed copies of their e-mails for souvenirs. My kids were elated to have had this exchange from the busy general, whom they got to meet a few months ago!  

     Over lunch, we started talking about artillery.  (Doesn't everyone?)  My son was still asking questions about all the various possibilities of how bombs could be used in the 18th century, none of which were practically done. It finally dawned on me that my son is approaching this like a 21st century boy who has lots of time and imagination to fiddle with all of the possibilities of an item, because he lives in a free society and doesn't have to worry about an enemy marching down our street and pillaging our home.  I told him that warfare is life or death.  The soldiers use proven methods. They look at their objectives and use the means that will attain the best possibility of arriving at their goals with the least amount of work in the shortest amount of time.  (This sort of made sense to him, due to all of the GA Henty books we read.)  We went through what seemed a million scenarios for him to figure this out. Through this discourse, I also realized he kept thinking of a bomb as a missile.  Once I mentioned that, everything seemed to fall into place for him. Whew!  By George, I think he's got it now! 

     This week, we've listened to Colonial Williamsburg podcasts from different people involved in the Battle of Yorktown: General Washington, General Lafayette, James Armistead, and the Rhode Island Regiment. There is also one about when "Yorktown" premiered in October 2006. The podcasts for this week and the next are about how the Colonial Williamsburg blacksmiths are recreating an 18th century 3# cannon.  They even have a special blog about the ongoing process, which my son is avidly reading! 

     The day before the live broadcast, we previewed the "Yorktown" video and watched the Q&As from the 2006 broadcast.  One of our favorite questions answered then was "Why did the British wear red uniforms?"  Col. Laurens gave a fantastic answer that we understood completely.  It goes all the way back to the fierce Spartan soldiers whom the British wanted to emulate.  Even my son  wanted to recreate their fierceness when we studied them a few years ago!

     Before the live presentation of the field trip started, I ran the live stream which had period music from a harpsichord in the background. I played that softly, while I shared some interesting tidbits of information from a recent book I had read, Victory at Yorktown: The Campgaign that Won the Revolution.  The various scenarios prompted lots of discussion and we started digging into other sources until the music ended and the field trip began. 

     This year's Q&A featured Colonel Laurens, a loyalist, a historian from the Yorktown National Park Service, and a historian from Colonial Williamsburg in charge of the African American program.  As in the 2006 program Q&A on the Yorktown website, we not only learned from the excellent answers given, but also thoroughly enjoyed Col. Laurens and the loyalist being respectfully rude to each other!  lol We could easily imagine how they would act if they were real people instead of actors.  Representing different viewpoints of the war, neither one of them liked the other's answers! My kids greatly enjoyed the field trip and I've already called in an order for a DVD.

     My kids each chose a different activity from the Teacher's Guide to work on. There are many from which to choose for various ages and from writing to art.  I wanted my 13yos and 15yod to do a three page writing assignment from the CW EFT.  They each chose the one they liked the best, then worked diligently on it to present to their dad on the weekend.

     We had read 4 different accounts of the Battle of Yorktown, from different points of view.  Using the perspective of one of these accounts, my daughter decided to write a letter to a friend about the seige on Yorktown.  She chose the perspective of a German soldier, who was in the French army, fighting for America.  (Isn't that an interesting combination?!)   Since my daughter already had a colonial dress that she wore for our "American Revolution Celebration" and to Colonial Williamsburg last summer, I suggested that she dress up for the part.  Here she is reenacting the letter writing.  She typed her paper into her computer, changed the font to a fancy script, then we printed it out on parchment.  She began her little skit by finishing the letter with her quill.  Then she read the entire letter aloud to us.  This writing assignment was an excellent challenge for her, since she needed to stay within the parameters of the viewpoint of the Continental Army instead of telling the British viewpoint of being stuck in that defenseless position.  It was also a challenge for her to stay within the 1781 mindset in predicting the impact of Yorktown.  She had some excellent ideas and had fun with the assignment.   She also used some information we learned from Col. Laurens during the Q&A.  She represented "baggage" (what a term) or non-combatants who followed the army to do laundry and cooking.

