UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A new course being offered this fall is combining art, science and history to create a novel classroom experience. Sustainable Studio (ART 297) returns students to the roots of the dye industry by learning about both ancient and modern production methods, and then making art themselves with natural dyes and fibers. The instructors, Ann Shostrom and Kim Gates Flick, are looking to create a community within the class, that includes the students as well as visiting artists and lecturers throughout the semester.
Students will learn about the history of art materials, which, according to Shostrom, have become more toxic over the years. Flick and Shostrom are helping the next generation of artists make art environmentally friendly by learning how to make their own dyes from sustainable resources.
“Chemical dyes are very hard on the planet, often polluting local waters,” said Shostrom, associate professor of art. “Using more natural dyes are important moving forward.”
As part of the experience, students will spend time on the Student Farm at Penn State, harvesting plants to create dyes through the different techniques they learn about, as well as experimentation on their own. The class will also head out to Black Moshannon State Forest where they will be gathering more plants for dye-making.
“We will be getting out of the classroom and into nature,” said Flick, a visual arts instructor. “There will be hands-on farm work, and students will actually be creating their own dyes out at the Student Farm.”
Eva Bonta, a senior geography major, interned with the Student Farm this semester, researching which plants are best for dye-making and could be grown in the central Pennsylvania climate. Ultimately, the plants chosen to be grown at the Student Farm specifically for Sustainable Studio this year include weld, woad, dyer’s coreopsis, marigolds, yarrow, black-eyed susans, Japanese indigo, and Hopi Black Dye sunflowers.
Flick and Shostrom are hoping to collect locally sourced fibers, such as alpaca and sheep wool, for use in the course as well.
Along with Shostrom and Flick, Elsa Sanchez, associate professor of horticultural systems management, and Leslie Pillen, associate director of farm and food systems, are also helping to develop the course.
The Student Farm at Penn State is a living laboratory rooted in the community and campus. It is cultivated on campus by and for students. As a part of the Sustainability Institute and its mission, the Student Farm seeks to enhance food systems education, improve local food access, and grow and develop a community around sustainable agriculture. This year, the Student Farm was nominated as one of the class gifts and is currently raising funds to establish an endowment for the long-term support of the program.