Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

I recently had the great opportunity of teaching a “mini-course” for a group of 9th grade students from my museum’s magnet high school, Science Leadership Academy.   I had complete free choice over the course topic and lessons (well, it had to relate to science, of course…) and since we are currently hosting the exhibit “Leonardo da Vinci’s Workshop” I thought it would be fun to explore how Leonardo learned: though an apprenticeship.  Plus I got to use my art history background, a rarity in a SCIENCE museum! 🙂 

During the Renaissance (and well after) most jobs were learned by studying under a master– carefully observing, performing grunt work, taking on tiny jobs and, eventually, using those skills gained to apply for acceptance into a guild.  Artists like Leonardo had no need for formal schooling, (something he seemed to deeply regret) rather their entire apprenticeship was like a multi-year hands-on learning lab.  I wanted the students in my class to get a taste for the work an apprentice would do in a Renaissance artist’s workshop, to see that the master artist’s studio was actually more like a science lab/school/wood shop/barnyard than a quiet gallery and to learn how modern science helps us conserve the treasures from this time period.  All over the span of 5 class hours!

Eggs and vinegar for art class???

We started out by talking about some of the more… menial tasks an artist’s apprentice might do.  Things like stretching canvases, mixing paints, making brushes and collecting supplies.  We made plaster of paris “walls” to use as the base for a fresco.  The students used burlap to hold the plaster together– modern restoration work on frescos has found materials like straw and horsehair holding the plaster together. 

Grids make drawing EASY!

I taught the class how to use a grid to reduce or enlarge a magazine picture (math is your friend!) and we used National Geographic images to create a nature-inspired sketch for the fresco.  Next we transferred the image to the plaster using a real Renaissance technique.  Artists would first poke pinholes along all the lines on a to-scale draft or “cartoon” of their final painting.  They would post this cartoon on the fresco surface, often when the plaster was wet, (we created fresco secco, painting on dry plaster) then they dusted ground charcoal all over the pinholes.  The charcoal would leave a faint, erasable sketch right on the wall.  Guess what?  This technique is AWESOME and totally works!

Trade secrets!

After a discussion of what makes up paint (a pigment and a binder) I demonstrated how to make a simple tempera paint by mixing egg yolk with wetted pigment.  The kids got a kick out of separating the egg and a few brave souls even took on the difficult task of gently releasing the yolk from the little protein sack that binds it.  I found some great, historic pigments on Blick.com, I think that gave them a good idea of the palette limitations an artist would have to overcome.  Then we painted the frescos!

Hands-on learning

For the modern science aspect I showed them a few videos of art conservators using technology like x-rays, infrared cameras and microscopes to analyze centuries-old masterpieces.  We also explored a really phenomenal new google application http://www.googleartproject.com/  I put together an online gallery of images highlighting the topics we covered in class, link here.  On the last day I had all the students bring in their laptops (their school gives each student their own) and we perused the gallery together.  It was really rewarding to see the students pick out details in the paintings that related to our topic.  They were pretty good art historians, too!

My fresco in progress

I didn’t ask the students if I could put their work on the internet so I won’t post it here.  But I was really impressed with the work the class was able to do in such a short period of time.  Most of the students didn’t have an art background, but all of them definitely had an interest in learning more.  The thoughtfulness behind a lot of their questions really surprised me, and they were not pleased when I had to respond with “great question, but I don’t know that specific answer!” on a few zingers.  I have never taught 9th graders before so I think I learned even more than the students!  

Working at this museum and others has really shown me that apprenticeships did not end with the Renaissance.  Although I have formal training in my field I gain practical experience daily.  Being a good teacher is more than just knowing theory; as my first museum mentor told me, “the best way to learn how to teach?  Teach!”   Every time I get thrown in a new teaching situation like this I feel like I am the apprentice– learning through doing, reflecting on my mistakes, following the lead of my mentors and striving daily to reach “master” status.


