In the realm of class field trips, this was ambitious. A four-hour bus ride (each way) and an immersive tour of Hearst Castle, a 14-hour day that Mrs. Warren hoped would bring to life the works of art and pages of theory her class has been studying in textbooks for months.
Back in class this week, students evaluated their mega-field trip demonstrating the value of this advanced, college-level class as they discussed their experience through diverse historical, cultural and social contexts.
At Mayfield, junior and seniors are allowed to take up to three Advanced Placement classes a year. No more. The reason, explains Head of School Kate Morin “is that our APs are truly demanding, college-level classes.” Stacking more than three such courses into Mayfield’s already rigorous academic program is not a balanced approach to educating our girls, she said.
Mrs. Warren, who is also Chair of the Theology Department, brings insight and her love of art into AP Art History. She creates a peaceful learning atmosphere where students acquire a life-long appreciation for art and develop the analytical and writing skills that are so important in college. Her students have a strong record of excellent performance on the AP tests in May.
Although students are required to visit several museums or art exhibits as part of the course, Mrs. Warren thought there are few better places within distance to see a diversity of world art than the landmark Hearst Castle.
William Randolph Hearst, the media magnate who conceived Hearst Castle, amassed a vast, museum-quality art collection that includes American and European Old Master paintings and sculptures, tapestries, oriental rugs, Greek, Roman and Egyptian antiquities, silver, furniture and historic ceilings. Much of his massive collection is housed in the Hearst Castle estate, which is now a landmark site owned and operated by the State of California Park Service.
What is a popular tourist attraction to most visitors served as an valuable classroom experience for our AP Art History students.
“To see the art was to understand it better,” one student said. “What had just been pictures in a book became very very real.”
Take for instance, the Continence of Scipio, a renowned tapestry that is only one of six surviving panels from a set of ten that belonged to members of an aristocratic French family in the mid-1500s. Four of the ten surviving panels hang in the grand Assembly Room of Hearst Castle.
“We read about these tapestries, but to see them in this house was very powerful,” one student said. “I could see how the tapestries were like a newspaper, telling stories from a particular era. I felt fully immersed in it all.”
Also, particularly relevant to an all-girls school, Mrs. Warren introduced students to architect Julia Morgan, California’s first licenced female architect, who over the course of her prolific career designed more than 700 buildings in the state alone.
Morgan was the genius behind the buildings and architecture of Hearst Castle, a sprawling, 250,000 acre estate that encompasses 165 rooms, 123 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways, according to the State Parks description.
“Just imagine, Julia Morgan was pursuing her dreams and goals at a time when American women had not yet won the right to vote,” Mrs. Warren said.
Having studied Hearst’s collaboration with Julia Morgan, students participated in a Skype session with a museum educator prior to their trip, enabling them to grasp a vivid picture of the spectacular emerald green hilltop setting along the California coast and its link to Hearst family history.
Students agreed that seeing the breadth of art from antiquity to modern times in the context of Hearst’s home was a unique window onto history and California’s connection to the broader world.
Here’s what one student said:
“At times I forgot I was in California—while looking out at the ocean from alongside sarcophagi and a classically-inspired pool, or encountering medieval tapestries in the Casa Grande, or standing under a 15th-Century ceiling of a Spanish home dating to the time of Christopher Columbus’ expeditions. I was transported to different countries and eras of history in this very unique place.”
Another student commented that her up-close encounters with Egyptian Sekhmet statues, Greek vases, and Islamic works of art similar to works the class had studied, brought her studies to life.
Both Mrs. Warren and students agreed that the long bus ride up the coast was worth it. They suggested one change for next year’s class: more quiet time to take in the stunning works, less time on a tour geared toward sightseers.
Clearly, Mayfield’s AP Art student are not typical tourists!