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Art class bridges outside experiences to students

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Elizabeth Bilyeu has bridged instruction with the outside world, literally.

In her fall Introduction to Art class, she is introduces students to the world of art and uses Portland’s historic and diverse array of bridges to do it. The art history instructor incorporates the beauty and mechanical wonder of the structures into discussions on art and architecture.

“Portland is a great place to study bridges,” Bilyeu said. “My students discover aspects of the bridge they can’t see, such as the hollow supports that allow movement of counterweights to raise the bridge for boats.

“Inside and underneath with the mechanisms during this process there is a moment of amazing silence because the cars have stopped,” she recalls. “Then they start moving again and it’s an overwhelming noise.”

The students don’t have to do pay for the field trip. Bilyeu has secured a Classroom Enhancement Grant from ASPCC-Cascade and gets money from the Sylvania Campus Porschman Fund at the PCC Foundation to pay for the tours of the bridges.

Bilyeu and her students get a first-hand look at the Portland bridges through a local guide and author Sharon Wood Wortman. The author of “The Portland Bridge Book” puts on tours of the bridges for the Portland Parks Department and was a natural choice to lead Bilyeu’s class, securing the intricate tours and discussions with the bridge operators. The students get to see how the bridges work, including how boats call in ahead of time so that the bridge can be raised in time.

The tours also show just how the bridges blend in with the landscape. After the tours, Bilyeu assigns her students to write a visual analysis about one of the bridges. She teaches them the visual language to use when describing and analyzing the structures, terms like lines, colors, spaces and shapes.

“From the control tower of the Morrison Bridge, it’s an amazing view of the east and west sides of the river,” Bilyeu said. “Basically, students must show how the bridge fits or doesn’t fit into the landscape. It’s interesting to view the bridges in Portland. You get a sense of a two-tower theme in that area with the convention center towers nearby. I push students to look at themes like that.”

And the real-world learning doesn’t end there. In the spring, Bilyeu will take her class to the Portland Art Museum and view the rare books room at the Multnomah County Library.

“I want to increase the appreciation of architecture and art, and how they connect to the world. This makes students more connected to Portland and community,” said Bilyeu, who started at PCC in 1999 at the Cascade Campus. “They get introduced to art and architecture, and local works that they have never paid attention to. So, after they finish the classes, they will continue to notice art and architecture all around them.”

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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