Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Colorful Experiences

A collage of red in some of its many variations

American poet, Carl Sandburg's poem, "The People, Yes" includes the following passage:
Clink on the link above to hear Sandburg recite the poem in its entirety.

"The blood of all men of all nations being red
the Communist International named red its banner color
Pope Innocent IV gave cardinals their first red hats
saying a cardinal's blood belonged to the holy mother church.

The blood color red is a symbol."

In this multicultural world each hue is heavy with meaning and everyone has their own opinion about what is a "good" color and what is not. Setting aside the issue of "color blindness", color is a great element to start a class discussion because everyone has knowledge about color from their personal experience and cultural perspective.

Color evokes emotions and serves as a powerful communication element. Even the quietest crew will find quite a lot to say about the purposes and meanings of color. Out of all of the art elements, understanding color and knowing how to communicate with it may be one of the most important skills that can be learned in an art classroom.

Analogous Colors

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Changing my Tune

Papier Mache by Ben Kessler

Bread & Puppet Museum
Last summer's vacation took us northward on a road trip through western New England and into Quebec. We stopped at the Bread & Puppet Museum in Gower, Vermont (see my posting on Abyssal Plain for more images and information!). This was a life changing event for me and has caused me to rethink an entire curriculum.

For many years the 3D Foundations class included an introduction to ceramics. The subject matter that seemed to work the best was masks. I would start the unit around Carnival time (Mardi Gras) and the students would find a culture of their choice to explore online. They wrote a brief paper on the celebratory customs of one of the regions in the world that participate in this rite. You would be amazed at the diversity of festivals. We would discuss culture and religion and how local beliefs can influence more universal belief systems (the Catholic Church).

We looked at PowerPoints on how masks were used in various cultures and eras. Students, again selected a region to explore and research in order to interpret the culture through a mask design. Obviously we also learned a lot about clay... wedging, rolling, slab construction, embossing, glazing, etc., etc.

A student's interpretation of Northwest Tribal art

I had used paper mache for making masks a few times. The beauty of this method is that it allows both large and small forms to be made relatively cheaply and easily.

Large student masks. Note, they choose the scale of their masks. The armature is chicken wire and foam core.

Now, although we had looked at Carnival celebrations and parades, African tribal group dances and images of Native Americans in ceremonial masks, until I visited the Bread & Puppet I did not put the pieces together...masks need to be a part of a performance!

Bread & Puppet Museum
Puppetry is an artform that I have not explored. Narrative art is so powerful...why had I not thought of it?

Bread & Puppet Museum
Again, the props can be made from everyday materials.

Bread & Puppet Museum

Collaborative projects are fun and students could be divided into teams to build theatres, costumes, puppets, write stories and dialogue. Next time maybe I will get it right!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Just Rewards

On art education:

"I think it's so important....Many times, kids can only express themselves through art...Everything cannot be paper, pencil, regurgitating information."
Priscilla Barrow,
"For Opera's Tweet Gift, the Plot Quickens", by Anne Midgette
Washington Post, May 20, p. C5

Briefly, Priscilla Barrow, a DC public school music teacher of renown and enterprise wins a fairy tale prize...a seat at the final performance of The Washington National Opera's Turandot and a trip to the Opera Ball at the German Embassy dressed in a gown provided by the opera' costume designers.

The contest that Ms. Barrow did not participate in was won by Stephen Llewellyn of Portland Oregon, a man that she had never met. The prize that he won was the result of a contest created by Marcia Adair (The Omniscient Mussel) on Twitter. The challenge: to tweet opera plots! Llewellyn was one of the winners and chose the select Opera Weekend Prize. He decided that he wanted an arts educator to be the final recipient of the reward and then found the right person to bestow it on, a 22-year veteran elementary school music teacher!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Flag Books for Everyone

April Diary, 1979, Hedi Kyle
Paper, Binder's board, Ink, and Watercolor
In the collection of Richard Minsky
Note: This is the original design for the book form know as the "Flag Book"

Many lifetimes ago, I worked at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Perched in a tiny attic space off of the library, my task was to unwrap bundles of items that had been stored there and decide what their relationship was to the museum's history, document them and put them into a more archival package.

This was the Memorabilia Collection and this was a rather wonderful job. I found packets of photographs from around the world before globalization changed how everyone lived; travel kits (one made by Cartier) for explorers who went into the wild places in the world; artwork of all kinds and dimensions; documents; papers; etc., etc. Everyday revealed new and exciting finds in my little treasure trove.

When I became lonely in my quiet little space I would creep down the ladder into the Restoration Studio where women with a wide range of incredible skills were at work cleaning paper, rebinding rare books and creating wondrous fitted boxes with leather and gold lettering to safely cradle priceless tomes.

One of these book wizards was Hedi Kyle, the originator of the design for a book form known as the "Flag Book". I attended a workshop to learn from her how to make this fabulous book form many years later. However, concurrent to the period when I worked at the museum, I studied book arts with her at the Center for Book Arts, then located on Lafayette, around the corner from the loft I had sublet at Bond and Bowery.

From Hedi I also learned how to make paste decorated papers (to be discussed later in another posting). Well, if you combine paste papers with a flag book format you can have a great deal of fun with young people, old people and everyone in between. This is such a flexible and forgiving format. It not only encourages individual creativity but also allows those who are less deft to create something that is quite fascinating and satisfying in the end! No mean feat for book arts that are well known for requiring the higher end of fine motor skills.

This is a student made project with the objective of illustrating something from 32 different points of view. When high school students are able to channel their true interests into art you can get some amazing results.
Here is a basic formula for a two flag book format
Flag book pdf by Kathy Miller & Diane

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Monoprint with Chine colle and photo transfers

Public television station KQED in the San Francisco Bay area offers super arts coverage and they maintain an excellent website, Spark. "Produced by KQED Public Television, Spark is about Bay Area artists and arts organizations -- it is a weekly television show, an educational outreach program and a Web site. More than a showcase for art objects and the artists who make them, Spark takes the audience inside the creative process to witness the challenges, opportunities and rewards of making art."

For art educators in California, you know that Spark in Education offers a wide range of in service training. For all the rest of us: "Each week one of the Spark stories is chosen to be the educational focus, and a corresponding educator guide is created." This week's installment includes a PDF of Jaime Guerrero: A Few Good Stories. This is a fabulous way to introduce the art of glass into the classroom.