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Out Of This World Sketchbook Covers

“To confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit.”Stephen Hawking

As I curate the student artwork for this post, I just can’t stop downloading pieces from Artsonia because they are ALL OUT OF THIS WORLD!!!

We just wrapped up this project and most students have had a chance to upload their work to Artsonia where they are on display in this gallery: https://www.artsonia.com/museum/gallery.asp?project=1822853

Miriam Harrati

These are the covers for the sketchbooks we made two weeks ago. Space scenes are first sketched out with white colored pencil on purple tag stock after the book is made. Students opened the books flat on the tables and treated both outside front and back covers as one panel or scene. Color was added with oil pastel and blended with blending stomps.

Kylie Connolly

This was a super engaging project for all due to (I think) the tactile quality of the oil pastels, the freedom of imagery, and the huge success of overlaying one color on another as it hides a lot of missteps.

Jack Oleksyk

Students were given a few resource sheets of planets, meteors, comets, rockets, and constellations. From there they were encouraged to create their own unique space scenes. Martians welcome.

Sean Lewinsky

This was a great opportunity to talk about the difference between an artistic rendering and a scientific diagram. Come to find out, some sixth grade science classes had made scientific diagrams of the solar system recently, and this project helped to foster further connections with the topic of space.

John Nakamura

This project also generated discussion about perspective. Rather than draw themselves surrounded by space, students were asked to imagine themselves being immersed in space where every time they turned their heads, all they saw were planetary and other objects, not their own bodies.

Grace Sabo

The relaxed yet eager work sessions generated a lot of conversation (no surprise – Area 51 was a frequent topic 😊) contrasting with periods of total silence except for the music air-playing to the speaker (I’ve been stuck on Jack Johnson in the classroom lately).

Ella Martin

As students finished, they used Autodesk Sketchbook on iPads to create digital space scenes. Those will be posted in a few days.

Matthew Haley

Meanwhile, enjoy these vibrant space scenes! I hope you love them as much as I do!

Greyson Michael

Tyler Loo

Lia Romano

Jacob Poirier

Irelyn Bradley

Kyle Keaveney

Justin Ferenczy

Aiden Fayer

Caleb Keyes

Taylor Ferlo

Hailey Pierce

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Couldn’t Make It To Open House 2019?

Couldn’t make it Open House this week? No worries at all!

This is a super busy time of year and one can’t do everything! It was a pleasure to see so many parents and guardians Tuesday night and I appreciate your stopping by to say “hi” and check out the art room. If you weren’t able to make it, please know you can stop by any time. Here is what the room looks like in a 360 Panorama (click on the photo to see the room): 

Open House visitors enjoyed the following video, which shows highlights of last year’s 5/6 Miscoe Hill Art Program and should give you some idea of what to expect this year (click on the photo to see the video):

Also available was the back-to-school letter containing a breakdown of grading criteria and my contact information. Here is a link to the letter: Welcome to 2019.20 color

Speaking of contact information, I have emailed every address I had for my students’ parents and guardians last week. If you did not receive an email from me, please let me know at agentili@mursd.org 

It was a pleasure to meet some of you this week and I look forward to meeting the rest of you one day soon, possibly at conferences or at the Art Show in the spring.


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International Dot Day 2019

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In the Miscoe Hill 5/6Art room we have had a blast creating dots and watching them come to life using the Quiver app on iPads. Why create dots? Because of the book The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds. Here is a narrated video of the story:

We colored in templates made by Quiver and then used the app to view the dots we have made. Quiver uses Augmented Reality to transform the dots into dynamic, moving dots. You can download the Quiver app to any mobile device, print the template, and view the dots with augmented reality. Here is a video how it works (please substitute “Quiver” for “Colar” because the app has changed hands since I made this video:

As students view their dots with augmented reality, they’ve been capturing them in photos and videos on the iPads. Here is a compilation of their artwork:

And individual students’ work is posted on Artsonia here.

Nice work, right? The video will be posted on the International Dot Day wall and on Twitter with the hashtag #DotDay19. Over sixteen million Dot makers will participate in International Dot Day this year!

