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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!



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.





Summer Learning 5: Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

“Let the beauty we love be what we do.” – Isaiah Zagar

We went to Philadelphia during the last week of June to celebrate my nephew’s wedding. Congratulations Courtney and Brendan!

Courtney and Brendan at the rehearsal dinner

Lucky for us, they chose Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens as the venue for the rehearsal dinner. I say “lucky for us” because I have visited the site before and I absolutely love it there. To visit the Magic Gardens is to step into an environment of tile and found objects affixed in mosaic form to the floors, walls, ceilings, and more by artist Isaiah Zagar. Isaiah Zagar is an award-winning mosaic mural artist whose work can be found on more than 200 public walls throughout the city of Philadelphia and around the world. Brendan spoke about the artist as he welcomed all of us to the exquisite setting:

With a singular vision and tremendous energy, Isaiah Zagar has created this space, which is a feast for the eyes and playground for the imagination:

ART 2038 – outside looking in

Walkways and twists and turns

The sum of its parts

The wall ridges are my favorite spaces

When you begin to look at its parts rather than the intense expanse of light and color, you start to think about the many individual interesting pieces and how they are all arranged, held together, and supported.

Steps above and below

Wall ridge with tiled background and rebar

Where the mountains meet the sea visual metaphor(?)

Tower of Magic

Tiled wall from street

Blues and oranges and reds and greens

A propensity for eyes

Organic vs. Geometric

Bicycle wheels

There are snippets of text interspersed, seeming to call attention to corresponding imagery, or at least you wonder about that. The photo below references Las Pozas, the environmental folk art site of artist Edward James:

Las Pozas – Begin 1967 – Folk Art

Isaiah Keep Working


The very essence of existence

Sources of Inspiration

We couldn’t help noting there were more than a few toilets (porcelain) included as found objects:

Found objects everywhere

And this one in the actual restroom, derivative of Marcel Duchamp:

Marcel Duchamp fans will appreciate this

It was a great celebration in a beautiful, magical space!

It was a great celebration!

The dinner spot empty (almost)

I’m including this post in my series of Summer Learning posts because the visit to the Magic Gardens has reawakened an interest in mosaics in me, which in turn, may impact my students. I have done mosaics with my students in the past, this type in particular when we were refurbishing the school courtyard just over ten years ago – you can read more about that here. In the photo below, you can see the bird bath we created with terra cotta flower pots covered in mosaics. At the top of the photo you can see one of the stepping stones we made with mosaics on concrete pavers. For this type of mosaic, we just placed the objects in grout and let them set.

Mosaic bird bath

Mosaic bird bath

Mosaic stepping stone

Around this same time, I started a mosaic on the stucco chimney casing on our front porch. It began as a travelogue and incorporated many different found objects:

From there I started thinking about designed mosaics, less spontaneous with more of a planned approach. At first I broke old dishes and affixed them to a material called Wonderboard, which is a plaster board, to use as trivets on the table. This one incorporates dishes from my first house:

Remnants of dishes, pottery, tea pot

This one contains some of those early dishes, plus remnants of a vintage milk glass Robin Hood bowl from when my son was a toddler:

Robin Hood milk glass and dish remnants

And then, I started thinking about making my own tiles for mosaics. This trivet mosaic is on wood and is meant to be a commentary on global warming. I translated the blue and white of the earth to the blue and white of Dedham Pottery in the soup bowl here:

warm food
so good
warm earth
NOT so good

I facilitated clay projects like these with students a few years ago. The process of making one’s own tiles with clay,  including glazing and firing them, takes a long time. They are then placed on the wood, usually with glue, and then the grout is smeared over the tiles into the seams. Most tedious for my lower middle school students was the rubbing off of the grout from the tiles and polishing them to bring the sheen back. But, if you keep the projects small, it’s totally doable.

Let the beauty we love be what we do – Isaiah Zagar Photo by Anna Theresa Coskie

This post is part five 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 4: Street Art in Philadelphia

“When you walk down the street and see something in a crazy spot, there’s something powerful about that. The street will always be an important part of getting art out there for me.” – Shepard Fairey

We went to Philadelphia for a wedding during the last week of June. In the time around the wedding events, my husband, Dick, and I explored the city on foot taking in artworks of all kinds. The second morning we were there we walked around the city in pursuit of Street Art – after a quick stop at Chestnut Street Philly Bagels.

Tie Dye bagels for Pride Month – photo worthy!

First stop: Bagels in John F. Collins Park

The bagel shop was small without much seating, so we went outside hoping to find a bench or something on which to perch. Much to our delight, we stumbled upon a little park with tons of seating right next door to the bagel shop. John F. Collins Park is like a little oasis in the middle of the bustling city. It is well designed with a fountain/waterfall and lush greenery, concrete steps and plant containers. There were several small bistro tables and most were vacant. Lovely.

Fortified, we set out to find some Street Art. Fortunately, a friend who lives in the city had let me know about Mural Arts Philadelphia, an online guide to the murals around the city.

Map at MuralArts Philadelphia

It was a hot day (in the mid-90’s) in the city, so we took our time, following the map from one location to another, sometimes finding the mural right where we expected it to be, other times searching and searching along an intersection, only to wander up a street and spot it in an over-the-shoulder glance. Taking photos was was challenging, especially of the really giant murals. Here they are in the approximate order we found them:

All Very Amazing Fingers by AVAF

Painted Parking Garage, Artist Unknown

Building the City by Micheal Webb

Detail: Building the City by Michael Webb

The Promise of Biotechnology by Erik Okdeh (note the gradually evolving figures across the top and to the right)

This next one is currently the holy grail of Street Art in Philadelphia. This magnificent painting by Amy Sherald was just finished this spring. Amy Sherald is the artist who painted Michelle Obama’s official portrait.

Untitled by Amy Sherald

Artist plaque on the side of the Target building

All of us in attendance at the National Art Education Association Convention in Boston in March had the opportunity to hear her speak about her work. It was an unforgettable experience.

Amy Sherald speaking at NAEA19

Fulfilled by finding the Sherald, we set off to see what other sights we might behold:

Top left: Personal Melody by How and Nosm Bottom right: The Father of Modern Philadelphia by Gaia

Rhythm and Diversity by Shepard Fairey

As amazing as it was to see so many beautiful artworks around the city, the Shepard Fairey stands out simply because of the fame of the artist. This next mural stood out for completely different reasons. Finding Home  by Kathryn Pennepacker and Josh Sarantitis got me. From the imagery to the text to the location to the texture of the front piece, its narrative grabbed me and pulled me in. The mural spans the space from the street to a homeless shelter alongside the St. John the Evangelist church. This juxtaposition was powerful for me because of the social justice work I have been fortunate to be involved with over the years through our church with the youth in my parish. Needless to say, we were there for a while.

Finding Home by Kathryn Pennepacker and Josh Sarantitis “Invisible”

“Home is where I feel a family”

Info guide and texture of the front piece

Detail: At the back near the homeless shelter “Dignity”

Finding Home – the expanse

The cemetery at St. John the Evangelist church right beside the mural

The day was getting away from us and we had a wedding to get ready for, so we started walking back toward Rittehnouse, finding a few more murals on the way.

People’s Progression Toward Equality by Jared Bader

Legacy by Josh Sarantitis and Eric Okdeh

What a treat it was to discover a mural underway – so fresh we can’t find it on any of the rosters! Being painted on a building at the intersection of South 8th and Market Street, is a bright and colorful mural which contains the text “Let Go & Have Fun”. It is hard to piece it together by the pencil sketches alone, but a William Penn figure is discernible, as is a whoopee cushion, a hand holding a ball, and some obscure yet colorful orbs. It was really exciting to see the artists working on it. I can’t wait to see this when it’s finished!

Because I started this post with an image reference to Pride Month, thanks to Macy’s, I’m going to end this post with one, too!

A little Pride Month sidewalk statement by Macy’s

Indeed, art is all around us, all we have to do is take a look. I’m glad to have had some time to explore the Street Art in Philadelphia. The narratives the artists share are often retellings of history from different perspectives. They urge us to consider civil rights, the equitable treatment of others, and diversity as it exists in our country. This is potent material for visual art. I look forward to sharing examples and the ideology of Street Art with my students during the next school year.

