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I can’t believe how remiss I’ve been in my journal!  Nothing much exciting was going on and then I was sick for a week and did nothing but lay on the couch (and go to work, so stupid).  But last week I had the wonderful opportunity of attending the “Science of Art” conference hosted by the National Museum of American History in D.C.  The museum paid for my first night and then after the conference was over Patrick and I made a little holiday of it and stayed an extra day and a half. 

Washington Monument and swirly cloud by Patrick

The conference was actually really interesting and I always enjoy meeting colleagues from other museums.  I liked brainstorming with the other attendees and thinking of ways we can better the leaders of tomorrow.  I was also able to incorporate the enthusiasm for arts-based teaching I gained into a family workshop today at work– very cool!  I did a reprise of my fresco painting class, condensed to 45 minutes.  Everyone had a blast 🙂

Anyway, back to D.C.  Pat wandered around on his lonesome while I soaked up all the art and science goodness.  He took some fabulous photos and is now the house expert at the “shutter priority” setting on our camera.  I was especially impressed with some of his museum shots.

Dancing with the planes @ Air and Space

 

Black and white composition

 

Air and Space

After the conference ended we did a TON of sight-seeing.  One of my co-workers used to live in D.C. so she had a ton of insider tips for us (like how to get the Zoo without walking up the huge hill from the Metro- yessss!).  It was so good to be out of  Philly for a few days, to explore a new city together and to just relax.  I am also very excited that we stayed exactly on our pre-planned budget.  My favorite splurge was definitely our yummy lunch at some Mexican place by the Zoo.  Nothing like a pitcher of sangria to put you in “vacation” mode!

Not as awesome when you're on the bus for 4 hours after...

D.C. is a really interesting town.  We were both surprised by the lack of tall buildings (is there some kind of building code?), but it certainly made it easier to orient yourself to the Capitol!  They seem to have a pretty extensive bicycle lane infrastructure– here’s an example of a “bike boulevard”, so classy.

Bike commuter paradise

There are also racks of bikes all over the city that you can rent by the hour and then return to any other rack station in the city.  Seems like a pretty nifty idea and a good way to encourage people to leave their cars in the suburbs.  We did notice a lot of pedestrians using the bike lanes as their own personal extension of the sidewalk though, so I guess this system is still getting some kinks worked out.

Tidal basin Cherry Trees

We spotted an alarming number of bow ties, many potential undercover agents and the usual kinda crazy/kinda funny bums.  It’s really true, no matter where you go… people are pretty much the same! 

Very wise!

On Friday we trekked to the National Cathedral.  Very beautiful art, amazing stained glass and just a wonderful feeling of immensity.  But beyond that we agreed that it didn’t really feel like a hallowed space.  I wonder if it was the hoards of tourists or the fact that this space really does serve a non-religious purpose at times?  I’m interested to see how this experience compares to centuries-old churches we’ll visit in Europe.

My photographic juxtaposition of church/state

My favorite sculpture

Central nave

We took over 800 pictures yowser!  I can’t post them all here so I put a bunch on my flickr site click here.  I’ll leave you with a few of my favorites:

Panda butt

By Patrick

Botanic Garden

1600 Pennsylvania Ave

Fun trip!

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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:

Cobweb

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!

PROOF OF A GHOST!!!

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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Sweaty, happy and High Def

Oh yes, check out those beads of sweat.  Captured by our shiny new Canon Rebel T2i!  We were going to hold off until after our fall job (haunted house zombies) but we have the money saved now so we got it.  I LOVE IT SO MUCH.

Art Museum

Brancusi- "The Kiss" 1916

Lights from the collection

Fashion

I took our new toy to the PMA today.  I want to learn how to take photos well under low-light conditions with no flash (aka a museum setting).  I was pretty pleased with my results.  I tried it on some of the automatic settings but also played around with the manual modes as well.  I like that the camera is user-friendly and has the ability to be more advanced if you want.

So excited to take a bazillion more pictures!

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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!

 

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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