To see a heart-warming story about one a former student and the impact Dot Day had on her, please follow this link: Shea on Fablevision 

Always remember:

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The Printed Image: Student Artwork On Display

“Photography is a small voice, at best, but sometimes one photograph, or a group of them, can lure our sense of awareness.” – W. Eugene Smith

2019 Miscoe Hill “The Printed Image” Artists

The following students will have their artwork on display in the Massachusetts Art Education Association exhibit The Printed Image from September 30 – November 15 at the MA State Transportation Building, 10 Park Plaza, Boston. The artwork in the exhibit is curated by middle and high school art educators throughout Massachusetts.

In choosing work for this show, I tapped the tremendous well of artwork created by my students last year that was uploaded to our online Artsonia gallery. All of this artwork was created on iPads. I am incredibly proud of the following students whose work has been chosen for the show. Grades listed are last year, the school year in which the artwork was created.

Name: Kayla Aubut
Grade: 6
Title: Perspective
Medium: Photography
Size: 15 x 19

Artwork by Kayla Aubut


Name: Patrick Connolly
Grade: 5
Title: Exploration
Medium: Photography
Size: 15 x 19

Artwork by Patrick Connolly


Name: Kenneth Hanson
Grade: 6
Title: Self Portrait With Oversized Nose
Medium: Digital Art
Size: 15 x 19

Kenneth Hanson


Name: Jacob Jiang
Grade: 6
Title: Digital Abstract
Medium: Digital Art
Size: 15 x 19

Jacob Jiang


Name: Bridget Klupa
Grade: 6
Title: Sweet Tooth
Medium: Digital Art
Size: 15 x 19

Artwork by Bridget Klupa


Name: Maggie Lewinsky
Grade: 6
Title: Self Portrait
Medium: Digital Art
Size: 15 x 19

Artwork by Maggie Lewinsky


Name: Lucas Nguyen
Grade: 6
Title: Still Life Abstraction
Medium: Digital Art
Size: 15 x 19

Artwork by Lucas Nguyen


Name: Diana Plotkin
Grade: 6
Title: Funny Frog
Medium: Digital Art
Size: 15 x 19

Artwork by Diana Plotkin


Name: Lauren Tabakin
Grade: 6
Title: Digital Zone Doodle
Medium: Digital Art
Size: 15 x 19

Artwork by Laura Tabakin


Name: Linda Wang
Grade: 5
Title: Super Imposition
Medium: Digital Art
Size: 15 x 19

Artwork by Linda Wang

When you see these students in the hallways and out and about in the community, please congratulate them on their fine work!


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Summer Learning 8: Clay Is Fun/Clay Is Hard

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” Thomas A. Edison

I spent most of my summer getting dirty and looking like this:

And it was glorious! I would spend the early morning hours getting stuff done around the house, writing, or reading. Around 9am I would change into these clay clothes and go on up to the pottery studio, not to be seen for at least a few hours. The studio is nothing more than half of my husband’s former woodshop on the top floor of one of the outbuildings on our small farm.

It’s a primitive space. There’s no running water and no heat. Clean up happens with a garden hose in a double wash tub sink, where I usually end up getting as wet as the stuff I’m washing.

Clean up station

There’s a table saw in the middle of the space. And a drill press in the corner.

But there are two giant windows that make me feel as if I were outside. A fan to move air. And a peaceful view of part of the back yard, which I especially love during a storm.

There’s also an old iHome clock radio tuned to WUMB Boston (folk radio – where you’re never more than an hour away from a Richard Thompson song – ha!) on which the volume button no longer turns and is permanently set to kind of loud, but not too loud.

Lastly, the space is graced with and blessed by St. Samuel, a painting on glass by friend and former student, Sam Odysseus Wolken. St. Samuel is my constant companion in the clay studio, and keeps a watchful eye over my work.

St. Samuel by Sam Odysseus Wolken

I opened the studio for this summer after our return from Philadelphia, around July 2. Because I only use this great space during the summer, I take the first couple of weeks to refresh the muscle memory of wheel work. Consequently, I would go to the studio each day with pottery goals in mind. I would usually throw a few small bowls to warm up. I used Indonesian Batik stamps (Brimfield) and 3D printed peace dove cutter/stampers to imprint the first pieces.

First work warm ups

Once I got my pottery groove back, my first goal was to throw decent cylinders, focusing on pulling up the sides. Once I could do that again, I focused on collaring and pushing out the sides to make curvy vessels.

