Recyclable Design Challenges

Charles Eames, Ray Eames. Molded Plywood Division, Evans Products Company (Venice, 1943-47). Elephant, 1945.

Charles Eames, Ray Eames. Molded Plywood Division, Evans Products Company (Venice, 1943-47). Elephant, 1945.

With the inspiration of California Design at PEM currently, not to mention the new Maker Lounge, we’ve been focusing on some fun design challenges with recycled materials that I thought I’d share.

Can packing peanuts be strong enough to make a bridge or a tree?

Can packing peanuts be strong enough to make a bridge or a tree?

Packing peanuts are the bane of many people’s existence.  Unless you’re into demonstrations of static electricity or have to ship breakable stuff nearly constantly, they’re a nuisance.

Unless they’re starch packing peanuts, in which case they’re awesome.

Check out what a damp sponge, a pile of starch packing peanuts, and a lot of imagination can do in the hands of some inventive visitors, challenged by our ANC staff:

starchy sculptures 1 starchy sculptures 2

We also had some guests this week from the Green Up initiative working with visitors on energy-efficient design challenges, looking at insulation and ‘energy vampires’ in the home:

green up energy vampires green up insulation challenge

And remember how it’s National Poetry Month and we’ve got the amazing Mass Poetry Festival coming up next weekend?  We’ll be making random poetry generators, invented by yours truly, in addition to our other raft of fun drop-in art making, artist demos, and workshops.

Nouns, adjectives, and verb phrases collaged onto plastic eggs: rotate to create inspiring phrases for poetry starters, and swap halves to create new possibilities!

Nouns, adjectives, and verb phrases collaged onto plastic eggs: rotate to create inspiring phrases for poetry starters, and swap halves to create new possibilities!

Poetry Constructions

Poetry works its way into many of my postsNational Poetry Month is one of my favorite times of year, and every year I find something new to get excited about.

This year it’s building blocks and poetry.  Not in the form of stanzas, rhyme schemes or metaphors, but creative ways to inspire, actual physical ways to randomize words, create sequences of ideas, and give poetry a visual heft that matches its presumptive mental and emotional ones.

Shape poems

ee cummings 'i carry your heart' as laid out in Festisite

ee cummings ‘i carry your heart’ as laid out in Festisite

I’m not a huge fan of concrete poetry in general, because I’m not always convinced by the whole form/function connection when it comes to text.  However, if you’re looking for a new way to *present* a poem and hand written calligraphy is not your top choice, you might want to try Festisite, which has a handful of pre-selected forms you can use to plunk any text into for a graphic twist, as I did with ee cummings’ ‘i carry your heart’ above.

Poetry pebbles 

Poetry Pebbles from Kitchen Counter Chronicles

Poetry Pebbles from Kitchen Counter Chronicles

Story stones of all sorts are fun, assembling petroglyph-like images and then inventing the connections between each concrete object depicted.  Over at Kitchen Counter Chronicles one family used pre-created stones as poetry starters while outside on a nature walk: I think with older kids it could be as much or more fun to collect stones and decorate them along the way, to help spur further writing once back indoors.

Book spine poetry

The Convivial Museum: Art is Every Day, Shapes & Sizes & more Surprises, The Intelligent Eye Made to Play!

A museum book spine poem, by me and my bookshelves

I love Nina Katchadourian’s Sorted Books Project, and so do the folks at the Association for Library Service to Children, who recommend this as a great way to get kids to explore a library during National Poetry Month.  Sign me up!

Haiku calculator

Haiku calculator by Eugene Parnell, sample text by me.

Haiku calculator by Eugene Parnell, sample text by me.

Eugene Parnell describes his “Wheel O Matic Haiku Calculator” as ‘pure cogs-n-wheels fun, a machine-age Nirvana of Modernist production-line assembly techniques applied to to the emerging meta-industry of cultural production.’  That’s a little wordy, but it is, in fact, a fun spin-the-wheel-get-a-random-poem-bit, and could be easily recreated in an analog version.  The digital version was a little buggy when I tried it–precreated wheels of poetry options didn’t seem to be loading, but you could create your own easily enough.

Word wheel templates here and here for kick-starting an analog version.

Assorted other National Poetry Month resources:
Lesson plans for K-12 on ReadWriteThink
Lesson plans, videos, and printables on Scholastic
NaPoWriMo (write a poem a day challenge)
Interdisciplinary resources for teachers and parents on Reading Rockets

Past National Poetry Month posts on Brain Popcorn:
2010: Popping with Poetry
2011: Poetry and Puddles
2012: It’s the Most Wordiful Time of the Year

Check back in a week or two for a sneak preview of May MA Poetry Fest activities at PEM, as well!

Nature in the Neighborhood

It’s still a little cold to get super excited about a long ramble in the woods, but I like to think ahead, and the teachers from the Salem State Pre-K program and I had a great time a few weeks ago looking at ways to incorporate art and nature study into their year long theme studying neighborhoods.

As a librarian’s daughter and former English teacher, I believe strongly in centering lessons around stories.  Great stories make great hooks to engage learners of all ages!

Fiction and nonfiction related to local MA history and natural history

Fiction and nonfiction related to local MA history and natural history

So we started the day with a read aloud of MT Anderson’s The Serpent Came to Gloucester, which I love, not only because it’s based on actual history, but because the illustrations and sea-chantey-esque text are captivating.  We then made sand paintings, with glue, sand, sea shells and sea glass (some courtesy of the local beaches, some thanks to Christmas Tree Shop).  People made some beautiful designs!  I only wish I had thought to have related music playing in the background while we worked.

