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Chester County Press

Prehistoric cave art installation on display in Kennett Square

08/02/2021 08:41PM ● By Steven Hoffman

It took nine months, 5,000 sheets of paper, 170 students, three teachers and one amazing vision to transform three classrooms at Upland Country Day School into a prehistoric cave.

The vision came from Caroline Lathan-Stiefel, a famed large-scale sculptural installation artist whose work has appeared in museums, hotels and galleries across the country. Lathan-Stiefel assumed the role as lead teacher in Upland’s Art Department last year and its program has flourished under her leadership.

“A lot of people think Upland is a hockey school, but we also have incredibly talented teachers working within our Art, Music & Theatre Departments,” said Lori Yingling,  the director of admissions. “This includes Mrs. Stiefel, whose dedication to experiential art has sparked so many of our students’ creative interests.”

Lathan-Stiefel helped students gain inspiration from prehistoric caves, specifically the Lascaux and Chauvet Caves in France, by showing students videos of the 44,000-year-old cave paintings.

Her vision became a reality through an all-school effort. Children in first through sixth grades made stalactites for the ceiling, painted and crinkled up thousands of pieces of paper to create the wall structures and traced their hands in various places throughout the space.

Seventh, eighth and ninth graders became sound collectors.

“Our Upper School students spent months testing out ways to create sounds, ones that were both naturally occurring and ones they created using different environmental objects, like tapping a stick against a tree or dripping water into a bucket,” said music teacher Katrina Dobrzelewski. This includes recordings that the students collected from around campus combined with animal sounds (inspired by the animals depicted in the cave), and other musical elements. The students then edited and layered these sounds together into a soundscape that plays continuously in the cave, creating an incredibly immersive experience for visitors.

“The cave is so cool, and the soundtrack just really brings it to life” said recent graduate Gracie Rea.

The Kleberg Cave was unveiled to students and faculty on May 20. And in a year when any sort of travel was impossible, Upland transported its students to a land far, far away: the land before time.

Student Lila Goeller expressed the serenity this type of project gives her, “using chalk pastels that just glide across the paper, that I can blend with my fingers, it calms me down and is just really relaxing and fun. Art class is my favorite time of day. I like that you can’t really make a mistake in art. You can just do whatever you want, you don’t even have to be good at it.”

The School’s dedication to the Arts comes at a time when many other schools throughout the country are eliminating art programs. Upland is committed to its art programs and teaching students the concept of aesthetic literacy. Every day, it aspires to be all that school should be with curriculum based off of what it labels as “The 4 A’s,” academics, arts, athletics and attitude. The arts are not extracurricular at Upland Country Day; they are integral to the complete education it provides to students in Pre-K through 9th Grade. Their robust program includes visual art, vocal and instrumental music and drama — all essential manifestations of the human spirit.

Head of School Dr. Dan Hickey encourages any students or families interested in an art centric education to consider Upland. 

“At Upland, you will find equal parts purpose and joy,” he said. “You will find a rigorous academic program supported and bolstered by a caring faculty and a culture of collaboration and collegiality among students. You will find an emphasis on character development cultivated in the classroom, on the athletic fields, and through service. You will find rich exposure to the arts and creative life. You will find what school should be.”

Tours of the cave are available by appointment this summer, Monday through Thursday, between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. To schedule an appointment, contact Lori Yingling at [email protected]