Embracing the curves

The next goal was to throw plates. This is a big challenge for me. I use videos on YouTube to teach myself. I must have referred to six different videos before finding one that helped. I made a bunch of small plates. I couldn’t seem to master the large plate, but I had other goals I wanted to accomplish.

Small plates

At this time, about a month into summer clay work, I was driven to design a cutter/stamper to imprint the plates and double as a cutter/tracer for slab clay cut outs. I had done this last year with 3D printing tracer/cutters inspired by Picasso’s peace doves.

Peace doves made with 3D printed stamper/cutters

This year, I took inspiration from our last remaining peacock, Lapis Lazuli, the sole survivor of the four peafowl we have had on our little farm over the past several years. I took to Autodesk Sketchbook on my iPad to noodle around with ideas for a stamp/cutter in the evening (while binging on Game of Thrones – finally, I know). I then imported the design to Morphi app to model for 3D printing. This is what I came up with:

Design One

When I used it to imprint the clay, it was too detailed and busy to integrate well with the lack of structure within clay.

Too detailed

So I went back to the drawing board with a revised model:

Design Two

Which didn’t 3D print very well because the lines were too thin:

I went back in to Autodesk Sketchbook intending to thicken the lines and ended up with a whole different design:

Design Three

I liked this design a lot and it 3D printed very well. It also imprinted the clay nicely with minimal clean up, if any.

I ended up adjusting the size five times and printing it out in all five sizes, small to large. I have a New Matter Modt 3D printer that Santa brought a few years ago. It is at end-of-life and is challenging to print with. It did manage to eke out the pieces I needed.

The languishing New Matter Modt

Along with different sized stampers for different size vessels, I wanted the tracer/cutters to make a series of slab clay cutouts that diminish in size and are tied together as a hanging wall decoration.

5 sizes of stamper/cutters

5 sizes of stamper/cutters

Greenware peacocks

Bisque fired repeating peacocks to be strung together to hang on a wall

In the midst of this work, I decided to design and print a peacock feather (the eye, really) to hang at the bottom of a singular peacock cut-out.

Peacock feather

Once I finished all the slab work with the peacock and peacock feather cutters, I had to stop because we were going to be away for vacation. That would give the clay pieces a full week to dry. When we returned from vacation on August 17, I fired everything in the kiln. After firing, I took inventory. I was surprised at the volume of the fruits of my labor:


Some close ups:

These will all be be glazed (hand painted) and fired (again) this fall, which will take focus, discipline, and determination because I will be back at school as of next week. At this point, with the studio having been open for not even two months, this is what has accumulated for glazing:

Meanwhile, I’m still working on making large plates. As mentioned before, I use YouTube to learn technique. I am blown away by the varied approaches to wheel throwing pottery, especially plates. I’m happy to say I’ve met with success this week thanks to this video by an art teacher in Illinois. This is the fourth technique I’ve tried and it worked well for me.

10″ plate – hallelujah!

I’ll make a few more large plates this week and weekend before going back to school on Monday. Once we settle in, the air will start to cool here in Massachusetts and I’ll no longer be able to work in the pottery studio. Instead I’ll spend my creative time glazing all of this pottery and picking up my brushes to resume watercolor painting for the winter, in the least, who knows what else?

Reflection – Pottery

My relationship with pottery is not new. I did some hand building and clay sculpture in high school. I don’t remember taking a clay class in art school, where I was first a graphic design major before switching to painting. I did take a ceramics class in my MEd program and loved it. A former colleague (hi Leia!) was a ceramics major and taught me a lot when we worked together. My students create clay projects a couple of times each year and I’ve offered many clay classes for our school Enrichment program, as well as week-long summer clay workshops like Clay Every Day. So my relationship with clay is not new, but it has never been consistent. It is an ability I developed well enough over time as an educator to be able to teach it.

There is something tremendously appealing to me to work with a substance, in this case clay, to manipulate it and have it manipulate you, as it resists or encourages your interaction with it. There are times, for instance in pulling a wall, where you are so in sync and everything is working perfectly. It feels like flying.

