Class incorporates art, writing in natural setting

(Photo courtesy of: Larry Clarkson) Students hike in a slot canyon in Capitol Reef Natl. Park. A new Writing and Drawing on the Land class being offered this May will be held at the natl. park.
(Source: Larry Clarkson) Students hike in a slot canyon in Capitol Reef National Park. The Writing and Drawing on the Land class will be held at the park this May.
(Source: Capitol Reef National Park) The Capitol Reef Field Station is where students taking the Writing and Drawing on the Land class will stay. The class is held May 11-18.

Writing and Drawing on the Land, a travel-study program held in Capitol Reef National Park, will provide students with a lot more than course credit. The weeklong excursion includes Weber State University credit, transportation, housing, meals and activities.

Art, English or Master of English students would benefit from taking the class, but anyone can sign up. Three hours of credit will be given for the ART 2015, ART 4900, ENGL 3350 or MENG 6610 classes.

The course has a dual-discipline emphasis designed to get students out of the classroom and into nature. Professors Hal Crimmel and Larry Clarkson teach the course together as they immerse the students in English, art and environmental issues specific to Utah’s desert landscape.

Crimmel said this was his fifth time taking students on Writing on the Land class trips and his second time collaborating with Clarkson. In the past, students would learn in the wilderness settings of Dinosaur National Monument and Montana. The class has an opening for 18 students, who will receive a less-structured learning experience.

“Learning, then, is a lot more . . . organic,” Crimmel said. “We’re often having discussions as we’re making dinner or hiking when people are seeing things . . . It’s really a fantastic learning experience. I would encourage all Weber State students if they can to do a travel-study class.”

English students who are hesitant to draw and art students who aren’t familiar with writing are put out of their comfort zones and improve their skills in the landscape, which Crimmel said was “inspiring.” He said he was excited to teach the class because it flows differently from typical classroom learning.

“I think, for me and probably most of the students who take them, that they are probably the most rewarding (classes) of their college careers,” Crimmel said, “simply because you really have the chance to immerse yourself in the place and in the subject matter.”

Tagan Baker, a recent alumna who graduated with a Master of English, took the Writing and Drawing on the Land class in 2012. She said both Crimmel and Clarkson are exceptional teachers, and that writing in nature helped her to focus.

“When you’re actually out in the field and have the opportunity to learn in an open environment like that, it just kind of opens people up a lot more creatively as well as academically, because you don’t feel quite as formal,” Baker said. “There’s just more discussion rather than lecture.”

The location of this year’s course, the Capitol Reef Field Station, is a historic area. According to Clarkson, many famous artists and writers stayed at the field station, which used to be called Sleeping Rainbow Ranch. Previously it was a Fremont Indian village, which was then settled by Mormon pioneers.

Clarkson said one of the points of the class is to open students’ minds to new perspectives on nature and bring them to an unbiased state.

“The whole purpose was to get people not to see sights, scenic and historical sites as much as it was to experience nature without civilized distractions,” Clarkson said. “So my goal in the class has always been to try and get the students in an isolated situation where they’ve got support for sleeping and eating and medical resources, but then they are sort of forced to come to terms with what nature really is.”

In the past, students have gone on exploration hikes in slot canyons, discovered tracks of wild animals and slept in ancient Native American caves in the program. Clarkson said the class is structured just enough for students to not panic, but unstructured enough for students to discover a little bit more about themselves.

“It’s an incredible class,” Clarkson said. “It’s my favorite thing to do. I just love teaching this class. And it’s almost like the students, as they start gathering and observing and interpreting then expressing, it’s like, as a professor, you’re almost along for the ride. It’s just an incredible experience.”

Students interested in taking the course need to pay a deposit to the Continuing Education Office as soon as possible to secure an open spot. Scholarships and tuition waivers may be available. More information is available at