Art in the Garden

Giant weaving looms, garden sculptures, up-cycled creations, “living” stages - the creative possibilities of the garden are endless. Art in the Garden - facilitated by non-profit Community GroundWorks - helped ten Madison-area schools create lasting works of art in their outdoor learning spaces.

The Art in the Garden project involved the following schools: Lakeview Elementary, Lincoln Elementary, Lapham Elementary, Orchard Ridge Elementary, Prairie Elementary, Toki Middle, Spring Harbor Middle, Van Hise Elementary, Crestwood Elementary, and Marshall Early Learning Center. Each school received funds to create a unique outdoor art installation in their school garden, to be used and enjoyed by future generations of students. The creation process was exciting and collaborative, often involving dozens of students and community members, or even the entire school. In total, over 2,600 students were directly involved in creating Art in the Garden installations.

Throughout the project, Community GroundWorks provided professional development and technical assistanct to schools, and coordinated public outreach to help showcase Art in the Garden success stories from schools. We were excited to host an Art in the Garden Exhibition at the Overture Center for the Arts in the fall of 2015, and to have the project featured in the Wisconsin State Journal!

Read on for detailed project descriptions from each school, as well as Art in the Garden Lessons submitted by team leaders. We hope these stories and pictures inspire future outdoor art projects for years to come!

Art in the Garden was made possible thanks to generous funding from the Madison Community Foundation and the American Girl’s Fund for Children.


Art in the Garden Schools

Each Art in the Garden school submitted their best photos, as well as a short description of their project for the exhibition at the Overture Center. Read each school's story below!

Lincoln Elementary

We worked with local woodworkers Aaron Laux and Tim Beach Sullivan to build a giant, hand-crafted outdoor weaving loom in our garden.  The loom was installed in the spring of 2015. This fall, students will harvest natural materials in and around the garden to create group weavings.  This will provide the opportunity for all four hundred students at our school to participate in interactive outdoor art that also pulls in lessons in social studies and science! Next spring, we will begin growing specific plants in our garden to use in the loom, and will also experiment with growing plants for natural dyes.  

Marshall Early Learning Center

We used our Art in the Garden grant funds for several different projects. First, each classroom designed and painted a Peace Pole to display along the garden entrance. Each Peace Pole has the message, ‘May Peace Prevail on Earth.’  We also created an Up-cycled Bottle Tree.  In art class, ELC students painted and cut old plastic bottles to look like flowers.  Middle school students attached bottles to “branches” created by the high school woods class. The finished “tree” was mounted on an existing pole from the old playground in the center of our garden.  Finally, we designed and planted succulents and blue grass in a checkerboard pattern on our green shed roof! These projects have involved so many of our students, and we have so many wonderful stories from the creation process. One child drew the bottle tree on the cover of his take home folder and said the tree makes him feel peace. Under the tree after he printed his name he wrote, “I LOVE SCHOOL!!!”

Crestwood Elementary

We installed an outdoor stage at our school. Over one hundred fourth and fifth grade students decorated small chalkboards with mosaic tiles that will serve as announcement boards as the stage is used. Our new stage was informally inaugurated at our annual spring Poetry Night last May, at which several students read or recited poems on the stage. Additionally, one first grade class prepared a play about garlic mustard and performed it for other Crestwood classes as the school year came to a close. As with any outdoor project, plans for the finishing touches continue to evolve. A space was left for building a ramp entrance to the stage to make it wheelchair accessible. We plan to plant shade-friendly clematis vines to climb up the old baseball fence that forms the back of the stage. While we wait for the clematis to establish itself, we will yarn bomb the fence and plant flowers along the retaining wall. Finally, we have ceramic patio tiles in various colors and sizes from the Habitat Restore that the art teacher will work with students to design a patio to install at ground level in front of the stage during the 2015-16 school year.

Lake View Elementary

Working with local artist Henry Hawkins, we created a mural that reflects our students, staff, families and neighbors. The mural tells Lake View’s story, and includes images of children planting milkweed, monarchs dotting our gardens, Earth Day at Warner Park, faces of the neighborhood, laughing children running in the woods, bees pollinating apple blossoms, teachers and students working together on outdoor projects, and more.  Over 275 students and 150 parents were involved in generating ideas for the mural. The eco-artistic design sends a clear message about the diversity of our community and its commitment to academic excellence, the arts, health and wellness, and the environment - while honoring our culture, history, and future. Students also created a video about the process.