Other times it seems you can’t do anything right, and along with centering the clay, you have to center your head and be completely in the game. It is a fantastic stress reducer. It is a thoughtful solo experience that I find very peaceful, yet empowering. This is going to sound corny, but the entire process of working with clay within the space we’ve designated for it makes me feel like me again.

Reflection – Summer Learning

It may be obvious to a reader that working with clay on a sustained basis is professional development for an art educator. After all, artist educators were artists before they were teachers. For me, setting aside consistent time to work in the clay studio was a conscientious decision, in fact a reaction to how I have spent previous summers.

This is the first summer in a long time where I haven’t taken a professional development course, participated in a program, or taught a course or workshop (well, I did facilitate one workshop). Earlier this year, I took stock of my summer professional development over the previous five years:

  • 2018:
    • Massachusetts Arts Curriculum Frameworks Revision facilitation: Five working days with at-home work between meeting days
    • Project Based Learning three day workshop
    • TABnology one day workshop facilitation
    • Bay District Schools, Florida, one day on-site workshop facilitation, three days with travel
  • 2017
    • International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), San Antonio, four day conference and presentation of “weRmakers”
    • Framingham State College Coursework for Certificate In Instructional Technology
  • 2016
    • Framingham State College, Coursework for Certificate In Instructional Technology
    • Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) Summer Institute
    • Harvard Graduate School of Education, Online, Teaching and Learning in the Maker-Centered Classroom
    • International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), Denver, four day conference
    • English Language Learner Training, Uxbridge, three days
    • Ed Tech Teacher Summer Workshop, Cambridge, three days
  • 2015
    • Harvard Graduate school of Education, Project Zero Classroom, Cambridge, five day workshop
  • 2014
    • Framingham State College, Framingham and Dedham and Online, STEM Certificate Program with PTC

I considered all of the out-of-pocket expenses, because aside from a $725 once per year course reimbursement and the occasional registration fee covered by my district, everything else (travel, hotel, commute, supplies, textbooks) was on me. And I considered the juggling I had been doing to take advantage of summer time off to relax and restore my energy and balance it with family medical issues and all of this professional development and commitment. Lastly, I factored in my work in leadership of my local teachers union from 2013-2017, which never stopped in summer. With all of this in mind, I decided that this summer would be different. And boy, am I glad I did!

All of this time on the clay studio has truly reenergized me. Not only that, but all the thought time has grounded me and made clear a focus to bring the “soul” back into my teaching. I have been feeling scattered over the past few years, darting between traditional art making, digital art making, 3D modeling, project based learning units, and student-directed art making. While all of these directions are good and valid, I haven’t felt an integration toward a common objective between them.

While all the clay work I’ve done this summer has developed my craft in this medium, it has not yet empowered my creativity and self-expression. I expect when I begin to paint the pieces (because painting is my medium) I will begin to feel like I am expressing myself artistically.

As I start school next week, the common thread or overarching goal within my classroom will be self-expression. With whichever medium my students are engaged, our collective focus will be on how the work can lead to self-expression. I expect this won’t always result in pretty, bulletin board showcase work, but I expect it will be of the utmost value to my students as growing human beings, citizens, part of our school community of learners and greater global community of artists.

I’ve been thriving all summer in the clay studio. If we are to empower our students to thrive, we must ourselves thrive. And not in a reactive way, say using meditative methods to decompress, but in purposeful engagement in activities that empower us to be our unique and individual best selves. Our time outside the classroom should be recognized and respected by our administration and our community as our own time to fulfill our personal responsibilities and engage in meaningful activity that leads to our own empowerment. It is only then that we can empower others.

Self-empowerment and self-expression will be my goals as we go back to school next week. Meanwhile, until the days grow cold again, I’ll be in the clay studio in my free moments.

Hello from the clay studio

This post is the final post, part eight, of a group of posts about my self-directed professional development in the summer of 2019. To see the others, search Summer Learning or 2019 Summer PD.

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Summer Learning 7: MA Art Museums

Inside the museums, infinity goes up on trial
Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while
But Mona Lisa must’ve had the highway blues
You can tell by the way she smiles – Bob Dylan, Visions of Johanna

How fortunate I am to live in Massachusetts, where in anywhere between an hour and three hours on the highway I can find myself at an art museum. This summer I took advantage of this opportunity and visited four Massachusetts museums, which I’ll write about in this post.

