Nature Transformed: Edward Burtynksy’s Vermont Quarry Photographs in Context


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This annotated list of web resources may be used to help you and your students learn more about looking at and making meaning from this type of art.

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Pre-Visit Lesson for Elementary Students: Granite All Around Us

Edward Burtynsky, Rock of Ages #4, Abandoned Section, Adam-Pirie Quarry, Barre, Vermont, 1991.

Digital chromogenic color print. Photograph courtesy Howard Greenberg & Bryce Wolkowitz, New York /Nicholas Metivier, Toronto

Edward Burtynsky has spent his artistic career photographing elements of the landscape that most of us never encounter including quarries, refineries, and recycling yards.  This pre-visit lesson will prepare elementary students for his beautifully rendered images of Vermont quarries at the Hood Museum of Art by familiarizing them with granite, its extraction, and its uses. At the museum, students will discuss issues related to consumption, environmental impact, and geology and witness the record of what remains behind once people have extracted what they need or want from the land.

Note:  This lesson needs to be done a few days in advance of the museum visit so students can do some homework in preparation for the trip to the Hood.


Students will:

1. Learn about the various physical properties of granite.

2. Learn how granite is extracted from rock quarries

3. Complete a worksheet related to learning how granite is used in their community today.

Materials needed for this activity

Access to the Internet. Ideally, students will be able to view a couple of YouTube videos that demonstrate how granite is removed, cut, and sanded for commercial use. (See the Learn More! page on the museum’s website for links.)

Granite Around Us worksheets, one per student


1. Explain to students that on their museum visit they will be looking at the work of Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky.  Burtynsky travels around the world, photographing parts of the landscape that most of us never see. All of his photographs depict land that has been changed permanently by people. When people remove natural resources from the land, like oil and coal for fuel or rocks for building, the land changes permanently. Edward Burtynsky is interested in what that land looks like once people have started removing those resources from the earth.

2. Many of the photographs students will see on their visit are of granite quarries in Barre, Vermont. Ask students the following questions and discuss the answers with them.

● What is granite and how is it formed?Granite is a type of rock formed underground by the cooling of molten rock. A layer of molten rock is found deep below the surface of the earth (molten is another word for melted). The melted rock ismade when radioactive elements deep in the ground break down.  This breaking-down process releases large amounts of heat, which melts the rock. Over time (millions of years) some of that molten rock gets pushed to the surface of the earth where, it hardens.

● What does granite look like?  See image below.

Granite comes in many colors. This picture shows the grey, black, and white flecks of the type of granite most commonly found in Vermont and New Hampshire.

● Where is granite located?

Granite can be found in every continent of the world. Large deposits of granite are located in New England.

● How is it removed from the earth?

Another word for granite removal is extraction. Granite needs to be extracted in large pieces using specialized equipment, dynamite and chemicals. Teams of people slowly dig around slabs of granite to break them free. A single granite slab can weigh as much as 40 tons, or 80,000 pounds. Granite mining operations can remove granite from as deep as 600 feet in the earth.

Once the slabs have been removed, they have to be sliced into smaller slabs and then polished using enormous sanding machines. The saws used to cut through granite are diamond wire saws with blades that can be as large as twelve feet in diameter.

If you have access to the Internet, this would be a great time to show short YouTube videos about stone removal and cutting. See the Learn More! page for links.

● What is granite used for?

Because it comes in a beautiful range of colors and is extremely hard, granite has been used as a building material for thousands of years. Granite was even used in the construction of the pyramids in ancient Egypt.

3. Hand out copies of the Granite Around Us worksheet and ask students to take the worksheet home, look around in their neighborhood, their community or town, and their school to try and find five different ways granite has been used in those places. Compare answers in class the next day.


Talk to your parents and neighbors and explore your neighborhood, school, and town to see if you can find five examples of different ways granite is used in your community.

List your examples here and bring this sheet back to school to share with your classmates and teacher.












Modern and Contemporary Art

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