This post is part four 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.


Summer Learning 3: TABnology

“I do it/You do it. I challenge/You wrestle. You choose/I support” – John Crowe, Theory of Everything

This isn’t the first time I’ve used this quote. It was at the top of the post I wrote about attending the TAB Institute at MassArt in the summer of 2017. If you read that post, you’ll understand the impact the course has on participants – art teachers from around the world. My sketchnotes from that week of professional development can be found here: https://www.behance.net/gallery/54797245/Teaching-for-Artistic-Behavior-2017

One of seven SketchNotes from TABweek – this from a field trip to a MakerSpace

There has been a real shift in art education away from the Pinterest derived, product-focused, cookie cutter art lessons of a decade ago thanks to the well-shared Studio Thinking and Teaching for Artistic Behavior philosophies of TAB. Many art educators today are integrating more choice than ever before in their art classes in an effort to engage students and provide the opportunity for students to discover their unique artistic voices and express themselves through their artwork.

TAB teachers typically set up their art classrooms to facilitate centers focused on different mediums, and minimize whole class instruction to demos and “bootcamps” where skills and challenges expose young artists to concepts and materials. One area that many art teachers find challenging is technology integration. When I participated in the course in 2017, I was called up to provide some impromptu tips and tricks about technology and that has evolved into a more formal arrangement where I prepare an actual presentation to share over a few sessions and provide a whole boatload of resources for art teachers. We affectionately refer to my session as TABnology. Thanks to Diane Jaquith for coming up with that title. I love it!

This year, TABnology took place on Thursday, July 11, in the afternoon. I went in early to socialize with old friends from the program and to catch a few sessions. I had a chance to sit in on the session Ian Sands was presenting about the Units he has developed for his advanced TAB high school program. And I got to spend some time in the TAB studio, which has enlarged to encompass three rooms, up from the one room we had in 2017. I should have taken photos, but didn’t. Bummer. Sorry.

Here is another quote I should share that compels me to add this post to my series of Summer Learning/Self-Directed Professional Development posts:

When I put together a presentation like the one for TABweek – I learn SO much. A lot of that learning is derived from reflection on my own classroom practices and the moments I witness my students catch on and run with specific elements of the program, especially with technology. As I fish through files of videos and photos of kids with their work or talking about their work, I am reminded of moments of their realizations and am also propelled toward developing new lessons around ideas that come from watching the way the kids interact with different media. For example, below, Matthew dS talks about designing a bridge with Morphi App for our “What’s in a City?” PBL unit:

As I presented on Thursday, I started the TAB presentation with a quick Mentimeter poll to gauge experience level within the group. I have used this poll before, and the results fall in line with past groups.

I have learned there is a difference in presenting to teachers with limited technology experience versus teachers who feel they are in the middle somewhere. Especially art teachers. There is a faction of art educators who are distinct purists about their approach to art education. These art teachers are committed to hands-on art making in the art room from the moment a student arrives until the moment class is over. I know this because I was once this way, too. However, through my own exploration of technology for art making, chiefly through the Every Day Drawing Challenge , which I developed and executed in 2013, I came to understand the power of technology in opening up possibilities for sharing ideas, stories, memories, and voice with art as the vehicle. Technology expedites the process and empowers artists to say what they want to say and move on. Here is an example:

An example of iPad art from the Every Day Drawing Challenge – this one about the moon landing 50 years ago: Draw a mailbox and the most important piece of mail you’ve ever received App: ArtStudio My dad wrote a letter to me when I was in Girl Scout Camp. He excitedly told the story of the moon landing on July 20, 1969. He described Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon with awe and expressed regret that I had not witnessed them while at my rustic camp. In the letter I wrote back to my dad I excitedly described how a TV was brought into the mess hall where all the campers and counselors gathered together and stayed up late watching the historical event. I still have my dad’s letter and it is one of the most important pieces of mail I have ever received…

Is it the best artwork I’ve ever produced? No. But it was executed within half an hour and provided an illustration for a story I wanted to tell. Could this have been done with traditional art materials? Yes. But I would not have learned any more about creating digital artwork. And I would have had to photograph the finished drawing to post it to social media, which is one of the goals of the challenge. The Every Day Drawing Challenge project was not only about learning to use an iPad to make art, it was about sharing the work on social media as part of a community of artists united by the year-long challenge. Did I learn to make art on an iPad with this challenge? Yes, I sure did. I also learned that there are infinite solutions to each prompt and design idea, because I could switch between ideas and designs immediately, without being bogged down by the trappings of traditional media.

That being said, I also love working with traditional media and in fact, am currently working with watercolor and clay, but I go to those experiences knowing I crave the messiness and challenge of a non-forgiving medium. There is no “back arrow” on the potter’s wheel. As it turns out, creativity through art making for me is all about intent, both in the end AND in the beginning.

There is no back arrow on the potter’s wheel

Many artists are working in digital media with phenomenal, museum-worthy results, from painting to animation to 3D modeling. That’s a topic for another day, the day when I reflect on Media Arts. Stay tuned.

In working with the TAB teachers, I share painting, drawing, collage, 3D modeling, graphic design and photography apps and corresponding online web platforms for both iOS and android devices, MacBooks, and ChromeBooks. I also share effective ways to get the most out of Google tools for both creation and classroom management. We also explore several sharing sites for artwork and assessment. We had just 50 minutes for each session. With more time, we could have engaged in “hands-on” art making and exploration.

The beautiful thing about integrating technology into the TAB art classroom is with just a few devices (iPad, tablet, laptop), students can work in centers or individually on their own pursuit of creating. The learning is then self-directed or collaborative. One thing I know for sure is that students love to assist each other in explaining and demonstrating technology tools. In a busy TAB classroom, this is a chance for the teacher to take a step back.

I recently reread The Open Art Room by Melissa Purtee and Ian Sands, and found I relate well to the concept of Units at the advanced level of TAB because of my own development of project-based cooperative learning units for my middle level art classroom. When students have access to resources whenever they need them, all types of learners will benefit and feel in control of their learning. I have found technology to be a huge asset in the centralized delivery of instruction, namely with Google Classroom and Google Sites. I see these working very well in the TAB art classroom for sharing resources, “bootcamps”, and critiques. Here is an example Google Site for our Imaginary City unit: https://sites.google.com/mursd.org/imaginarycity/home

Home page for the Imaginary City PBL unit

At all levels, sharing sites are important. One long time favorite is Artsonia. If you can see the numbers in the screen capture below, you’ll see that in the seven years my students have been using Artsonia, they’ve uploaded almost 8500 artworks, 4500 of them had accompanying artist statements, and there were 1800 comments from friends and family (feedback). That’s a lot of community we’re creating by sharing artwork.

Artsonia by the numbers

And here is a screen capture of this past school year, including artist fans and artist awards:

Numbers from just the past school year 2018-2019

Using Artsonia in the TAB art classroom works well with just a few iPads or tablets, or even phones. Artsonia is just one example of many ways to share artwork. The reason I’m sharing it here is that I’m not sure I would have taken a look at the numbers if I hadn’t been including Artsonia in the TABnology presentation. Because I was reflecting on my experiences and assessing the value of one site over another in order to share only the most relevant with the art teachers, I’ve now taken stock and have a renewed commitment to include Artsonia in my art program.

Preparing for presentations is an authentic reason to assess your educational program as you reflect and ultimately rediscover the sparks you may have forgotten. Presenting and sharing opens you up for questions, connections, and feedback about what you’re doing. In the end, the audience gives to you as much as you give to them. Thank you to MassArt, Katherine Douglas and Diane Jaquith, and the TAB Institute for giving me an opportunity to learn.