The courtyard at the Gardner

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

The Gardner is an elegant gem located in the Fens area of Boston. I spent a lot of time there completing sketching assignments in my late 1970’s undergrad time at nearby Mass College of Art and Design (Mass Art). Consequently, I don’t visit there very often, but when I do, I am filled with nostalgia and the same wonder I felt forty years ago, yet with an appreciation acquired over many years of viewing art and architecture. I was at Mass Art for a meeting the week after my school released for summer vacation. I had a little time following the meeting before commuter traffic kicked in, so I walked over to the Gardner.

The empty frames where the stolen paintings belong

The Gardner is well known for the art heist in 1990. Most visitors find the story fascinating, and appreciate the empty frames that mark the loss. From the Gardner web page: In the early morning hours of March 18, 1990, a pair of thieves disguised as police officers entered the Gardner Museum and stole 13 works of art by world-renowned artists such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Manet, and Degas. The works, including Rembrandt’s Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee (his only known seascape) and Vermeer’s The Concert, are worth more than $500 million. This remains the biggest unsolved art theft in world history.

Giuliano da Rimini
The Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints

I am drawn to the religious work of the Gothic and Early Renaissance periods because of the gold leaf embellishments and the narratives within the biblical depictions. The Gardner Museum has a wonderful collection of this work.

Virgin and Child with Saints Paul, Lucy, Catherine, and John the Baptist
Simone Martini

I love the bright palette of this Fra Angelico piece:

The Death and Assumption of the Virgin
Fra Angelico

And this Botticelli:

Virgin and Child with an Angel
Sandro Botticelli

A piece that caught me by surprise at the Gardner was the pieta depiction in terra-cotta (clay) – a bas relief. This caught my attention because this clay technique is one I have never explored and I am inspired to begin exploration.

Lamentation of Christ
Giovanni della Robbia

I’m sharing this one simply because of the expression in the man’s face. And it’s by Raphael.

Portrait of Tommaso Inghirami

It was a pleasure to see again this spectacularly understated piece by John Singer Sargent – the painter of white on white:

Incensing the Veil
John Singer Sargent

Visiting the Gardner Museum the week after school got out for the summer was a tonic well needed. The end of the school year is always very busy and brings mixed emotions. Fatigue – for the cleaning, grading, and ordering of next year’s supplies before the year is through. Gratitude – for the opportunity to spend my days with eager and curious middle schoolers – 500 of them over the course of a school year. Loss – for the departure of an entire grade level class of students as they move up to seventh grade and no longer have art class with me. Reflection – on the school year as a sum of its parts, the good, the bad, and the challenging. Joy – for the summer that stretches out before me to do with whatever I wish, whenever I want. Yes, a quiet hour or two in a place filled with beautiful things and the stories they tell was a great way to kick off summer vacation.

Museum of Fine Arts

The variety of artifacts on display at the Museum of Fine Arts guarantees there is something for everyone to see and enjoy. As a member there I have had the pleasure of touring the museum many, many times over the years – often alone, yet also with friends and family from out of state or with children. Especially my own son for whom “let’s find all the pictures with cows in them” would keep him entertained and engaged for hours when he was young.

I take advantage of my membership at the museum with short visits to specific exhibits when I’m in Boston for something else. I had two occasions to visit this summer, one after presenting TABnology at MassArt, the other before a meeting with MAEA in Winthrop.

On my way into the museum via the Fenway entrance after the TABnology presentation, I noticed the Japanese Garden was open, so entered softly to take in the quietude. When open, it provides an oasis of peace and calm in the middle of the city.

Japanese Garden Tenshin-en – Garden in the Heart of Heaven

Once inside I made a beeline for the Gender Bending Fashion exhibit, which I had been wanting to see for a while. It was phenomenal:

Record album jackets from artists who bent the binary

The MFA has created a soundtrack to the exhibit on Spotify here.

This gallery was so beautifully arranged and included seating, giving me time to sit and contemplate the powerful and thought-provoking display

Walking out of the exhibit, I reflected on my memories of the young faces of my students who I know and have known to be LGBTQIA+. I wished they could all see this show and be dazzled by the ‘no boundaries’ ideas and fashion possibilities it documents. More than ever, I reflected on the importance of my young students knowing allies at school.