Inspired by the Delft tile-styled end papers in The Serpent Came to Gloucester

Inspired by the Delft tile-styled end papers in The Serpent Came to Gloucester

Mixed media sea serpent!

Mixed media sea serpent!

Sand Castle inspired by The Serpent Came to Gloucester

Sand Castle inspired by The Serpent Came to Gloucester

Next we moved on to oral history techniques that are useful with pre-k and other young students.  Download the discussion notes here: Oral History Projects with Pre-K  As part of this activity, we also worked with Twisteez wire to make a representation of our favorite toy from childhood, and talked about 2D and 3D ways of working art into story telling and personal history.

Recreating a childhood memory in wire.

Recreating a childhood memory in wire.

Art & Nature Center director Janey Winchell made a guest appearance to talk about great ways to get young kids involved in and actively observing on a nature walk, complete with a suggested Nature Walk scavenger hunt.

School Programs manager Emily Scheinberg also led teachers on an investigation of Salem  history in PEM’s collections.

What clues to Salem's past does a fire bucket hold?

What clues to Salem’s past does a fire bucket hold?

Finally, we wrapped up the day with a pair of observation activities: examining and understanding beach erosion via milk and cookies, and creating ‘viewing frames’ to take on a walk through the neighborhood to encourage close looking, thinking about perspective, and even the basics of composition.  These two activities were inspired by Corinne Demas’ The Disappearing Island and Dr. Seuss’ To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street.

Download activity directions erosion and frames

What do you see on the street?  In the sky?  On the buildings as you pass by?

What do you see on the street? In the sky? On the buildings as you pass by?

Decorating frames with a few of our favorite things.

Decorating frames with a few of our favorite things.

Sandstone and conglomerate...aka ginger cookies and chocolate chip.  Which will stand up to milk's erosive force?

Sandstone and conglomerate…aka ginger cookies and chocolate chip. Which will stand up to milk’s erosive force?

The beach before the milky waves, representing several kinds of rock!

The beach before the milky waves, representing several kinds of rock!

Want more?  Other classroom activities, read alouds, resources etc available for download here: handouts 2014

“Sound Like An Animal” Music and Art for your Wild Ones

February school vacation week has the potential to be the bogey man of a museum programming calendar.  Attendance is seriously weather dependent, weather is seriously unpredictable, and in one week you can have a day with over 2,000 people one day and under 200 the next.  Fortunately, despite some habitually inconvenient New England weather, we had a great week of vacation programming inspired by Beyond Human and from here to ear (the one with the live finches and the electric guitars!)

In addition to great performances and presentations by Curious Creatures, The Loon Lady, Jackson Gillman, and Steve Lechner from The Science Works, we had a lot of fun with our drop-in activities inspired by animal sounds.  We made ‘sonar shakers,’ bull roarers, and bird calls, and people showed a lot of creativity in their decoration of particularly the last two!

Set up for making bird calls: we dispensed rosin from the staff supply table to prevent it from going in small mouths

Set up for making bird calls: we dispensed rosin from the staff supply table to prevent it from going in small mouths

Final bird calls hanging up to dry, ready for a nature walk

Final bird calls hanging up to dry, ready for a nature walk

Painted bullroarers.  Helpful tip: the shorter the string, the easier it is to make that great low buzzing noise!

Painted bullroarers. Helpful tip: the shorter the string, the easier it is to make that great low buzzing noise!

If you’re interested in the directions and background information from these activities, feel free to download the pdf with everything you need! Sounds Like an Animal Activity Directions

Six Word Mysteries

Thanks to the urban legend of Ernest Hemingway’s horrifically sad six word story (“For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”) the idea of the six word story has been bruited about as a writing exercise for authors of all levels of experience.

How might this play out in a museum setting?  Education programs often make use of ekphrastic writing prompts–poetry, found poetry, personal reflections, point of view exercises, etc.

What kind of six-word story comes to you when you look at this object?

Please add your stories in the comments below, the more the merrier!

M8862 M8862-front M8862-owl M8862-snake

What is it? A souvenir coconut, collected in Mexico prior to 1956.

The catalog information reads: “The object has intricate carvings of a bird, owl, rattlesnake, rabbit, lizard,  house, Indian head, and flowers and vines. The object overall is made to resemble a cat, with inlaid eyes and teeth. There is a little door in the side.”

Fuzzy and Ferocious

…and yes, I realize it’s October, but at least this time I’m not talking about Halloween costumes.

As you all know, the Art & Nature Center reopens next week, and late last week saw the return of a venerable member of PEM’s collection: an 1886 bison, fur freshly brushed, etc., ready to take center stage in his new installation.  Watching the install was fascinating, and I’ve gotten to write up details about this item’s history and his exciting new future on PEM’s blog here: A Fine Furry Welcome.

There are no pictures of the author standing in front of a live bison in Yellowstone NP, because, unlike many tourists, she values her life.  Photo by the author's family, Wyoming, 2006.

There are no pictures of the author standing in front of a live bison in Yellowstone NP, because, unlike many tourists, she values her life. Photo by the author’s family, Wyoming, 2006.

Bugs are his Paintbrushes

Steven Kutcher working on a piece made by applying watercolor paint to the feet of a darkling beetle, which he directs with his finger Original photo by Jonathan Alcorn for The Washington Post, courtesy of the artist

Steven Kutcher working on a piece made by applying watercolor paint to the feet of a darkling beetle, which he directs with his finger
Original photo by Jonathan Alcorn for The Washington Post, courtesy of the artist

Check out the results of my fun conversation with Beyond Human participating artist, Steven Kutcher over on PEM’s Connected blog: Painting with Bugs.