This post is part three 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 2: The Rodin Museum

“I choose a block of marble and chop off whatever I don’t need.” Auguste Rodin

We went to Philadelphia for a wedding during the last week of June. In the time around the wedding events, my husband, Dick, and I explored the city on foot taking in artworks of all kinds. The first morning we were there we walked to the Rodin Museum after a quick stop at Federal Donuts. That’s a Smore’s donut I’m holding:

Easy breakfast at Federal Donuts

The walk over to the Rodin Museum was full of sights along the way, especially on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. I’ll share more about them in the Public Art post. The museum presents itself with a shaded patio and pillared facade in front of which sits the ever ponderous Thinker.

Parkway entrance to the Rodin Museum

Facade with the Thinker

A walk up the gentle incline and around the facade and one encounters the incredibly impressive doorway surround The Gates of Hell, based on The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. The Thinker sits front and center over the door.

Rodin’s The Gates of Hell, based on The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri.

Once inside, the works are rich and diverse in their themes and are cast in bronze or carved from marble.

Either lush and sensuous:

Copy of Rodin’s “The Kiss” – Henri Gréber – 1929 – Marble

Or tender and sensitive:

Young Mother in the Grotto – Modeled by Auguste Rodin – Carved by Jean Escoula – Marble

I had been to the Rodin Museum in 2002 and the object that stood out in my memory from that visit was the giant head of Balzac:

Colossal Head of Balzac – Rodin – 1898 – Cast in Bronze – 1925

Some of my other favorites at the museum are the expressive hand sculptures:

Rodin – The Cathedral – Modeled 1908; cast 1925 – Bronze

(Although this one certainly reminds me of that scene in Carrie):

Rodin – The Hand from the Tomb – Modeled 1914; cast 1925 – Bronze

I really enjoyed this statue of Jules Bastien-Lepage. I love his palette and brush. I also can’t help wondering if this is the person after whom the glue was named (?):

Rodin – Jules Bastien-Lepage – Modeled 1887-1889; cast 1988 – Bronze Bronze

Outside the museum stands a sculpture of The Three Shades. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, the shades, (the souls of the damned) stand at the entrance to Hell, pointing to an unequivocal inscription, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here”. Originally created much smaller as part of the Gates of Hell doorway surround, Rodin made this larger model years later.

Rodin – The Three Shades from Gates of Hell – Modeled 1886; Cast 1928 – Bronze

Dick as the fourth shade as I’m singing “all the single ladies”…

This post is part one 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 1: The Philadelphia Museum of Art

“True silence is the rest of the mind, and is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.” – William Penn

We went to Philadelphia to celebrate my nephew’s wedding. Congratulations Courtney and Brendan! We brought my mother (91 years young – don’t tell her I told you her age), so flew in from Providence to Philadelphia. We stayed near Rittenhouse Square, nicknamed The French Quarter, which is an area of the city I love for its charming character and ease of access to restaurants and landmarks by foot.

Dick, my mom, and me on a park bench in Rittenhouse Square

There is so much to see in Philadelphia, from both an aesthetic and historical perspective. Fortunately, I have been there several times, including one visit in 2002 with my then 12 year old, and during that trip we visited many of the historical sites. This trip, I gladly set my sights on the aesthetics, specifically visual art. Knowing the wedding related events would occupy the evenings, and my mother would be visiting with other family while we were gone, my husband, Dick, and I set aside Thursday, Friday, and Saturday mornings to go exploring.


Dick’s absolute “had to” was to see the Rocky statue, placed at the base of and beside the steps Rocky ascended in the first Rocky movie. The statue was created for Rocky III and was donated to the Philadelphia Museum of Art by Sylvester Stallone. He envisioned it at the top of the main entrance steps, but the museum had other ideas, placing it out of the way yet accessible to the bus loads of tourists who visit. You can read more about that here.

Dick at the Rocky statue

The "Rocky Steps"

And after running up the steps

Conveniently, Dick’s “had to” landed us at the front door of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Philadelphia Museum of Art

The PMA is a great institution with many masterpiece works – a joy to visit when in town. Another great institution is the Barnes Foundation, which I visited a few years ago and couldn’t find time for this trip. We also visited the Rodin Museum, written up in another post. Some of the museum’s renowned collection of artworks we visited in the museum include:

Winslow Homer – A Temperance Meeting (or Noon Time) – 1874

Winslow Homer – The Life Line – 1884

Vincent Van Gogh – Sunflowers – 1889

Pablo Picasso – Three Musicians – 1921

Jasper Johns – Painting With Two Balls – 1960

Bruce Nauman – The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths – 1967

With a personal and professional focus on learning about Media Arts throughout the past year, I was pretty excited to see Bruce Nauman’s media art piece – Clown Torture (I’m Sorry) – 1987:

Dick was perhaps less enthralled. As he was by this Jasper Johns installation:

Jasper Johns – Lightbulb – 1960

Of course the art historians among us know that Johns was simply emphasizing the role of light as a fundamental formal element of art. Of course. Speaking of art historians…

One reason I love to visit art museums in cities around the country is because each major museum has collections by regional artists. In Boston we have John Singleton Copley and John Singer Sargent, for instance. Also an early colonial city, Philadelphia has its own regional artists, including Charles Wilson Peale, Edward Hicks, and Thomas Eakins. Let’s start with one of the more challenging pieces, which begs you to look because of the mysterious curtain.

Charles Wilson Peale – Mrs. Peale Lamenting the Death of Her Child – 1772 Rachel, his first wife, weeping over their daughter Margeret, who died of smallpox – For a description of this unusual painting and the curtain, see placard below

A lighter Peale – this troupe l’oeil piece is remarkably well situated within the museum and catches one by surprise:

Charles Wilson Peale – The Staircase Group – 1795 Trompe l’oeil by Peale depicting his sons Raphaelle and Titian Peale I

And the Quaker painter, Edward Hicks:

Edward Hicks – The Peaceable Kingdom

Lastly, the Philadelphia Museum of Art holds a comprehensive collection of artwork by native son, Thomas Eakins, whose paintings and story are both interesting and compelling.

Thomas Eakins – Home Ranch – 1892

Thomas Eakins – Between Rounds – 1899

Thomas Eakins – Antiquated Music (Portrait of Sarah Sagehorn Frishmuth) – 1890 (look at the peacock musical instrument)

Thomas Eakins – Pastoral – 1884

A small confession here, I usually stick with painting, sculpture, photography, and media arts when visiting museums, but Dick was drawn to the fine craftsmanship of colonial and shaker furniture at the PMA. Here are two pieces from that wing that stood out:

Frank Furness, Designer and Daniel Pabst, Maker – Desk – 1871

Félix-Joseph-Auguste Bracquemond, Designer and Eugène Delaplanche, Modeler and Haviland & Co., Limoges, Maker – Vase Commemorative 1776 – 1876

Nourished and refreshed by silent reflection on beautiful artworks, with renewed spirit we walked out of the museum into the heat of the city.

View of the city from the museum steps

Facing left from the front steps

This post is part one 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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April Showers Bring May Flowers

“Mama was my greatest teacher, a teacher of compassion, love and fearlessness. If love is sweet as a flower, then my mother is that sweet flower of love.” – Stevie Wonder

For the last few classes, students have been working on drawing flowers. The focus of this project is on drawing from observation, abstraction of composition, and color, light, and contrast. But they have held their mothers in their hearts as they worked.

I introduced the project with a demo on oil pastels and looking closely, my drawing as I did so projected on the screen through a document camera. Students then had time that first class to practice using the medium. When they were ready they bravely took a 12″ x 18″ sheet of black construction paper with the intent to cover the page in flowers – not in a row, not all going in the same direction, but as if they had been strewn across the page. Students were encouraged to allow the flowers to break the boundaries of the page by drawing partial flowers on the edge. Throughout three classes they looked closely, sketched what they saw, revised and persisted. I think they came out beautifully, especially as the sky darkens with clouds again today. The flowers are hanging in the lobby for all to enjoy.

These fantastic flower drawings have been uploaded to Artsonia and the students have written Artist Statements about their work there. They can be found at this link: https://www.artsonia.com/museum/gallery.asp?project=1773743

Enjoy! And Happy Mother’s Day!