Another interesting exhibit I enjoyed that evening was the Mural: Abstraction on a Major Scale, featuring two works by Katharine Grosse and Jackson Pollack. Mural is the title of the Jackson Pollack painting, the largest he ever made. The Katharine Grosse piece is huge and unbounded by frame, cascading down from its tethers at the ceiling to the floor in sweeping swashes of color.

Mural by Jackson Pollack 1943

Untitled by Katharina Grosse

Detail of Untitled by Katharina Grosse

There are certain spaces and pieces at the MFA that warrant many return visits. Some of them are below:

Rotunda paintings by John Singer Sargent

Inside the museum, looking up the rotunda steps

Josiah McElheny: Endlessly Repeating Twentieth Century Modernism

All Art Has Been Contemporary by Maurizio Nannucci

My second visit to the MFA this summer was before an MAEA meeting in Winthrop. A lot of my art teacher friends had recommended the Toulouse-Lautrec and the Stars of Paris exhibit, so the afternoon before the meeting, I went to see it.

Having been to Paris just last year (lucky, I know) I was pretty well caught up on the artwork of the Impressionist painters and others from that time. To be honest, I don’t love the “moment in time” shows that the MFA produces, where they combine fashion, history, and artwork in the exhibit. They seem to be geared toward the greater audience and mainstream interests. Believe me, I totally understand the importance of bringing in new audiences and sustaining support and interest from large numbers of patrons. I just want to see the artwork and can put together the rest of it myself really. Anyway, I went to see it, and it was just as I expected it to be. All of that being said, I really enjoyed seeing one particular photograph:

The photograph above is of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec by Patrick Sescau. I love seeing photographs of artists. Especially when I think about how many famous artists predated photography. There is something about feeling like I know them so well through their artwork and then putting a face to the artwork changes everything. Or maybe it humanizes them beyond their artistic voice.

And then I came upon this image, a promotional poster Lautrec had created for the photographer, Sescau, to advertise his work. This more than humanized the artists, it spoke to an interchange or bartering between them, each having a skill to share for mutual gain. It made me smile.


We had been in western Massachusetts to participate in the New Horizon event in Williamstown (previous post here), so spent the night in the area. I can’t help sharing that we stayed at a Howard Johnson hotel (for some reason we got a big kick out of this)! Here are a couple of kitschy items from the lobby:

The thrill that staying at a “HoJo’s” was for us, our visit to MassMOCA was pretty awesome, too, as you might expect. There were a few really excellent shows going on, including Cauleen Smith: We Already Have What We Need. This is a dynamic multi-media exhibit involving tchotchkes, lights, sounds, projectors, and monitors. It fills a large room. Here is an example of the filming as well as the projection of what is being filmed.

I was really taken by this exhibit. Having been immersed over the past year in the development of the new Media Arts Frameworks for Massachusetts, the Media Arts have been on my mind in every museum I visit. This exhibit epitomizes our current definition of Media Arts. I’ve also been developing lessons for Media Arts with iPads for the classroom. I think my students and I can do this – this combining of still figures with light and film. I haven’t yet experimented, but I think it’s possible  with a green screen app. Stay tuned this school year to see what we come up with.

Another fantastic show at MassMOCA is the Suffering From Realness exhibit, curated with works by a number of artists. A common denominator in most of the shows I’ve seen this summer as well as many of the performances I’ve enjoyed on stage is the current political discontent and commentary on the discord. This is a great example, as described in the museum website: Ultimately, this exhibition aims to create a space of understanding and empathy. Because, despite political tension, people are engaged— crying out for something better.

This is a thought-provoking exhibit, sometimes gritty, sometimes sarcastic in its wry commentary:

Requiem by Vincent Valdez and Adriana Corral

I can’t get enough of this social commentary Punch character work by Robert Taplin:

Punch Stopped at the Border by Robert Taplin

Detail of Punch Stopped at the Border by Robert Taplin

Punch Does a Magic Trick by Robert Taplin

Punch Makes a Public Confession by Robert Taplin

And this large oil painting work by Vincent Valdez:

Dream Baby Dream by Vincent Valdez

Detail of Dream Baby Dream

This profound exhibit and these rueful works validate the discontent I’ve been feeling over the past few years, expressing a sadness and wistful desire for something better.

