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Hands On: Aurora Heights 4th graders get up close with UI’s traveling exhibit

Aurora Heights 4th graders get up close with UI’s traveling exhibit

Instead of taking her students to a museum, Nicki Hornbaker, who teaches art at Emerson Hough Elementary and Aurora Heights Elementary, brought the museum to them.

When a 2008 flood forced the University of Iowa’s art museum to shutter its doors, it left museum directors wondering what to do with the massive art collection the university had amassed over the years. Instead of leaving the works to sit in storage they decided to take the collection on the road. On Monday, students at Aurora Heights Elementary got a chance to see part of the collection up close.

“That doesn’t happen in a museum, here they get to see and touch the art,” Hornbaker said. “Instead of going to a museum, the museum is coming to us.”

For many of Hornbaker’s students said this is the first time they’ve had a chance to see artwork from a museum, much less be able to handle the artworks. Jude Langhurst, a docent from the museum, brought a selection of Native American art for students to view. Encompassing artworks from the southwestern United States, as well as the Pacific Northwest, the collection contained pottery works, totem poles and masks.

As she held a piece of Navajo pottery, Langhurst explained to students how the piece was made. Each bowl represents a link in a process that’s been a way for life for Native Americans living in the southwestern United State for more than a thousand years.

She also showed students her favorite piece of art in the collection, a ledger artwork specially purchased by the museum to accompany the collection. The ledger artwork, a drawing done on top of piece of ledger paper, was common to Native Americans living on reservations at the turn of 20th century. Many Native American artists had to make do with things they had on hand; they lacked access to the materials artists traditionally use. Torn from a grading book, the ledger art still had the names of students written in neat columns, something Langhurst highlighted for the fourth-graders.

“Here’s Poor Bear’s name. He got three A’s,” Langhurst said. “This is a really special piece.”

As they passed each piece of artwork around the room the students marveled at the different styles, occasionally raising their hands to ask questions about each individual work. For Kalin Storm, a fourth-grader at Aurora Heights, getting to hold each piece and hear the story behind them was something to get excited about.

“I thought it was really cool, I liked the story,” Storm said.

Getting a chance to get up close and personal with each work of art on display Monday added to the story, students said.

“I thought we wouldn’t be able to touch them, but when she said we could touch them it was really exciting,” Storm said.

As students passed pieces of pottery back and forth during the presentation, the art teacher said she’s been impressed with how much her students have enjoyed the presentations.

“The discussions the kids are having, they want to learn more and more about art,” Hornbaker said.

Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or

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