With the sun streaming into Adolphus Busch Hall last Wednesday afternoon, the only sound you could hear at one point was the soft scratches of pencils moving across sketching paper. Soon after, the hall echoed with laughter and vibrant conversation. “These two moments capture the spectrum of the power of objects and how museums engage us,” said Senior Museum Educator Corinne Zimmermann.
The Freshman Draw annual event, which invites students to draw the many sculptures housed at Adolphus Busch Hall, introduces students not only to the power that comes from contemplation and creative collaboration, but also to the Harvard tradition of observation and sketching. In her welcoming comments, Daimler-Benz Associate Curator of the Busch-Reisinger Museum Lynette Roth explained to students that drawing from the plaster casts housed at the hall was a common teaching tool for past generations of Harvard students.
Armed with fresh paper clipped to drawing boards, students took instruction from Corinne Zimmermann as she led them through a series of drawing exercises, from a sequence of marks, such as a heavy or a slow mark, to quick gesture drawings before progressing to longer, more focused drawings of figure sculptures in the hall. The more time students spent with the figures, the more they discovered—the folds in the fabric, a slight tilt of the head, or the shift of weight in the stance. For the final drawing, the students focused intently on translating their discoveries onto paper. “I found that taking the time to observe and completely absorb what was in front of me gave me a better understanding of that object and my relation to it overall, and it made me notice things I would normally overlook. This is a tool that I hope I can apply to the rest of my experiences here at Harvard, taking time to really engage and pay attention to what’s right in front of me,” said freshman Skip Rosamilia (Harvard Class of 2017).
After the last drawing exercise, Francesca Bewer, Research Curator in the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, introduced students to the replica of the 11th-century Hildesheim Cathedral doors, whose figurative reliefs served as a source of inspiration for modeling figures. Using Model Magic (a nontoxic modeling putty), students each fashioned a quick copy of one of the figures before joining into groups to combine their creations into a narrative composition and to share the story with their peers. They told stories of pursuing robbers in the night and the dethroning of a king, to name a couple. This was an opportunity to think in 3D, to consider choices artists make in developing a narrative scene, and to share a few laughs with fellow freshmen along the way.
At the end of the event, students were encouraged to take their drawing boards and some Model Magic home with them, in the hope that they will continue to create and explore during their years ahead at Harvard. Not a single board was left behind.
See photos of the activities and student work from the Freshman Draw workshop on Flickr.