The other show that was engaging in a different way was Trenton Doyle Hancock Mind of the Mound: Critical Mass. As you walk into it, you become immersed in color, shape, and form. It is at once whimsical and surreal, yet there is edge to it, too.

In stark contrast is a neighboring gallery in which artist Spencer Finch has installed repetitive light fixtures, creating a space both elegant and romantic.

As we were about to leave the museum, we glanced into the courtyard area just as Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders was cleaning her sunglasses. She had a performance there later that night.

Institute of Contemporary Art

I had the great pleasure of visiting the ICA with two of my granddaughters after a walk around the Seaport to see the Air, Sea, Land installation by Okuda San Miguel.

My beautiful granddaughters and a beautiful Boston view

Once inside the museum, we went right up to the Less Is A Bore exhibit. From the ICA website:

The exhibition considers how artists have used ornamentation, pattern painting, and other decorative modes to critique, subvert, and transform accepted histories related to craft and design, feminism, queerness and gender, beauty and taste, camouflage and masquerade, and multiculturalism and globalism. More recent artworks in the exhibition chart both the legacy and transformation of these trajectories.


From one gallery into another

The Sisters Zénaïde and Charlotte Bonaparte by Kehinde Wiley, who also painted Barack Obama’s National Portrait

We really enjoyed sitting in these magnificent chairs.

The pieces in this show were so exciting to view. There were surprises everywhere as we went from space to space. Designs were carried out to the fullest possible extreme of ornamentation and embellishment. It was delightful.

One of the beautiful spaces at the ICA is the seating area with the giant windows overlooking the harbor. Especially when sitting there watching the rain outside while you’re all safe and dry inside.

As an art teacher, visiting art museums is an obvious way to learn or freshen up on content learning. I am so fortunate to live in a state abundant with museums. Because summer is not over yet, I also expect to visit a couple more museums, including the Cahoon Museum in Cotuit, where there is an exhibit of Sailors’ Valentines that I’m eager to see. I also want to get to the DeCordova Museum, another holding of the Trustees of Reservations, whose New Horizon I mentioned above.

I have visited art museums this summer with an eye on new media, looking for ways to make art education contemporary for my middle school students. I found inspiration in the Cauleen Smith: We Already Have What We Need exhibit.

What I hadn’t anticipated is the inspiration that found me (when I wasn’t looking) in the exhibits Gender Bending Fashion and Suffering From Realness. Political commentary, gender expression oppression, immigration reform abuse, racism, gun violence and military might are the contemporary issues in all of our lives today, including the lives of my young middle school students.

I’m remembering the morning of March 14, 2018, when in observance of the Parkland Shooting National Walkout Day, about 40 of our nearly 900 students chose to walkout, while the rest of the school observed a moment of silence in classrooms. As I stood alongside those who had walked out, I felt weighted down by my role as teacher and the responsibility of helping my students navigate the often troubling world around them, yet somehow protect them from becoming despondent or too agitated about it. That and the many varied home and family circumstances from which they evolve. I realized what a delicate dance it is to teach other people’s children.

As an art teacher, one of the most important aspects of my job is to help students develop their own unique, artistic voice. Traditionally, this is accomplished through exposure to the skills of art making and practice to develop them, because there is nothing more frustrating to an artist than to have ideas and be held back from expressing them by a lack of ability. Sometimes we learn techniques by looking at the work of the masters, sometimes we learn from investigation and experimentation. When it comes to the introduction and contemplation of ideas and themes within artworks and art worlds, we have such a huge array from which to influence or be influenced as we prepare curriculum. My museum experiences this summer will undoubtedly shape and ultimately define the artists and ideology my students are exposed to this year.