     My son chose one of the historical figures we had studied during Yorktown.  He had to write a speech about the seige of Yorktown from the perspective of this person and tell what happened to them after Yorktown.  Then he was to dress up and play the part!  Hmmmm, we do this type of thing all the time, so I wasn't surprised that he picked this activity.  He decided to be the Marquis de Lafayette.  He met Lafayette last summer in Williamsburg. (Lafayette happens to be played by the same actor who played Lt. Col. Laurens.)

     While in Williamsburg, we only got to hear the events of the Marquis' life up to Yorktown.  Now my son had to include perspective during Yorktown.  During our research, we learned that Col. Laurens was under Lafayette's command.  Also we learned that Lafayette made the decision for the method of attack made on redoubt ten. 

     Here is Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. (My son and I both had fun learning how to pronounce that in French.  And yes, we do have it memorized! Can you imagine his mother calling him that when he was in trouble as a little boy? lol)  My son was ecstatic to finally have a General Lafayette costume! He already had parts of the costume from other occasions. While I sewed the vest and coat in the last couple of days, he worked industriously on his speech. He described Lafayette's involvement and impressions at Yorktown.  Then he told about his life afterwards during the French Revolution, the era of Napoleon and his Grand Tour of America. Then he finished with what America and independence meant to him.

     They finished their presentation with a joint Q&A session where they went into more detail about artillery, fortifications and anything else enquiring minds might want to know. Actually, one question my husband asked we could have never answered had it not been for Col. Laurens answering the very same question during the live broadcast's Q&A.  How high can earthworks be?  During the course of explaining the method and importance of cleaning out a cannon before loading, we got a new question.  How does one safely load hot shot into a cannon?  We can't e-mail General Washington, as he is no longer available.  But my son can load that question onto the Yorktown message board where it will be answered by a CW historian. 

     While answering questions, they used illustrations from some of their sources.  The binder in the top left of the photo has all of the CW EFT resources provided for "Yorktown."


     Because of this electronic field trip, I think our Yorktown experience has almost come full circle. Four years ago we had been to the Yorktown Victory Center, which is a hands-on area for kids (young and old) next door to the actual battlefield. 

     When we were in Williamsburg last summer, I had suggested that we see the actual battlefield. Two weeks go quickly when a wish list is long, and my children simply could not imagine a day at a battlefield where nothing was happening. They thought it would be boring, so we did not go.  Since then, I have been looking for something to give us enough background information to make a future trip to Yorktown interesting for them.  Well, this EFT on Yorktown was the ticket!  Hopefully we can make a future trip back to Yorktown (and Colonial Williamsburg).  While walking the quiet fields of Yorktown, I trust that we will be able to look upon the cannons, seige lines and earthworks that are still in place (albeit some from the Civil War) and have some imagination recreating the historic events in our minds.  Until then, we are thankful for these Electronic Field Trips from Colonial Williamsburg which boost our knowledge and imaginations!  Huzzah!  

Why We Do Becoming History Presentations

I am often asked about the history presentations that we do. Just like visiting Colonial Williamsburg, which brings history to life, so do history presentations. which allow children to bring their studies to life. Although book work and writing are excellent means of learning, essential parts to a classical education, they only engage part of the brain. Adding fine arts, movement and role-playing, cooking and eating foods of the era, dressing up in period clothes do more than appeal to the various senses. They also engage the other part of the brain, which enhances the learning experience. Not only that, but for older students, rhetorical skills are developed in a fun avenue through creating a first person interpretation for a historical or literary persona.

Invitingextended family to our history presentations has also created a stronger bond in our relationships, as they come to understand the benefits of homeschooling. We have more support for homeschooling from extended family than ever before. If we quit doing them, my husband, children and extended family would revolt! lol

I've had a number of moms say they want to do a history presentation exactly like we do. Then there are others who say they could never do it. However, I do not encourage anyone to do it exactly like us. Instead I encourage others to focus on their interests using their strengths. No one has to do this exactly like me. We all come from diverse backgrounds and unique interests. I think the key element is to let the students choose their persona and create a costume, which can be as simple as a hat, something from ebay, or something Mom whipped up.