Flowers on the lobby boards

Kyle Miller

Hannah Le

Nick Martin

Ella Martin

Elizabeth Soares

Isabella Papamitrou

Hayley Gibson

Elyse Rich

Susan Barrows

Paige Anderson

Charlotte St. Pierre

Ben Krause

Marlee Briere

Samantha Carroll


The Names Dress (With My Name!)

“There is no limit to beauty, no saturation point in design, no end to the material” – Salvatore Ferragamo

Today I’m honored and excited to share the news that my name has been included in the Names Dress, which is on display at the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo in Florence, Italy! The Names Dress is a wearable, compostable conceptual art piece engineered with over 300 handwritten, 3D printed names of women in STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art Math) designed by Sylvia HeiselI’m incredibly flattered to be included in the same company as the other women whose names comprise the dress – I am in awe of them. For example, just look at these inspirational names: Elizabeth Blackwell, Florence Nightingale, Hedy Lamarr, Hypatia, Jane Goodall, Laurie Anderson, Margaret Atwood, Marie Curie, Rachel Carson, Sally Ride, and SO many more! What?! WOW!

The Names Dress is a tribute to women, known and unknown (yours truly), historic and contemporary, in the interconnected and evolving STEAM fields. The Names Dress is also an exploration of the use of sustainable materials and techniques in creating innovative textiles and garments. It is a magnificent creation by the brilliant Sylvia Heisel and partners, including Sophia Georgiou, developer of Morphi App, which is the 3D modeling app we use in my art classroom.

Here is a photo of the Names Dress:

The Names Dress

You can see a video of the Names Dress here: https://vimeo.com/314050520

Some of the “A” names

My name is here and looks like this:

Sketch of the Names Dress

The 3D printed “fabric”

The Names Dress is currently on exhibit for a year at the Sustainable Thinking Exhibition at the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo in Florence, Italy from April 12, 2019 through March 8, 2020. Florence! Italy!!!

Maybe I’ll see you there!

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Art Show at the Miscoe Hill EXPO

The Art Show at the Miscoe Hill EXPO, being held Wednesday night in conjunction with a French class showcase with Mrs. Shilale, and Crossfit in the lower gym with Mr. McInnis.

On this magical evening, the red wing hallway will be illuminated only with luminary lights in decorative vessels prepared by the 5-8 art students. As you continue down the hallway and make a left turn by the district office and go left again, you’ll find artwork on display in the art hallway as well as in my classroom and Mr. Hansen’s classroom.

The artwork in the show is from all three terms thus far. All of the artwork not included in the show due to spacial limitations can always be found in the Miscoe Hill galleries at Artsonia.com here.

The Art Show at the Miscoe EXPO is open from 6-8pm. It is a drop-in, not drop-off activity, We are very excited to showcase the Miscoe Hill artwork. Please join us!

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Charcoal Still Life Drawings at the Art Show at the Miscoe EXPO

“All the visible world is only light on form.” Andrew Loomis

For the past few weeks, my fifth grade students have been creating charcoal still life drawings. They began by sketching a still life positioned in the middle of the table, while observing light, shadow, and form in their sketchbooks. We had explored ellipses just before undertaking this assignment, and this was a great chance to employ that knowledge in an authentic project. Students were learning to see, yet also un-see labels on containers and decorative motifs on vases, to focus on light, shadow, form, shape, perspective, and spacial relationship.

Still life

For most students, this was their first experience with charcoal and found themselves either impressed or dismayed by the dark darks they effortlessly achieved. Blending with blending stumps or tortillas was also a new experience, as was using a kneaded eraser. Most exciting was learning that both the stump and eraser could be used as drawing tools, especially when using the eraser to return light to the form.

Maya Williamson: First, I drew out the outline of the shapes I saw from my angle of the table. Next, I shaded and blended in the shapes where the objects looked darker or lighter. I also drew a horizon line, the table, in the background. To complete my still life, I shaded in the background, and erased the finger prints. I feel like I got better at blending, and I learned that things look different from far away. I also had lots of fun making much still life come to life.

Students then took a photo with her/his iPad, cropped out everything but the drawing, and uploaded it to Artsonia where they also added an Artist Statement.

Ryan May: This charcoal still life took about 4 classes to finish but I’d say it was worth it. I had to mostly do shading and lighting to make I look like it had a shadow. I maybe could have erased a lot of the fingerprint marks and marks around the still life but I also feel like if I did was this whole thing again, I would probably do better shading on the shapes. The process to make this artwork was drawing out the shapes, shading them in, then coloring the background, and then after doing the shadows around the still life, blending the all the charcoal together. So, after those 4 classes, I think I did well on this artwork.

Estella Soares

Marley Loucks: First, I started by sketching the still life and drawing the shadows. Then, I shaded all of my sketches and started to do the background. Lastly, I shaded in the background and erased all of my fingerprints off the bottom. I feel like it came out good but I could have done better. If I were to do it again, I would make the background a little bit more down and I would make the shadows a little bit more dark.

Ella Martin: First I drew the objects. Then I shaded the objects. After that I drew the shadows. And finally I shaded and blended the background. I feel that it came out good. I might make the background better next time.

Kaycie Gardner: I made this art by first looking at the still life then I drew it with charcoal pencil. When I was done I started shading to make shadows by using some of the charcoal tools. Then I drew a horizontal line in the back and then shaded on top of it so that it made it look like it was on a table. Then I I made it lighter in some spots and darker in the other spots to make it look even more real. I feel that my art came out good, I may be able to do a little better next time, but I think I did my best and it came out real good! What I might do differently next time is that I might put my shadows in different spots, and I may put the still life more in the middle of the page. But I think it come out good, and that is how I made my art!

Anna Tsuchiya: I think that if I was going to do it again then I would try to get less finger prints on my drawing because I spent a lot of time trying to erase them. I think my still life is pretty good compared to how weird looking some of my art is. My favorite step was the blending because for some reason it satisfied me to see the lines I made combine together. It looks like it could do with some improving but I think over all I did a pretty good job!

Aiden Fayer: I started by making a light outline.Then I made the shading then the shadows and last the back ground.I really like how it came out.The only thing I dont feel goodd about is the background. I woulldd make the background lighter and more blended.

Orianna Murphy: To make this artwork I used a charcoal pencil and a eraser. I first sketched the basic shapes in. I then shaded by blending the charcoal with a blending stick. I finally did the background creating a dark shadow line giving the effect of a table. I feel like this art came out very well, the shading turned out better then I thought it would. If I where to do this project again I would spread the shapes out a little more instead of having them all clustered in the center of the page.

Devan Rankins: I used techniques such as shading, light, shadow, and blending. I don’t think it came out that good. Be neater. I first drew what thing I saw, then I drew some details. After that I started drawing shadows, then the background.

Michael Albert: My process was first I put all of the objects down and then I started to shade then I used the shading stick and then I started to do my backround.How I feel about how it came out, I thought it came out pretty well it just that I need to shade more and try to erase the finger prints. If I were to do anything differently I would shade the objects more.

This artwork and so much more will be on display at the Art Show at the Miscoe EXPO on Wednesday, April 10 from 6-8pm.

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Watercolor Abstraction at the Art Show at Miscoe EXPO

Abstract art enables the artist to perceive beyond the tangible, to extract the infinite out of the finite. It is the emancipation of the mind. It is an exploration into unknown areas.Arshile Gorky

For the past few weeks, my sixth grade students have been working on watercolor still life arrangements abstracted through contour continuation.

Grace Joseph – This abstraction was made at first by looking at the still life. I drew the still life onto my water color paper and then did my contour continuation. After the countour continuation I started to water color each segment of the abstraction. I used warm colors for the still life and cool colors for the background. After I was done with the water coloring I went over the lines with a black sharpie. I think that my abstraction came out okay. I think that it could have been better with staying in the lines with the water color.

They began by sketching a still life positioned in the middle of the table, while observing light, shadow, and form in their sketchbooks. We had explored ellipses just before undertaking this assignment, and this was a great chance to employ that knowledge.