Lapham Elementary

"It All Begins with a Seed,” offered K-2 students the opportunity to contribute to two permanent art installations in our garden: a Welcome Sign and a Living Stage. First, students created their own ceramic "stamps" with nature-based themes Kindergarten: Seeds and Roots, First grade: Stems and Leaves, and Second grade: Flowers and Fruits. The stamps were fired and used by students to design the terra-cotta tiles that now hang in our garden. Our outdoor art installations welcome people to the garden in a beautiful, informative way, as well as recognize our funders and partners. Students enjoyed the creation process, and the chance to contribute to something that will last for years to come. One young boy, when asked what he thought of seeing his tile on display in the garden, said: "Before I was sad I couldn’t take my tile home but now it’s in something bigger and it makes me happy to see them all together.” We are very grateful to Jennifer Lapham and the Midwest Clay project for helping us so much with the ceramics!

Orchard Ridge Elementary

We created an outdoor performance space in our garden, decorated with a student-made mosaic. After viewing images of other mosaics from around the world, students drew maps of where they wanted the space to be and what they wanted it to look like. We compiled student ideas and presented them to our garden committee and principal. During the winter, students created ceramic tiles to place in the mosaic. This spring, we all worked together to assemble the mosaic on our new stage! Creating this space has helped us to meet a number of goals within our school community. One goal was to increase student ownership and pride in our school. When students have worked on the mosaic their eyes light up with amazement and pride. They love pointing out their tile and feeling proud of themselves for helping out and being a part of something amazing. Another goal was to create more space for performance art. As part of MMSD’s work with the Kennedy Center’s Any Given Child initiative, we discovered that this art form has been underrepresented in our schools and community. Already, a number of students and parents have stopped by to help work on the mosaic during after school time.  In future years, this space will be used for students to create their own stories, music and movement either in organized performances, or spontaneously at play.

Prairie Elementary

Students at Prairie created a variety of Art in the Garden projects, including: Recycled bird houses with ceramic “totem poles”, mosaic stepping and sitting stones, and beaded wind chimes. Classrooms worked collaboratively to create the different projects. To make the mosaic stepping stones, students brought in “found objects” to contribute to the design, and arranged them in abstract patterns. Students enjoyed working on group projects, and were excited to envision the final results in the garden. Many students shared that it was one of their favorite projects of the school year. Our projects involved over six hundred students, as well as dozens of parents, teachers, custodians, and local business owners from the community around our school.

Spring Harbor Middle School

Every year our eighth grade class gives a ‘class gift’ back to Spring Harbor.  This year all 88 students collaboratively decided to beautify the Butterfly Garden using our Art in the Garden grant funds.  One of the main projects was to design a memorial arbor for Vickie Woodward, our former 7th grade Language Arts teacher who passed away two years ago due to cancer. After measuring the dimensions of the garden, students created blueprints for the memorial arbor in Google Sketchup. The winning design was selected on the criteria of form and function. Additional Art in the Garden projects included: painting garden benches, making mosaic stepping stones and flowerpot pathways, decorating our Little Library, planting native perennials, and creating planters from up-cycled rain boots.  One student took it upon herself to document and create a video capturing the friendships and bonds that have formed when given the opportunity to work collaboratively on the Art in the Garden project.  

Toki Middle School

We collaborated with local sculptors Will Turnbull and Laura Richards to create a sculpture with an eighth grade class for our garden. Students worked with the sculptors to create the design and learn about the artists’ welding process. Students who saw their “piece” out in the garden were excited, and instantly asked to take photos to share with friends and family.  Many parents, teachers, and students have responded positively to the sculpture in our garden space, and are visiting our garden to see it. Since installing the sculpture, two other structures with similar hexagonal shapes have been installed in order to create trellises for plants and for a domed seating area. We are continuing to expand our garden, and the sculptures set the theme!

Van Hise Elementary 

We designed and painted a mural on a wall near our garden. This is an area of the garden that we are developing for thoughtful reflection.  The process began with children drawing pictures in art class to inspire our mural artist, Molly Krolczyk (one of our parents) and our fifth graders to come up with the design.  The pictures selected came from students in Kindergarten through fifth grade.  Molly researched and found paint for bricks that will stand the weather of Wisconsin and then engaged our student artists in cleaning & painting the wall.  We also began a tradition with our Art in the Garden mural this year by having our fifth graders paint a rock with their name and a symbol that represents them.  These rocks were weatherproofed and there was a ceremony where students placed their rock in the space by the mural. We are excited to watch our “rock collection” grow and evolve as students reflect on their time as students at Van Hise! 

Art in the Garden Lessons

As part of the Art in the Garden Project, each school was asked to develop and share a lesson plan that they used to incorporate the garden into their art curriculum (or vice versa!) Lessons are written to align with the Understanding by Design format.

Collaborative Scuplture Making - Toki Middle School

Creating a Mosaic Garden Stage - Orchard Ridge Elementary

"Found Object" Stepping Stones (and other projects) - Prairie Elementary

Garden Peace Poles - Marshall Early Learning Center

Mosaic Garden Signs - Crestwood Elementary

Designing a Memorial Arbor - Spring Harbor Middle School

Observing and Drawing in the Garden - Lapham Elementary 

Weaving in the Garden - Lincoln Elementary