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Teacher's Travels Inspire Young Artists

At the start of the summer break, art teacher Tim Wallace hit the road on a driving tour of America's national parks. Along the way, he inspired his students to create art and to maintain their own sketchbooks about their summer travels. Included: See how an elementary art teacher turned the trip of a lifetime into a virtual field trip for his students.

"As an art teacher, I wanted to keep my students excited about making art over the summer months and encourage them to keep a sketchbook of their own travels," Tim Wallace told Education World. "Our last project of the school year was to make a simple sketchbook to take with us over summer vacation. We talked about why artists keep a sketchbook, learned how to use a viewfinder to create interesting composition, and looked at the differences between drawing and sketching."

Tim Wallace sketches a scene at Yellowstone National Park.

At the end of the 2007-08 school year, when he might have been looking forward to spending more time at home, Wallace embarked on a journey that would take him very far away from Hershey, Pennsylvania, and Hershey Elementary School, where he teaches art. With his canine pal, Gringo, he set out on a driving tour of America's national parks.

A veteran, Wallace had traveled to many places in the world, but had seen very little of the United States. Injuries sustained during his military service had recently prevented him from exploring even the nearby mountains of South Central Pennsylvania. Then last year, he received two knee replacements, and while he was in recovery and rehabilitation, he started to wonder what might happen if he went beyond the hills of Pennsylvania. A plan began to form.

"Gringo came in to visit with the students during the last week of school, and I shared with my students what we would be attempting over the summer -- to go around the country in 70 days," Wallace recalled. "They could follow along on the school's Web site to see where we were day to day."

Wallace also explained that he would maintain a blog and post photos, artwork, and short videos with "art tips." These tips are mini art lessons that teach techniques like choosing a focal point for artistic work. Wallace's blogging activities required a clever combination of a cell phone, laptop computer, power converter, and an extra car battery to access the Internet from every destination. The excursion took the art teacher and his canine companion more than 17,000 miles -- from New York to California, Texas to Florida, and many points in between.

"Each unique part of the country would spark an idea for a different art lesson -- anything from Native American weaving and designs, to chalk drawings of bright colored lights on black paper (an idea from Carlsbad Caverns), to sculpture made completely out of corn," reports Wallace. "It seemed that around every corner there was an art project waiting to happen."

Wallace's students at Hershey Elementary School visit with Gringo.

Photos courtesy of Tim Wallace.

The paintings of the Romanticism Period are a source of inspiration for Wallace's own art, and he is especially drawn to American landscape painters of the Hudson River School. Therefore, he chose the Catskill Mountains of New York as the first stop on his journey.

"It was a thrill for me to set up my easel and recognize the view in front of me, knowing that for centuries artists have been drawn to that same spot to paint," he shared. "Now it was my turn."

Another of the most meaningful locations that Wallace and Gringo visited was Arlington National Cemetery. For Wallace, this landmark was an appropriate finish to his cross-country excursion. After this stop, the happy travelers headed for home.

"Gringo and I were very fortunate to experience some of the very best that our country has to offer," Wallace added. "From sea to shining sea, border to border, river to river, and mountain to mountain, America is unmatched in its diverse beauty. While the scenery and landscapes will always be breathtaking to the beholder, we found that the most beautiful part of the country was the people we met along the way."