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I’m working on writing another article for The Art Blog.  It will take a look at the creation and installation of the exhibition Mineral Spirits which shows works by Ann Chu and Matthew Monahan.  I’m interested to see how the works were chosen and how they relate to one another as well as to the theme– the figure.  The show will be at UPenn’s Institute of Contemporary Art which is basically in my back yard.  Which means I can definitely visit the exhibit this time in person and (hopefully) get to see/photograph the installation process.  I’m hoping to talk to the curator on the phone later this week.  I’m enjoying this “internship,” it makes me feel like I’m using my art history degree for once.  Sigh.

I was under the impression that I had lost all my pictures (digital files) from my semester in Turkey.  But Pat came to the rescue and reminded me that he backed them up on his external hard drive.  Hooray, hubby to the rescue!  You’re right, Lauren, my hair is waaaay longer:

Gaziantep, Turkey

Ankara, Turkey from its fortifications

Mmm, lamancun-Turkish pizza

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Friday is Saturday in our house… meaning we work Sunday-Thursday so while most of the city slaves away in their offices we get to play!  Today we rode over to Eastern State to use up two soon-to-expire free passes from the Haunt.  I relinquished the camera to Patrick who took some amazing photos:


Prison Violence

Of course we had to take some silly ones too:

It's so nice to be with friends

As I mentioned in an earlier post Eastern State is an abandoned prison being preserved and restored.  What I didn’t mention is that it is HAUNTED FOR REAL.  Well, maybe not FOR REAL, but it is definitely creepy in there at night with no lights and strange noises…  Sadly nothing freaky happened today.  Pat did see what he called a “ghost footprint.”  I was chilled to the bone at first, but then he admitted that it’s sunlight coming through a hole in the roof.  Drats, I had Ghost Busters on the phone!


Then lunch at Bishop’s Collar, yummy yum.  My salad had cilantro lime vinaigrette which I’d like to replicate at home.  We strolled over to the Art Museum so Pat take some reference photos for his artwork.  We also saw Late Renoir while we were there.  I guess it was okay, much too crowded for me.  I hate being herded through an exhibit with 100 other people crushed around me.  Everyone just stands in the middle of the room, mesmerized by their audio guide and completely oblivious to the rest of the world. 

Liz, Caulder and Diana

Bamboo Leaf Tea House

We’re leaving for Hawaii in 5 weeks!  I bet everyone at my work wants to throw coconuts at my head for talking about it so much.  I can’t help it, it’s going to be so awesome!  One of my goals is to eat roast pork from one of those coal pits they dig on the beach.  And eat a pineapple straight from the tree.  Most of my goals are food-related…

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Today an article I wrote about the exhibit “Rivane Neuenschwander: A Day Like Any Other” was published on The ArtBlog.  I’m pretty excited about my first non-personal blog article.  I hope I can write more for them, they are interested in “behind the scenes” museum stuff.  Coincidentally so am I…  Here is the link to the article.

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Last week I went to a work conference in St. Paul hosted by the wonderful Science Museum of Minnesota.  Their museum is huge and much different from the one where I work.  Well, mainly just the layout.  Like us, they also want to get people excited about science. 

SMM main entrance. It's actually 6 storeys!Science!



Check out this nifty guy!  We love electricity.  

They had a great exhibit on the Mississippi river, which is within spitting distance of the museum (don’t worry, I didn’t actually try it…)  They had a cool stream table that showed how different river features form, like ox-bow lakes.  

 My favorite exhibit, however, is really fascinating.  In their “Big Backyard” the museum has created a gigantic camera obscura

See the hut on the right? Camera Obscura!


A camera obscura is just a big box with a tiny hole in one side where light shines in.  A lens is fit into the hole to help focus the light.  This projects an image on the opposite wall of the box (upside down, because of the lens).  Then you can do things like trace the image you see, modify it slightly to become an early camera or just stare at the beautiful scene it creates: 

Image inside the camera obscura

The picture is neat but the most captivating part was watching cars move, grass sway in the breeze and clouds pass upside down across the wall.  I really felt like I was a teeny little bug inside someone’s camera!

