Section drawing by Harrison Houser ’22, Renton, WA

Last summer, we worked to develop a way for the school to keep those students who had already enrolled for the ’20-’21 academic year engaged during this bridge year and to provide them with a remote start to their Conway experience. The result has been a bi-weekly team-taught survey course, The Story of a Place: Intro to Observing a Site, which members of the Class of 2022 recently completed. We enter this summer focused on the bright prospect of a return to in-person instruction in September with a fully enrolled class! We are excited for all that this new beginning will bring in terms of renewed energy, collegiality, and discovery, while remaining cognizant of the unexpected challenges that are likely to arise.

The Story of a Place: Introduction to Observing a Site was an optional course meant to help students prepare for the upcoming in-person year in Northampton and begin to create the learning community, with classmates and faculty, that will sustain them through the next year. While the first half of the course focused on closely and regularly observing a site and mapping various objective conditions and subjective experiences of the site and its neighborhood, the second half explored tools for digging into historical conditions, climate change trends, and patterns of racism and environmental injustice evident in landscapes. Students were also introduced to Adobe InDesign and Photoshop and asked to apply those lessons to produce various documents to share with classmates and faculty, while continuing to draw plants, plans, and sections and create other sketches by hand. The course culminated in students presenting slideshows of their work online, telling the stories of the sites they had studied, and reflecting on the experience of learning about a place through the seasons.

A few highlights identified by students in the anonymous final evaluations:

“Seeing the progression and evolution of everyone’s work and perspectives/ perceptions of their sites and the contexts of their sites was really interesting, evident in the wide diversity of approaches and techniques used in the final books and presentations. I also really enjoyed the opportunities we had for longer form discussion/discourse, specifically the facilitated conversation reflecting on Dr. [Robert] Bullard’s presentation [on environmental justice]. They were insightful and also were great opportunities to better know and understand our peers.”

I improved my drawing skills and have a detailed mental picture of every plant, stem, branch, and flower I drew. I drew plants once in a while before I applied to Conway, but now it’s my go to method for learning their form.”

I appreciate the creativity and thought that you all put into this course. It was diverse and fun. We all understand the limitations of Zoom and yet I feel like I got to know everyone a little bit, which is exciting. I liked the challenge of the coursework without the pressure of turning something in [for a grade].”


We look forward to welcoming a full class back to campus in the fall. Back to trace paper-filled studio, field work, and weekly presentations!