Believe it or not, I find sewing therapeutic, so I enjoy sewing costumes. I used to sew costumes for the children's choir and I learned a lot of tips on how to think outside the box while creating costumes. Therefore, for me, sewing costumes is an exciting challenge. I spend hours pouring over period pictures and modern day patterns, researching to simplify yet make the biggest impact. Also, my kids won't do this without me, so I dress up with them. It's been a lot of fun!

However I realize that sewing is not fun for everyone. Like Louisa May Alcott's Little Women kept old clothing in the attic to don for their literary club, so can we! Our limit is only our imagination. One idea is to collect clothes for 25 cents at yard sales and such and toss them in the dress-up trunk. Let the students create. The whole idea is to become someone in history, share their story, and have fun!

My kids usually pick their favorite character from the period we have studied to reenact for each history presentation. Then we plan how to represent that character. With each one, I ask them to do a little more in the way of writing, speaking and memory work. Also, I try to focus on the theme of the era for each presentation.

We like to do these a lot, so we do as many as 4-6 a year. However that can become hectic. At the very least, how about one a year, for an end of year grand finale of the history studies. Do this with other homeschool families and everyone can have a turn sharing something they learned that year. Do this with the co-op. I'm sure there are many more options!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Congratulations to my Son Being Published!!!

My son has recently been published in the literary magazine, Magnum Opus!   A couple of years ago we were studying Ancient Greece.  My son became fascinated with the hoplite soldier, so he not only did a research article on hoplites, but also made a costume and dressed up as one for our Ancient Greece history presentation

 Magnum Opus, has excellent articles written by kids.  I've wondered if my kids' writing would ever be good enough for publication in this professional looking magazine.  

Before IEW, my children struggled with writing.  My son gave too many details, whereas my daughter couldn't organize her thoughts.  Despite lots of success in teaching other students how to write, I was at a roadblock with my own children.  Then I discovered IEW.  IEW teaches students how to organize their thoughts with basic structural models for every form of writing imaginable.  In addition, they are given concrete tools for flexibility and originality in style.

Two years ago we started using IEW.  My children learned how to do about one model of writing a month, applying the concepts to a topic being learned in history.  How better to learn history than to Read, Think and Write? By the spring, my kids were learning how to write research papers while they were learning about Ancient Greece.

One of the principles of IEW is not to perfect every paper.  Instead, why not make writing accessible and fun? Actually, during the writing process, I do give feedback and have them complete a basically good paper, based on their current writing skills. As one skill becomes easy, I give them a new challenge.  Then to make it meaningful, we usually write on our history topics, to help them make connections between major events in history.  Finally. we make it fun, by coordinating our writing projects with our fun unit celebrations four times a year! 

At the end of the school year, IEW encourages students to choose one paper previously written to perfect and turn into a magnum opus (Latin for "great work").  A few months after our Ancient Greek studies, IEW announced the beginning of their new literary magazine just for kids who use IEW.  Appropriately named Magnum Opus,  the cream of the crop from the submissions get published in the magazine.   

My kids selected their favorite papers and submitted them.  In the second issue of Magnum Opus, their names were printed.  However, my son's hoplite article was returned in the mail, with encouraging and helpful comments from the editor, who hoped he would tighten the paper for a future submission.  Wow!  What mom/teacher could ask for anything more?  I didn't even have to pay for this!  My son willingly redid his paper and we resubmitted it.  Now that he has had feedback from an editor, he is more willing to listen to my guidance on his papers.  This has turned into a win/win situation!