Still life

They then made another sketch, drawing just the contour of the objects and continuing the contour lines beyond the outline of the objects to fracture the picture plane. This was a big jump.

When painting, to differentiate the objects from the background, students applied warm or cool colors to the objects and the opposite to the background. The final step was to go over all the contour lines with black Sharpie. The artists then took a photograph of the painting and uploaded it to Artsonia, where they also added an Artist Statement.

Jessica Clemons – To create this abstraction, I started off by closely observing the still life in front of me. I notice the overlaps and heights, placements and size of each individual object. I then drew what I saw, making sure to represent the appereance of some objects being farther away from others. After I finished that, I used contour continuation, stretching lines from each corner of the objects, and every corner after that, then I was ready to paint. I chose to paint the objects the warm colors, and the background the cool colors. The last step was going in and tracing every pencil line with sharpie, making it look bolder and better. I am very pleased at how this came out and I was to do it again, I was be more careful with the paints, and realize that I had much more time.

Kyle Miller – I think it came out pretty decent. I would do warm colors as the shapes. I could do cool colors as the background

Hayden Gleason – The process I used to make this artwork was still life first because I copied down the objects on the paper. Second, I did abstraction because I drew the objects. Third, I used contour continuation to draw the lines out randomly. Fourth, I used the warm and cool colors. I feel it came out really good. I might go over the colors again because some are dull.

Jocelyn Graham – The process I used to make this artwork is first I drew the still life. Second I did contour continuations to make many lines. Third I water color painted the still life with warm colors and the background with cool colors. Fourthly I used a sharpie to draw on the contour lines to finish the abstract art. I think that the art I made came out pretty well. If I were to do this again what I would do differently is I would make it so there is less white space.

Kayla Vallecillo – I feel great about my still-life abstraction, the contour continuation is complex as well as simple, and the colors are vivid and bright. If I could do this project again, I would make less lines in the contour continuation. I would also add less water to the brush so that the colors don’t sleep into eachother. I liked hot the painting had warm colors for the objects and cool colors for the background. It attracts attention to the objects, and overall I enjoy the final product.

Kayla Aubut – To make this piece, first I drew the shapes, then I used contour continuation to continue the lines to the end of the paper. Then I filled the shapes with water color (the objects where cool colors and the outside was warm colors). Finally, I sharpied the lines. I do like the end product, but I wish it was less blended. I would have painted the squares separately, because the colors bled into each other.

Harmony Melendez-Torres: I think my artwork came out really well. If I were to do it again I would draw the objects larger. I had decided to use cool colors for the still life and warm colors for the background because most people decided to do it the other way around, so I did the opposite for it to be different. I think I did a pretty good job with my contour lines and abstraction.

This artwork and so much more will be on display at the Art Show at the Miscoe EXPO on Wednesday, April 10 from 6-8pm.

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Art In The Valley 2019

Once again, I have the pleasure of congratulating some of my fifth and sixth grade students on having work selected for an art show. Thus one is the Art in the Valley show in Blackstone this Friday night and Saturday until noon.

Art in the Valley

Hartnett Middle School, Blackstone

Friday, April 5, 2019 6:00-8:00 pm, Opening Reception

Saturday, April 6, 2019 10:00-12:00 noon, Show

Sponsored by a generous donation from the Blackstone Valley Education Foundation

Between the 4 K-8 schools in the Mendon-Upton Regional School District, 60 pieces of artwork will be exhibited!

Here are my students who will have work in the show:

Miscoe Hill Art in the Valley 2019 Artists

Top row: Ethan LaRue (7), Ella Halnon (6), Eliza Kurze (6), Theo Bates (6)

Second row: Conor Belleville (6), Sophia Blalock (6), Kassity Walker (6), Finn Lozeau (5)

Third row: Kayla Aubut (6), Molly Dishington (5), Brooke Ferlo (5), Fallon Lozano (6)

Fourth row: Brynn DiAnni (5), Finn Lozeau, Kyle Moran, Mason Kirkpatrick, Irelyn Bradley (5), Armaan Priyadarshan (6)

And their work:

The Art in the Valley Artwork

Let me afford you a closer look at their work:

Theo Bates
Digital Art

Fallon Lozano
Sketchbook ZoneDoodle in Marker

Eliza Kurze
Clay Coil Animal

Kayla Aubut
3D Printed City Buildings

Brooke Ferlo
Charcoal Still Life

Ethan LaRue
3D Printed Castle 4a Friend

Irelyn Bradley, Mason Kirkpatrick, Kyle Moran, Finn Lozeau
Product Redesign Promo Pieces

Brynn DiAnni
Clay Pinch Pot

Sophia Blalock
Clay Tile

Ella Halnon
Vacation Memory in Marker

Molly Dishington
Clay Lion’s Head

Conor Belleville
Digital Self Portrait

Armaan Priyadarshan
Watercolor Abstraction

Finn Lozeau
Digital ZoneDoodle

Brynn Dianni
Clay Coil Pot

All of these wonderful artworks will also be on display at the Miscoe Hill Art Show at the Miscoe EXPO in the Miscoe Hill Art Rooms on Wednesday, April 10, 6-8 pm.

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Reflection: My Wicked SmART #NAEA19 Experience

Teachers believe they have a gift for giving; it drives them with the same irrepressible drive that drives others to create a work of art or a market or a building. – A. Bartlett Giamatti

It has been two weeks since 6000 art educators descended on Boston for the 2019 National Art Education Association annual convention. Imagine 6000 driven teachers who are as driven by their passion for art. Wicked SmART!

This is my reflective post after the event. Given that it was 4 days and 4 nights of nonstop activity, it’s a rather long post. To hopefully make it manageable, I’m dividing it by the days of the week and I’m including a boatload of photos, which will hopefully tell a 1000 words (each).

It was my pleasure to have been part of the hosting committee for the convention. We started meeting last June and have met at least monthly for the past year. When I think back on all the discussions we had and the decisions we made, I am really proud of the way the convention came together.

The Massachusetts Art Education Association’s logo for the convention


Tuesday began as a regular school day except that my suitcases were packed and waiting for the minute I got home from work. I left 3 days of sub plans and had the helpful advantage of going over the plans with my sub during the day. I had been laying down the groundwork for a few classes for the project underway, so I felt pretty good about the students being able to continue their work in my absence. Fifth grade students were working on charcoal still life drawings.

Fifth grade artists at work on charcoal still life drawings

Charcoal still life drawing in progress

When I got out of work, I flew home and jumped in my husband’s truck and off we went to drop me in Boston. When I checked in and got to my room, I was pleased to have a view toward Fenway AND a view toward Cambridge.

My view out the left side of my window at the Sheraton – Citgo sign dead ahead

Later that evening I met my friend Samantha for dinner at the Top of the Hub in the Prudential building. Samantha is a longtime NAEA and Twitter art education friend from Texas, who nominated me for the National Middle Level Art Educator of the Year award. We share a love of water and sweeping vistas, and I knew the Top of the Hub would afford us both of those things. The restaurant and views did not disappoint and as a bonus, it was Restaurant Week in Boston, so the Prix Fixe price was right, too.

Samantha and the view from the Top of the Hub

Samantha and me at the Top of the Hub

The view from the Top of the Hub

Creme brûlée – oh so good


Waking up in Boston with a view of the Charles River and Cambridge beyond

I watched the sun come up over the Charles on Wednesday morning, taking a last chance to get my daily schedules in order before the pre-conference session began with a 7:30am bus ride to the Boston Center for the Arts on Tremont Street. I was excited to participate in the Supervisor Summit Media Arts event.

Usually conventions find me scrambling for food as the schedule is so intense and there is no time for meals. I’m happy to say our sponsor, Davis Publications, kept us well fed throughout the day.

Thanks to Davis Publishing, we ate well all day! This is breakfast!

And this was a snack later on – popcorn with truffle oil – yummers!

After breakfast, we enjoyed keynote speaker Ben Forta, on the topic of The Case for Creativity in the Classroom. Then Rob Sandagata and Karl Cole put the Media Arts in context with an historical overview and lots of imagery. Next up was a tour of the artist spaces at the Boston Center for the Arts. This was invigorating and exciting to see working artists and listen to them talk about their work. Although we didn’t meet the artist of this painting, it was hanging on display. The palette matched my mood:

Touring studio spaces at the Boston Center for the Arts This piece is by Victor F. Ortale

And then there was a panel discussion followed by break-out sessions. The break out sessions were exciting and hands on, which I was grateful for at that point in the day. I especially enjoyed being back in the Apple fold, learning about and trying new apps.

Apple’s Everyone Can Create Teacher Guide

Apps we used during the Media Arts event

Ebook: Fostering Creativity with iPad

Matt Brooks, Apple

I also enjoyed learning about Adobe’s powerhouse trio of Spark apps: Page, Post, and Video, with Ben Forta:

Ben Forta, Senior Director of Education Initiatives, Adobe

It was super fun to be with Barbara Liedahl, who I met at ISTE 16 in Denver, here presenting on paper circuits:

Barbara Liedahl

After the break out sessions there were even more refreshments, including adult beverages, and then we boarded the bus back to the convention. Davis Publications was kind enough to compile all the resources from the day on a page at this link.

Wednesday Evening

Later that evening, I met up with ten friends who I know from the Massachusetts Art Education Association and others from across the country, who I know from Twitter. I had arranged this Tweet-up with a reservation at Summer Shack, right near the hotel. Needless to say, we had a great time:

Wednesday night dinner with Twitter friends: L to r: @ConantArt, @MarottaArt, @smelvin, @GrundlerArt, @stacy_lord, @ArtLadyHBK, @bellafiore3, @MonaLisaLvsHeah, @ArtGuy76, @TheresaMcGee

I loved watching my non-New England friends wrestle with lobsters


Thursday started long before sun up

Thursday was going to be action packed, so I got up pretty early to make sure “all my ducks were in a row”. The first  event was Amy Sherald’s opening address. I wanted to get there early in order to get a good seat.

naea - 1 (1)

On my way to seeking the perfect seat, I stumbled upon (not literally) these two California artsed friends/Photo by Don Masse

Amy Sherald is most well known for having painted Michelle Obama’s official portrait for the National Portrait Gallery. Her reflection on the lack of representation of people of color in art museums and the mainstream culture was poignant and powerful. She is dynamic!

Amy Sherald takes the stage

Amy showed us her progress through her various portraits

Of course she spoke about her portrait of Michelle Obama, now hanging in the National Gallery in DC

Following Amy’s talk, I hurried to the Massachusetts Art Education Association (MAEA) table to help out. Those of us on the MAEA board had signed up for time slots to make sure there was coverage at the table. Every time I reported for duty there were several people there to help out. This first morning, we began selling the MAEA T-shirts right after the Amy Sherald event. The table was packed! We sold out of T-shirts within the first hour! Quick thinking Melissa Mastrolia (President Elect) created an online order option for those who were interested. Last count was somewhere around 500!

Working the Massachusetts Art Education Association table

The shirt was very popular!

At the MAEA table, we also had a free raffle of a Shepard Fairey signed print, 3 paintings by Boston artist, Bren Bataclan, and a Maker tools basket from Mobile Makerspace of Cape Cod. Using a list of restaurants curated by art teachers, I designed a document called Wicked SmART Eats, which we had on display with a QR code to the docs with active links to the restaurant websites. Last but not least, we passed out Wicked SmART stickers. (I passed these out all over Boston, to be truthful).

Our Wicked SmART eats poster

Leaving the table around 11am, I ordered an Uber for a ride to Harpoon Brewery over in the Seaport. I had arranged a tour for 15 people to tour the Autodesk Build Space followed by a tour of Harpoon Brewery with photography privileges. The brewery tour is only offered at 4:00 and I couldn’t reserve tickets ahead of the day, so I wanted to be there around when they opened at 11:00 in order to purchase tickets for the tour to ensure our group’s inclusion. My driver waited in the car  while I ran in and purchased the tickets. They even stuck a Wicked SmART sticker on the bar for good measure.

After my shift at the table I took an Uber to the Seaport to pick up tickets for the afternoon tour group

I had arranged three Boston tours for the art educators. I honestly thought they wouldn’t fill. But they did, all three of them! Two of them were scheduled to take place on Thursday afternoon, and the other one on Friday. Fortunately, Brandy Jackson of Mobile Makerspace was able to cover the Autodesk/Harpoon tour for me. (Thank you, Brandy!)

Next up was a return Uber trip to the convention center to meet the bus for the Harvard Square/Harvard Museum of Natural History tour I was leading at 12:30. My Uber driver delivered me in time and I met the group along with Tom, the bus driver.

Our bus for the Harvard Walking/Sketching Tour

On the way over to Cambridge I shared the landmarks we passed with the people on the bus, and Tom pitched in wherever I lagged. We arrived at the kiosk in the square, unloaded and walked into Harvard Yard. To follow are some photos of our experience.

Our tour group at the gate to Harvard Yard

These two students were so helpful in sharing information about their work, including sharing 300 year old pipe stems and china.

The archeology class in the yard

At the John Harvard statue

On the steps of the Harvard Art Museums overlooking Sever Hall

When we were on the steps of the Harvard Art Museums, Brandon (below) stopped on his way up the stairs and said, “Hey, so I’m already late for class. Is there anything I can help you with? Any questions I can answer?” I replied, “Well as a matter of fact, we are all teachers, and together we could probably write you one heck of a late pass.” We all laughed, but some people did have some great questions. Also, Brandon told us that we were touring on Housing Day, when sophomores find out which dorm they’ll be in for the next 3 years. He had been selected for Mather House (as you can tell by his clothing and headband) and was pretty excited about it.

Brandon takes questions

The next stop for the group was the Harvard University Museum of Natural History to tour the glass flowers exhibit and do some sketching in the exhibit rooms. My friend, Eva Kearney, was taking over for me here as I had to get back to the Back Bay for the awards ceremony. (Thank you, Eva!)

At the Museum of Natural History

Another Uber brought me back to the convention center where I found the room where the NAEA Art Education Technology group were having their awards ceremony. I took a moment to congratulate my friend, Christopher Sweeney, who I had nominated for the Outstanding Teacher award he was about to receive. I was sorry to have missed the ceremony, but I had to get up to the hotel to get ready for the NAEA National Awards.

Stopped by to see Chris prior to his award recognition

The NAEA National Awards were at 4:00 in the Hynes Auditorium. I had just enough time to scoot up to my room at the Sheraton and change clothes before they started. It was a rush, but I made it in plenty of time. Being named 2019 National Middle Level Art Educator of the Year is truly an honor. To be able to receive the award in my home city was even more special. It went something like this:

The awards program




Seth Freeman Photography

With Kim Huyler Defibaugh and Pete Curran /Photo by Sarah Dugan

With Samantha Melvin, my friend and nominator

The beautiful glass award

The certificate of award

The award experience was truly exhilarating and afterward I met up with friends to celebrate. From there we went to the NAEA Opening party, followed by the Artisans Marketplace, where art educators sell their wares, and finally at 9:30 pm, to the Capital Grille for dinner and celebration with longtime MAEA friends. It was a long, awesome day!

Dinner at the Capital Grille


I had an early morning commitment at the MAEA table on Friday. The crowd had calmed down from the day before, yet there was a steady stream of people wanting to buy shirts and asking questions about the area, mostly about food and museums. Maybe in that order.

Working the MAEA table with Kay Furst on Friday morning

After an hour or so, I went to the auditorium early to save a seat  for my colleague, Jess Fowler, to see Peter H. Reynolds. Peter was funny, tender, and wears his compassion on his sleeve. A few years ago, Peter featured one of my students in his magazine Hutch as she told her story about how his book The Dot had influenced her artistic journey.

With Mendon Upton colleague Jess Fowler in the front row for Peter H. Reynolds

Peter H. Reynolds

Peter H. Reynolds

The themes of the books by Peter H. Reynolds

After Peter’s talk, I scurried over to the Boston Public Library where I met my tour group for our docent led tour of the art and architecture of the library followed by a Copley Square tour. The group gathered outside, and once we ascended the steps, we were off.

Our group for the Boston Public Library tour in front of the museum

Gathered in the lobby before going up the stairs

Ascending the stairs under the watchful eye of the lions

Among the murals

Among the murals

The John Singer Sargent murals

In the courtyard

In Bates Hall

It seemed like the minute we stepped outside on completing the tour, the wind kicked up and the air grew cooler. The winds of weather change were in Copley Square, but we were not deterred as we explored Trinity Church, the Copley monument, Old South Church, the Kahlil Gibran and Tortoise and the Hare monuments, the marathon finish line, and Newbury Street.

Standing with John Singleton Copley

Copley Square

Meanwhile, during the tour, the NAEA Eastern Region gathered to have their own awards ceremony. I was being acknowledged as National Middle Level Art Educator at this event as a Team EAST teacher. Because I was leading a tour at this time, Melissa Mastrolia, President Elect of MAEA, accepted my award gifts for me. (Thank you Melissa!)

Program from the Eastern Region award ceremony

A gift from the Eastern Region (Team EAST)

A note from the Massachusetts Art Education Association

Fantastic sketchbook gift from the MAEA

On my return from the windy tour, I was feeling the effects of the sinus infection, asthma, and bronchitis that had started the week prior to the convention. Still on Prednisone for the asthma, I had rallied through the first 3 days, but it caught up to me with the wind in Copley Square. On my way back to the hotel I picked up some hot soup and Tylenol and took a little break to rest up before the Friday night fun began.

Hitting a wall – a little self care

And then Friday night began! I had invitations to many meet ups, four of which were taking place between 4:30 and 8pm. With a little help from Uber, I expected to at least drop in on all of them. The first was with the “way back” MAEA crew:

Tim O’Connor and Eva Kearney – two long time MAEA friends

And then the MassArt mingle in the beautiful Design and Media Center:

Mass Art mingle with Mosie and Eva

Although I graduated from MassArt with a BFA in Painting, not education, my recent interaction with pre-service art teachers made me feel right at home:

MassArt mingle with Billy Claire and Eva Kearney

From there we Ubered up to the Pour House where the #K12ArtChat people were gathered. This meet up gave me a chance to at least say hello to friend, Tricia Fuglestad, who was otherwise busy showing people how to use the Doink products.

At the #K12ArtChat meet up with Tricia Fuglestad

It was good to have a relaxed moment to catch up with Christopher Sweeney and Sophia Georgiou at this event, too:

At the #K12ArtChat meet up with Christopher Sweeney and Sophia Georgiou (Morphi app developer)

From the Pour House, it was a quick walk over to Summer Shack, where the Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) force was meeting for dinner. Although I didn’t eat, I had a chance to say hello to many friends I had met at the summer TAB course at MassArt:

Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) meet up at Summer Shack – pictured here are Kathy Douglas, Pauline Joseph, Diane Jaquith/ Photo by Roni Rohr


Saturday morning view over the Charles to Cambridge

I was pretty excited about Saturday morning. This was the day my education guru, Dr. Howard Gardner, would be speaking to the art teachers! I’ve heard Dr. Gardner speak many times and I always take away something that I end up thinking about for days. I enjoy his humor and I respect his insight. Of course I got there early to get in the front row again and was happy to be seated with my Texas art education friends and Massachusetts art educator, Sarah Tomkins.

Samantha, me, Sarah, Laura and Matt

With Pete Curran before Dr. Howard Gardner

Dr. Howard Gardner

The giant audience full of art educators nearly lost their minds with applause when Dr. Gardner said, “It may be true that going into the arts will improve math scores but we all know that nobody goes into art to improve math scores, they go into it because they love it and they love to use their minds.” Boom

The slide below was Dr. Gardner’s way of acknowledging his wife, Dr. Ellen Winner, who all art teachers know from her work as co-author of Studio Thinking. In fact, when we were making keynote suggestions last June, I mentioned the idea of a shared keynote between Winner and Gardner. That might have been awesome.

Dr. Gardner discussed his work on Multiple Intelligences and pleaded with the audience to please, never confuse multiple intelligences with learning styles.

He also discussed his current work on The Good Project.

Buoyed by an excellent keynote, I went off to find the space where MAEA was having a meet up prior to their awards ceremony. During a hosting committee meeting, when we had discussed refreshments for the meet up, I pitched the idea of whoopee pies (because they’re fun), and I’m happy to say, we got them!

Whoopie Pies

At the event I saw many people I don’t get to see every often:

With Kathy Douglas at the MAEA award ceremony

At the MAEA award ceremony with Ruth Starrett and Kristi Oliver

And I was pleased to be in the room when we remembered our former MAEA leader and friend to all, John Michael Gray, for the first official time since his passing in 2016. It was great to see the book many of us contributed to then, presented to John Michael’s life partner, Tim O’Connor, at the award ceremony. One day I would love to see the book and treasure the memories of John Michael Gray.

MAEA honored the late, great John Michael Gray at this event

After the MAEA awards, I scurried up to my room and gathered my things in order to check out, yet leave my suitcase at the desk. When I got downstairs, I realized I was not the only one doing so, and had to wait a half an hour while the hotel found room for all the luggage. I don’t think they anticipated all the stuff art teachers would make and collect during the convention; it’s probably different for a business convention.

Last shot of the beautiful view before checking out and leaving my luggage at the front desk – note the sailboats on the Charles

My last official commitment was to participate in a panel discussion with the middle level award winners in the various regions. Because Peter Curran, then Director of the Middle Level Division, has done this before, he made it very easy for us, with a brief introduction and then questions from the attendees. It was fun.

Middle Level Award winners

Middle Level Award winners panel discussion

After this session, our MAEA hosting committee was meeting in the Exhibit Hall to take care of any items that were being left behind. Once that obligation was fulfilled, I was off to meet a few friends for beverages before the Leadership Reception a little later on.

I’ve got to say, the “light hors d’oeuvres” were delightful, as were the beverages and the company. It was so nice to relax and know that everything was finished. As pre-arranged, I exited the party at 7:30, gathered my luggage and stepped outside just as my husband, like a knight in shining armor, pulled up to the door. It was seamless. And it was beautiful!

Home sweet home

Waking up the next day to ordinary wonderful things, I was still flying high, but grateful to be home. I realized, though, just how sick I was and that I hadn’t shaken the respiratory issues I’d been powering through. I ended up taking an extra day to get my strength before returning to work.

When I got back to school, my students were about mid-way through the project I had introduced before I left. I could tell by their progress that the substitute teacher had been attentive and followed all the instructions (Thank you Rosa!)

Artists at work

And then at the end of the day, our principal gathered the staff to announce my award and share a congratulatory cake. How nice!

Two weeks later now, it is all officially over. I’m so grateful to the many people who helped me out with my scheduling conflicts. I’m so happy to have spent time with my friends from across the country, friends I maintain relationships with on Twitter and Facebook. I’m glad to have reconnected with many art teacher friends here in Massachusetts and I’m proud to be part of the MAEA, which is growing by leaps and bounds in not only number, but in enthusiasm. I appreciate my school district approving my time away and acquiring a great sub for me. Lastly, I am thankful to the NAEA for the care and thoughtfulness with which they plan our art education conventions. These conventions are truly a shot in the arm that inspires us as we go forward in our work of shaping human potential. Thank you!


WeRMakers: Product ReDesign In Fifth Grade Art

“A designer is an emerging synthesis of artist, inventor, mechanic, objective economist and evolutionary strategist.” – R. Buckminster Fuller

This is the third fall I have facilitated the WeRMakers Product Redesign unit. This is a project-based-learning unit that utilizes resources from Project Zero Classroom’s Agency by Design. A few colleagues and I  participated in their online course, Thinking and Learning in the Maker-Centered Classroom during the summer of 2016. The course introduces unique thinking routines that foster the primary maker capacities of looking closely, exploring complexity, and finding opportunity. Later that fall, I facilitated the process with the 5/6 Art club, giving me a chance to get my feet wet with a small group of 15 students. After setting up the technology structure and creating a cohesive unit over the summer, I implemented it with all 5 of my fifth grade classes in the fall of 2017, with great success. We just wrapped up this year’s WeRMakers unit in early January.

Inspired by the ideas and routines in the book, Maker-Centered Learning: Empowering Young People to Shape Their Worlds, authored by Edward P Clapp, Jessica Ross, Jennifer O. Ryan, and Shari Tishman, I began working part-time as an online coach for the course. I enjoyed this opportunity to help others with their understanding of the Thinking Routines and to learn from them as they reflected on their experiences applying the concepts to students of all ages in many different types of classrooms around the world. This opened my eyes to applications for the routines I hadn’t considered.

Thank you to all of the people at Agency by Design for all of the ideas and resources you’ve shared. Your inspiration and generosity are deeply appreciated.

What I’ve come to, with my own students, is the process outlined on this document, which I created to explain to colleagues for collaboration. The Thinking Routines we employed are listed and linked in the document, and some of them are included in Spanish.

The structure I provide for my fifth grade students is through sharing resources in Google Classroom, where they are also linked to Google Forms (surveys, reflection, information sharing), and in student-created sketchbooks that are used as Discovery Logs.

Student-made sketchbooks as discovery logs

When I put together curriculum units, I always frame the components into three categories, Explore (introductory “hook”, initial exposure to content, development of “wonders”), Create (ideation, drafting, making, design thinking), and Share (presenting the creation for feedback, developing marketing tools such as a 60-second elevator speech and product posters). Throughout every stage of the process, students are working in learning groups, sometimes the groups are genuinely cooperative and sometimes cooperation requires coaching.

The first step in the Explore stage of the unit is the Design Hunt:

This year I made a worksheet for the students:

And here is what it looks like in the classroom. Keep in mind you can do this anywhere, inside or outside the school.

The next step is to rehearse the Thinking Routine Looking Closely with objects that have very few parts. Inexpensive pencil sharpeners and ball point pens work well. 

Following the Looking Closely/Take Apart experience, student groups completed a Google Form where they explored the Parts, Purposes, and Complexities of the object.

Over the years, I have learned that it takes time and a focused effort to facilitate cooperative learning in the middle school classroom. The above rehearsal of the Thinking Routines and group Google Form completion is also a great opportunity to work through some personality differences that could lead to conflicts later on within a group. Keeping the rehearsal simple and involving concepts that students aren’t emotionally attached to also helps. Lastly, while this is going on, I move around the room casually watching and listening to groups interact, which gives me a sense of where some coaching is needed.

Once the simple object rehearsal is finished, students begin the steps with small appliances. Last year I sent out a call for donations of unwanted small appliances and we received everything from lamps to hairdryers. This year, I stumbled upon a box of classroom phones left in our school storage room.

After double-checking that they were indeed junk, we used them rather than collecting small appliances. In the end, they did the job, but the diversity of many different objects the year before had been more exciting, yielding many unique product redesigns. It was still good, though, and because the students worked in small groups, each of their experiences were unique to the group, it was only from my overview perspective that I noticed similarities.

Once student group were given the phones, they completed the Explore steps of observe and sketch first, take apart, observe and sketch parts, consider purposes of parts. Upload the images to Google Classroom.

Looking Closely at the phone front and back to elicit wonder 

Sketching all the parts and thinking about the role of each and interdependency, beginning systems thinking

The next step in the Explore phase of this project is developing Systems Thinking. Independently, students look at a variety of images from Agency by Design that I’ve prepared with questions in a Google Form here. Once they’ve all completed the form, they talk to their group about their findings and then we go over each of the examples together as a class with the images projected. I enjoy facilitating this discussion and watching the class come to a consensus on the definition of a system, usually something like, “A system is made of many parts working together. Within a system, one part affects the others.”

Students then work together to consider the systems involved with their appliance and make a list. They then make a list of people involved with the systems in making and using the parts and item, from end users to manufacturers to disposal, considering how one person’s role affects the next person in the system.

Because all groups were working with the same appliance (phones), the Systems Thinking conversations were rich with connections made across all groups, compared to each group having a different appliance. I really liked how the whole class could offer inout on the different users and people interacting with the product in the phases of Manufacturing, Distribution, Purchasing, End Users, and Disposal. With an older group I would add Source Mapping to the system.

Students then choose one group from their list of people who interact with the product and then use empathy to understand the relationship between the person they’ve chosen and the product. I assign this as a question in Google Classroom, which elicits a group discussion. One person from the groups records the responses in a handwritten list.


Groups choose one person or user within the system. They consider ways a person or group of people interacts with the appliance or in the manufacturing of the item. They use empathy to consider possible problems the people may have within their role with the product.




Groups consider how they might make the product more beautiful, efficient, effective, or ethical for a user or user group or manufacturer. Notes are taken, the plan is shared with another group. Designs are drafted.

This group chose to focus on the Distribution phase of the product, choosing to invent a plane specifically designed for better cargo space, heating and cooling fans, and a customized ramp for loading and unloading the product.

Groups choose from the draft sketches of the newly revised product then work together to create a poster advertising their product.

Other group members work on a scientific diagram as if they were going to have a prototype made.


Students work together to write, rehearse, and record a 60 Second Elevator Speech to promote their idea. They recorded the video in the DoInk Green Screen app and added a photo of an elevator interior as the underlay. Once recorded, this is uploaded to FlipGrid and Google Classroom.

The video is shared with the class audience and then each group shares their Product Poster and Scientific Diagram with class, first explain which group of people they chose and how they made the product more beautiful, efficient, effective or ethical for the group.

Irelyn B., Mason K., Kyle M., Finn L.

For closure on the unit, students are asked through Google Classroom to fill in a Google Form with their feedback. I use this feedback to inform my planning for the next facilitation of this unit and while creating or revising other curriculum units. Here are some examples of the feedback: From Explore to Create to Share, this cross-curricular unit takes about 15 classes, each 50 minutes long every other day, to facilitate as a Visual Art project. This is one-third of my time in the semester with my students. It is well worth it for the success skills being learned including cooperative learning, systems thinking, public speaking, to name just a few. It is also an opportunity to practice skills inherent in visual art and design including design thinking (design process), creative process, and graphic design in an authentic task. It would be an effective collaborative unit across disciplines, and I look forward to restructuring it as such in the future.




Miscoe Hill 5/6 Artwork at Youth Art Month in Boston

“I really believe that if you practice enough you could paint the ‘Mona Lisa’ with a two-inch brush.” – Bob Ross

Speaking of Mona Lisa, an art masterpiece, I am happy to announce the 2019 Youth Art Month artists and masterpieces by my students at Miscoe Hill School!

Top row: Paul Van Norman, Kylie French, Alden Genovese, Samira Evens, Zuleica Booth Bottom row: Matthew dos Santos, Nolan Mann, Elizabeth Scharn

The 2019 Youth Art Month exhibit, sponsored by the Massachusetts Art Education Association and titled, “Your Art, Your Story”, is begin held at the Massachusetts State Transportation Building, 10 Park Plaza, Boston, from February 11 through March 27.

The exhibit will be open to the public on weekdays, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., February 11 – March 27, 2019 and is closed weekends and on Presidents’ Day, Monday, February 18, 2019. Entrance to the exhibit is free. Parking (for a fee) is available at the building.

A Family Celebration will take place on Sunday, March 3, 2019 from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m, with the YAM Ceremony at 12:30 p.m.

The Artists and their Artworks

Paul Van Norman – Paul, a sixth grade student, designed his 3D printed buildings for the Imaginary City project-based learning unit last June, when he was in fifth grade. While his cooperative learning group was busy preparing the city map for their project, Paul focused on the design of buildings using Morphi app. It is important to note that all of the designs were created by combining and subtracting primitive 3D forms, rather than by downloading ready-made objects. Paul seems to have a knack for designing community spaces à la Frederick Law Olmsted, and may one day apply these skills as a landscape architect or civil engineer.