Beaver Pond, 1976
Neil Welliver, American, 1929–2005
Oil on canvas
71 3/4 × 96 3/4 in. (182.2 × 245.7 cm)
Museum purchase funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and George S. Heyer, Jr.
Habits of Mind
- SYNTHESIZE Analyze and synthesize relationships and information / compare and contrast / understand the micro and macro implications
Brushing Up On Nature
Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.
• Explain the concept of an ecosystem and life cycles within habitats.
• Categorize the inhabitants of an ecosystem as producers, consumers, and decomposers.
Connecting to the Work of Art
The beaver dam sits in a river or pond in the foreground of this composition. In the distance, haze floats over the trees and mountains rise, echoing the shape of the beaver dam. Welliver lives on the Duck Trap River in Lincolnville, Maine, and his work is inspired by the area’s landscape of rivers, lakes, mountains, and ponds.
Except for the broad areas of the sky and hills, Welliver uses linear strokes of flat paint to define three-dimensional forms. In articulating the delicate reeds and the mass of the beaver dam, Welliver’s brushstrokes take on a calligraphic character. He uses a limited palette of cool colors, evocative of the distilled light of the Maine countryside. In most cases, his large canvases are painted from smaller studies done out of doors.
Welliver’s stated goal is to make a representational painting as fluid as abstract works with their emphatic brushstrokes. He combines the careful scrutiny of nature associated with traditional landscape painting with a painterly technique that emphasizes brushwork. On close examination, Beaver Pond is actually composed of a network of “abstract marks,” each with its specific role within the larger context of the picture.
Welliver studied at the Philadelphia Museum School, where he was trained in a strict academic watercolor tradition. He did graduate work at Yale University with abstract artists including Josef Albers and Burgoyne Diller. Although he studied with abstract artists and was interested in the active brushwork of painters such as Jackson Pollock, in the early 1960s Welliver turned to a more realistic style with landscape as his primary subject. Beaver Pond and other works by Welliver combine an interest in nature and realism with an exploration of brushwork and planes of colors that characterizes modern abstract painting.
• Think of each of the three paintings as representing an ecosystem. What plants and animals would live in each? What are the relationships between the plants and animals in the ecosystem?
• Imagine what it would be like for people to live in these locales. Discuss the relationship of the people to the landscape in Haystack. Discuss the relationship of each artist to the ecosystem he portrayed.
• Teach students the definitions of the three categories: producers, consumers, and decomposers.
• From the information given in the paintings, infer the presence of additional populations within each of the three ecosystems.
• Chart the categories of producers, consumers, decomposers for each of the ecosystems portrayed in the paintings, and compare.
• Discuss the effect of people on natural ecosystems. What can people do to continue growth without damaging the ecosystems around us?
Resources Available to Order
The Art-To-Go lending library features materials that may easily be integrated across the K–12 curriculum. Resources include DVDs, music CDs, children’s books, study guides, poster sets, and collection-based interpretive materials produced by the KFEC. Educators, community leaders, and docents from throughout Texas are welcome to borrow Art-To-Go resources. To place your order, search the online catalogue and add the selected items to your basket. After you have reviewed your basket, submit the order electronically.
The Learning Through Art program at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is underwritten by:
The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.