MHS students travel abroad to explore timeless world of art

Srinidhi Valathappan | The Chronicle

Embarking on a summer trip of art, history and culture, 14 Mason High School (MHS) art students broadened their creative and cultural horizons.

Led by MHS art teachers Karan Witham-Walsh, Hannah Zimmerman, and Kayla Robbins, a group of students, ranging from sophomores to recent graduates, traveled to Greece and Italy for nine days.

Witham-Walsh’s experiences with study-abroad programs led her to collaborate with Robbins and Zimmerman to plan for the trip back in 2021, but due to COVID-19 concerns, the trip was postponed to this summer. The teachers mainly wanted to focus their trip around ancient Rome, ancient Greece, and the Renaissance, as it would be influential for upper-level art students and Advanced Placement (AP) Art History students.

The trip allowed the students to observe the masterpieces they had only seen in books or on screens, including the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, the mosaics of Pompeii and sculptures like Peplos Kore and the Acropolis complex. The students sketched and took notes at each site, capturing their impressions and personal interpretations of these iconic works.

Senior Ellen Zhang took AP Studio Art during her junior year, prior to the trip, and is currently taking AP Art History. Zhang said that being able to see the details of the original artworks up close provides a unique experience.

 “As an artist, I can tell why these works were so heavenly,” Zhang said. “You see them in books, but it’s entirely different when you’re standing before them, feeling the texture and energy they radiate. It’s like art came to life.” 

Junior Ava Plouffe had already taken AP Art History during her sophomore year. Learning about different artworks in this class provided more background to what she learned and saw in Europe. Equipped with the knowledge of the intricate process behind the work, Plouffe said that seeing her favorite artworks in person was like “seeing a celebrity”. 

“Learning about the history beforehand gave me so much background information for going on the trip and I could appreciate everything a little bit more because I knew so much about it,” Plouffe said.

Throughout their adventure, these high school students had not only witnessed masterpieces like Peplos Kore of the Acropolis, or the world-famous Parthenon, but had also embarked on a personal journey of artistic growth and self-discovery.

“It’s absolutely incredible,” Zhang said. “To be there, it’s a feeling you can’t even describe. You turn every single corner and there’s a piece of artwork. Going as a school tour group, we gained so much more freedom and knowledge. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to experience that again.”

Zimmerman said that the trip was not merely a summer vacation, but an exploration that deepened their understanding of the world and cultures of different countries.

“Art was our main focus, but so was the additional cultural experiences of being in countries that speak different languages, learning about the customs, even just the travel experience navigating the Athens airport,” Zimmerman said.

The trip also prompted the teachers to consider how they wanted to tie their experiences back to their own classrooms, with the energy and enthusiasm that this adventure had.

“It gave us time to think about how we want to bring certain elements back into our teaching to benefit every student instead of just the ones who were able to come,” Zimmerman said.

As the school year begins, these students carry with them not only memories of a summer trip  but a renewed passion for art and an appreciation for the history and tradition that surrounds them. Their trip through Greece and Rome has served as a transformative chapter, combining an educational value to their artistic journeys.

With the success of this trip, planning for next year’s trip (Spain and France) is already underway. For the next group of students, the teachers have decided that next year’s trip will be open to all students interested in art.

“I learned so much about art through different cultures and times, and seeing it all in person is truly a whole new perspective,” Plouffe said. “It changed how I make my own art.”