I used a song lyric from Bob Dylan to open this post. When I began writing, it seemed completely appropriate to a post about museum visits. Now that I’ve worked my way through writing it, I’m thinking that a better fit would have been this one:

The battle outside ragin’
Will soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’ – Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A Changin’

This post is part seven of a group of posts about my self-directed professional development in the summer of 2019. To see the others, search Summer Learning or 2019 Summer PD

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Summer Learning 6: New Horizon

“My vision for New Horizon was really to create a sculpture that was living; something that could create a moment in time as opposed to something that was made of form and was solid. Artworks which one can seek out or explore. Artworks that are time-based, that can burn hot for temporary moments. Artworks that can interact in different ways. And it also means we’re all part of this project.” – Doug Aitken

We went west to see the New Horizon project at Farm Field in Williamstown. The New Horizon project is actually a hot air balloon and related happenings (events) at the various sites it traveled to throughout Massachusetts in July 2019. New Horizon is an artwork by Doug Aitken. The artwork and related happenings were hosted and sponsored by The Trustees of Reservations (@thetrustees). You can read about the project here.

We had acquired tickets for the afternoon family time and arrived in time for the kick off. Field Farm is a beautiful, pastoral space with walking trails and an expansive vista of the Berkshires. To breathe in that space induced instant relaxation.

Farm Field

When we arrived we could see the balloon laid out on the grass and a crew was working to set up a stage across the field. There were food trucks and a bottled water vendor. We chose to enjoy locally made popsicles while we waited.

Chocolate Fudge and Mango Pineapple Coconut pops

There were kids everywhere, on blankets with picnics, strolling around the fields, and exploring the balloon.

The balloon was interesting to watch as it undulated in the field with every ripple and billow form the breeze. New Horizon is spectacular in its reflective properties and contours throughout its various stages of inflation.

The New Horizon crew tried to launch the balloon a few different times, but the combination of breeze and mid-day heat was too much to overcome.

So we went back in the evening. And we are so glad we did!

New Horizon and artist Doug Aitken (in olive green shirt) with Destroyer on stage.

The evening program included an interview with artist Doug Aitken, live performances by Destroyer and No Age, and a synchronized light show. This is a clip from the start of the interview:

Community and shared dialogue are very important to the project. This is a recurring theme in the artworks I have seen this summer. About this project Doug shared, “For me, I saw this as this really interesting and unusual opportunity to create something that could do that, but not only do that in one place, it could kind of move across the landscape and connect people. And every location this project stops or starts at…I saw it as almost like a turbine for culture, this space where different voices would blend together and I see that the future as not a space of division, it’s not a space where we see culture over here, ecology there, politics there, science or technology over here. If any of us sit down tonight and have dinner, we’re going to talk about all these things. this is a human conversation. If an artwork can elicit these kinds of conversations, it can cross over these dialogues, then I think that’s something very valuable”

Doug was available and approachable while the music played:

When we had a chance to talk, I congratulated him on having realized his vision for the project. We talked about “art” – its traditions and new media. I explained that I teach visual art to middle school students and as such am always conscious of the relevance of art making to their lives, specifically with the consideration of new materials and technologies. We talked about how each generation has the opportunity to redefine “art” for themselves. Doug has pushed all of the boundaries over the years, as you’ll see if you take a look at his bio here: https://www.dougaitkenworkshop.com.

I asked permission to share my experience of New Horizon with my students this year in the form of a video and discussion. He readily agreed and offered, “Tell them to just go for it! Whatever they can think up, whatever they want to say, they can create it!” Buoyed by his encouragement, I made this compilation video to share with my students this school year:

As the sky grew dark after sunset, New Horizon took on an other-worldly persona, personifying its name in ethereal thoughts of the solar system, our tiny planet, and the vast celestial space beyond. The music played and those of us in the field grew quiet, absorbed in the moment, yet transported to another place by the experience.

I’m including this in my series of posts about my summer learning (self-directed professional development) because the New Horizon project beautifully exemplifies the ideals I hope to share with my students, to: embrace new media, ideate beyond perceived boundaries, and consider the gestalt of an artwork.

The New Horizon experience was impactful for me as an educator because it exposed me to a unique, majestic artwork. It caused me to leave my comfort zone of home and surrounds to travel to the other side of the state and open myself up to both beauty and contemplation. And it has not only compelled me to share the experience with my students, but inspired me to create content with which to do that – making a movie in iMovie with sound bites, still images, and video clips (above) – another skill set to facilitate with them. I’m excited.

This post is part six of a group of posts about my self-directed professional development in the summer of 2019. To see the others, search Summer Learning or 2019 Summer PD.




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