So I have to say my introduction to Minnesota was very nice– hospitable, clean and full of beautiful parks.  They seem to be pretty bike-friendly, too.  Surprising for a city that has 7.5 months of winter (burn! don’t worry, I’m from the midwest, too).  Check out these weather-proof bike lockers on the street:

I'd be scared of getting locked in there

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One of the (many) reasons why I love museums is that their exhibits frequently let you travel the globe without leaving the gallery.  Archaeology museums are one of my favorites because of this.  I remember visiting the Field Museum in Chicago as a child and being sucked into the story of life in South Africa—the colorful buses, exotic foods, people in different clothing and, of course, tales of struggle I didn’t really understand at the time.  That experience, along with countless others (my sister still bemoans the fact that the majority of our vacations were spent at educational venues…), helped fuel my interest in world cultures.  For me, a well organized exhibit can turn the tools, trinkets and images of a culture into an imaginary field trip to that corner of the world.

Situating the 3-ton statue

That’s why I am really excited about the upcoming Cleopatra: The Last Queen of Egypt exhibit at my work.  We are the first venue for the new exhibit so I really don’t know a lot about it.  We did see a little sneak preview at a staff meeting; it sounds like there will be a lot of things like coins, pottery and even a few scrolls.  But the “centerpiece” of the exhibit will likely be the two, three-ton marble statues brought from the bottom of the Mediterranean at Alexandria.

Yesterday I had a great birds-eye view of the statues being moved into the building.  Since they are so heavy and tall they couldn’t be brought in on our freight elevator.  Instead a HUGE crane lifted them in through the window of the travelling exhibit space.

First they loaded the box containing the statue onto this platform.  They uncrated it and then wrapped it up in what looked like 100 boxes of Saran wrap.  Once secured, the crane lifted the platform up to the window.  The crew slid it into the building on rails with the help of some fancy lifts/jacks.
The exhibit is really tightly guarded (understandably so, with the priceless Egyptian artifacts carefully excavated and conserved lying around…) so I didn’t get to see them winch the statues upright.  I do know they had to reinforce the floor under them, I’m still a little nervous to go in the gallery below!

Heading for the window

It kind of looked like this guy was pushing it in single-handed

I hope Cleopatra helps me travel back in time to the sands of the Saharan desert and the banks of the Nile where this mysterious woman ruled.  Stay tuned!

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First of all, totally unrelated to this post, I would like to say how excited I was early this morning to find that the blog had already received 53 views today!  Hello to the world, and thanks for stopping by.

Ms. Ferrandi's studio at Fleisher

Patrick and I occasionally take art classes at the Fleisher Art Memorial, an extension of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  It’s a groovy little community-oriented place with great free or cheap classes.  Fleisher recently hosted Brooklyn-based artist George Ferrandi (a woman, by the way), whose residency at the Memorial culminated in a “night parade” on April 24, 2010.  We rode over after dinner at Silk City.

Happy lantern people

The exhibit/performance piece/narrative follows the fictional story of an elderly woman named Huberta.  As she becomes more forgetful and her husband of many years more frail, they are separated in the interest of their care—she to live with their daughter in Florida and he to live with their son in Maine.  Huberta’s husband whispers to her as they and their belongings are packed up not to be afraid but to remember that “wherever there is water, I will be with you.”

A duckie choir

Several months later Huberta, not entirely sure where she is going or why, shuffles off in the night.  She winds her way northward, following various bodies of water along the way.  She passes through Richmond, Baltimore and eventually makes it to Philadelphia.  This parade is a welcoming to her—it tells her story though sculptures, song and dance.  Find the full story here.

I think this is a really amazing piece of community-based artwork.  Ms. Ferrandi got Fleisher students involved, encouraged neighbors to participate, and seemed to welcome anyone with a creative and open-minded spirit to march in the parade. 

Huberta statue (10' tall!)

Sometimes I need to see things like this to help me remember that childlike whimsy shouldn’t be discarded.  I saw babies and adults equally transfixed by the “floating” paper lanterns.  Creativity and imagination can bring us together—the website says 250 people marched in this parade!  Viva la arte!  (Is that real Spanish?…)


I didn’t have my camera with me so these pictures are stills from a really crappy video I took.

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