Monday in the Park

Walking through the Conservatory Garden’s imposing iron gates, the Upper School students entered a magnificent oasis of pristine lawns, exquisite flowers and peaceful energy. What a wonderful setting to awaken one’s imagination! Each year, longtime Art Department Head Duane Neil brings his classes – weather permitting – to this six-acre gem at the Northeastern corner of Central Park to observe, reflect and create.

Monday, May 7, a stunningly beautiful spring day, provided a splendid opportunity for the students in Mr. Neil’s Watercolors FOCUS class to paint outdoors, surrounded by the beauty of nature. Mr. Neil offered limitless freedom to explore the grounds, with the caveat that they return promptly to the waiting school bus at the designated time.

Carrying their portable art cases, which held trays of paint, bottles of water, a selection of brushes and sheets of white paper, the 10 students – in Classes 10-12 – immediately dispersed to different areas in the Garden, which is located on Fifth Avenue between 104 and 105 Streets. They strolled down the paths, up the gentle hills and past the manicured shrubs and blooming trees in search of inspiration.

Some found spots by the “Three Dancing Maidens” fountain, which reflected the afternoon sun. Others took to higher ground, spreading out on benches in the shade overlooking the central meadow. A few ventured farther afield to the Garden’s western edge, lush with woodland plants. After settling in and arranging supplies, each student paused to observe the world around her – the winding trees, the delicate branches of wisteria, the smooth steps flecked with light and shadows, the open sky – and began to paint.

For 90 plus minutes, the students worked thoughtfully on their art, pausing from time to time to chat with each other or to take a quick break. Dipping brushes into ovals of paint, the artists brought the captivating Conservatory Garden to life through their use of color and composition. Their finished paintings were as unique as the individuals who created them. Some were bold representations of plants and trees; others offered more realistic imagery such as life-like tulips and an elegant stone archway.

The Watercolors class is designed to engage all students, from beginners to those with more refined skills. “This class is based on observation,” Mr. Neil explained, adding that he gives his students the chance to paint a variety of subjects, including photographs, still-life assemblages and outdoor adventures like this day’s visit to the Garden. He also likes to introduce more abstract lessons like painting to music to broaden the students’ perspectives and encourage them to take artistic risks.

“The students really do a good job. They try hard and want to do well,” Mr. Neal commented. As the departure time approached, the students collected their fresh paintings, stored the supplies in their cases and wandered back to the iron gates, beyond which the school bus waited to return them to Chapin.

After eagerly showing Mr. Neil the results of their inspiring field trip, these students continued on with the rest of their days, grateful they were able to visit the majestic Conservatory Garden and paint away the afternoon.

Browse photos from the visit below: