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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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