Yesterday, in the snail mail, we got our copy of Magnum Opus.   Hurriedly, I flipped through it and found my son's hoplite article!  I excitedly called my son to see it!  We loved it! The entire family was elated! The editors did a terrific job of making it look professional!  Also, they used a wonderful picture of an authentic hoplite shield for the background!  I am  proud of my son!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Bluebonnets and Lafayette

We went to the Witte Museum today to see the bluebonnet paintings of famed Texas Impressionist, Julian Onderdonk.  He grew up in San Antonio in the late 1800's and studied art at Long Island, New York, from the same art teacher his father had.  Later his sister received an art education from the same teacher.  We got to see a reenactment of this sister who shared about her brother's art work.  She specialized in miniatures herself, and eventually became curator for the Witte Museum.

We haven't officially studied impressionistic art, since we are only up to the 1820's in world history.  My family was a bit confused by the blurry art when we walked into the gallery, so I shared the little bit I knew about appreciating this lovely style of painting. I told them about Claude Monet and the series of his famous "Water Lily" paintings. He painted the same theme in different parts of the day and different times of the year...each has a different look.  Seeing the paintings in person is an experience I hope to enjoy someday. 

Impressionist art does look blurry because it's meant to be viewed from a distance.  While watching hgtv one time, a designer recommended impressionistic art to a couple for some art niches on the second story of their two story wall.  I have wanted to do the same thing for our two story foyer.  But I can't afford the art.  I told the kids when we study impressionism, we'll get some canvas and oil paints and try our hand at painting impressionistic art. That gave them a goal to keep in mind while looking at the art. 

After touring the gallery, everyone was able to explain their opinion of their least favorite pieces, as well as their favorite pieces.  We also saw that we could look at the art historically.  Onderdonk painted scenes of many places in and around San Antonio that look drastically different today.  One spot was Alamo Heights, which in the early 1920's was a field of cactus and bluebonnets.  Today it is a busy metropolitan area.  We also got to see scenes of the misisons, the San Antonio River, the Guenther flour mill and more.  There were also sketches of studies in individual flowers from different angles, which I especially enjoyed.

We also compared the numerous bluebonnet paintings that were painted during different times of the day, from morning, to midday to twilight.  We also compared paintings in different types of weather, from sunny to foggy to rainy to the one of dark clouds rolling across the sky due to an impending storm. That particular piece moved me the most. I could feel the gush of cool air blow up, the flowers and grasses waving frantically in the gale, and the fear of how severe this particular thunderstorm could be. 

Additionally, Onderdonk painted scenes from where he was trained in Long Island, New York City and even the Thousand Islands.  There was even a sketch of Washington's headquarters in New York City!   

After experiencing the bluebonnets, we went to a different gallery upstairs which housed paintings from a variety of painters from Onderdonk to Theodore Gentilz.  Gentilz, who was trained in Paris, was from the nearby Alsatian town of Castroville and he painted Texan scenes in and around San Antonio in the old European style.  Initially, we were a bit disappointed in them.  Although they were incredibly sharp and crisp in detail, he was extremely sparing overall in detail and left out much of the intricate Spanish carvings in the missions.  Later, I happened to view the paintings from a distance and they suddenly looked terrific.  I called the family over to look and they had to agree.  From a distance, the paintings looked incredibly perfect, as if one could walk right into the painting.  

As we walked around and looked at the various paintings at our leisure, I had gotten ahead of the rest of the family and noticed a scene of La Grange, Fayette County, Texas.  I didn't realize we had a county named after the Marquis de Lafayette in Texas!  I thought I'd wait to see if the kids would notice.  They aren't museum buffs and I've been trying to train them in how to experience a museum.  I had told them to read the little signs and look for the painters Gentilz and Onderdonk.  Hmmmm, this would be a test to see if they were really reading these signs or not.  By the time I reached the other end of the room, the kids started calling me in hushed enthusiasm, "Mom!  Mom!  Come here!  Look at the sign...La Grange, Fayette County, Texas!"   (I was smiling from ear to ear!)  It was fun listening to them talk to each other. "It's named after Lafayette!"  "Well sort of."  My son fixed that problem!  He took his fingers and covered "Grange" so it would read "La Fayette."  They were quietly giggling!  They are so funny!  They had more excitement over that La Fayette sign than they did with any of the paintings today!