David Wilson, gallery manager for the Salem Art Association, talks with Miller Elementary School fourth-graders about a painting by Salem artist John Oberdorf on a class field trip. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Laurie Hoverson’s fourth-grade students relish any chance to do art.

But a Friday field trip to the Salem Art Association and Bush House Museum was an extra dose of excitement - so much so that one girl woke her father up two hours early to ask whether it was time to go yet, Hoverson said.

Two classes of Miller Elementary School students spent their morning drawing and visiting a gallery and museum as part of an immersion program to get local kids from high-poverty elementary schools out of the classroom.

“A lot of the time it’s their first time ever really being inspired in a gallery,” said David Wilson, the Salem Art Association gallery director.

The Art and History Immersion Program, started in 2015, reaches about 1,000 elementary school students in Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties each year. It’s paid for with grants from local foundations and trusts.

Students tour the Bush House Museum with director Ross Sutherland, learning about life in early Salem, and then spend an hour at the Art Association’s neighboring headquarters, talking about and then creating their own art.

Ross Sutherland, director of the Bush House Museum, gives a tour of the historic home to Miller Elementary School fourth graders on Feb. 7, 2020 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Hoverson said she works to incorporate art into her classroom and often uses it as a tool to calm kids who are having behavior problems.

“Academics in 2020 are rigorous and kids may not always get to access their creativity,” she said.

She said art can bring out a more confident side of students.

 “Not all children thrive with the normal day-to-day curriculum,” she said.

At Bush House, Sutherland explained how the Bush family lived in the 1800s, churning butter by hand.

“Some people even put butter churns on rocking chairs,” he said.

He said the automatic piano in the parlor, which plays songs based off paper punch cards, was an early version of recorded music. And the phone on the wall connected first to an operator to dial out, he said: the cell phone’s “great-great-great-great grandmother.”

Teacher Sierra Moulton said the program is a chance for kids who might not otherwise get to museums and galleries to learn the etiquette and feel more comfortable in such settings.

“A lot of students in my classroom have never gone on a field trip and they’re fourth graders,” she said. They were eager to attend - within one day, well over half the class had brought back slips from parents permitting the trip.

Autumn A., a 4th grade student at Miller Elementary School, draws during a field trip to the Salem Art Association on Feb. 7, 2020 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

At the art association, Wilson showed students a new painting by local artist John Oberdorf depicting angels.

“This painting was created just this year,” Wilson told the students. Many gasped.

Then, he invited them to draw a landscape, whether real or invented.

“Take me on a journey through your imagination,” he said.

The students eagerly set to work.

Parent Ryan Catlett attended with his daughter, Reagan, an enthusiastic artist. He said he often struggles to get her to do her homework before she starts painting in the evening.

“I’m super happy,” Reagan said, gluing a cut-out heart to her drawing.

Reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.