“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.

Guess Who?

In the years I have worked in the ANC, I have had a lot of people tell me about their favorite pieces of the center—the Build A Bird interactive, the Wrenchophone, the harbor seal that hung out in the mammals case during Eye Spy.  I’ve also harbored a few secret favorites of my own, like the trio of eastern screech owls peering beadily from their crooked branch, or the scrimshaw piece that depicts Ben Franklin.  (Why would you make a scrimshaw portrait of Ben Franklin? These are the stories I want to know!)

Eastern Screech Owls, with an artist intervention during Eye Spy

Eastern Screech Owls, with an artist intervention during Eye Spy

In that time, however, the other ANC staff and I have also heard a lot about things people have loved in the past, and things they wish we could bring back, or do more of, or explore in a different way.  We’ve kept track, and considered all those assorted ideas and favorites in addition to the prototyping and surveying that I mentioned in my last post.  We then worked all of that into our plans for the re-envisioning of the Art & Nature Center’s ongoing exhibition.  Over the last year we’ve been mixing and matching, adding and rearranging, inventing and tweaking, until we were all really happy with the new plans.

Toucan origami folded by Michael LaFosse

Toucan origami folded by Michael LaFosse

So now, the checklist is set, the floor plans are shaping up, and the artworks are rattling their boxes, eager to leap onto walls and into drawers to be seen and admired by all.

(Okay, so that last part is a little bit of an exaggeration, but only because I can’t prove it’s true.)  In that spirit, here are three sneak peeks at some new wonders to see when the ANC opens in October. 

Take a good look, and make a guess in the comments below.  Do you recognize any materials?  Shapes?  Artistic techniques?  (Go wild, and I’ll post the answers in a few days.)

Mystery Object 1:

bc cropped

Mystery Object 2:

cwq cropped

Mystery Object 3:

pme cropped

Getting Connected

Earlier this month, PEM launched Connected, a museum-wide blog with frequent updates from staff in all kinds of roles.  My inaugural post discusses prototyping, with a few brief peeks at the kinds of work we’ve been doing with visitors as we redesign the ANC for its grand reopening on October 19.  Check it out here: “Kid tested, guest approved.”

Right now we’re prototyping an interactive for Beyond Human, so I’m curious:

Bees direct other members of their hives to flowers using a ‘waggle dance’ that indicates direction and (to some extent) distance from the hive. 

ImageIf you were given the opportunity to mimic this ‘waggle dance’ movement through a full-body game invitation in the gallery, would you do it?  Why or why not? 


Happy Trails: A Year of Stories and Art

Once a month, I lead Story Trails, a program for families on Sunday afternoons that’s targeted for kids ages 5-8 with their accompanying adults.  We look closely at an artwork in one of the exhibits, read an associated story, and then head for a studio space (or other safe art-making zone) and create something inspired by the artwork, the story’s theme, the illustration style, or the associated science/history/literature component.  (Remember how my middle name is ‘interdisciplinary?’) Along with whatever their creation is, participants (including adults, because grown ups get to play too) take home a set of other recommended books, interesting web links, and an activity to try at home.  Sometimes we also have special guest speakers, generally local authors and illustrators, with the occasional bee-keeper or lobster fisherman.

It’s a lot of fun, it’s a lot of work, and it’s one of my favorite programs, so I thought I would share the books and art activities that I loved most from this year.

January: The Spiral Connection
Book: Blockhead, the Life of Fibonacci by Joseph D’Agnese
Exhibition Connection: Ripple Effect, the Art of H2O
Art Making: Wall hangings with Fibonacci prints – we used flowers (both silk and cut flowers will do, flatter ones like sunflowers and daisies are better), pinecones, and seashells with fabric paint on plain white bandanas (available at most craft stores), to make printed patterns that feature examples of the Fibonacci sequence in nature, and then added extra decorations with fabric markers, and hung the bandanas on dowels to create easy-to-hang fabric art for your wall.
January Story Trails handout-small

I love the 'turning page' look that our creative services team designed to differentiate Story Trails programming from other museum events.

I love the ‘turning page’ look that our creative services team designed to differentiate Story Trails programming from other museum events.

February: Read the Stars
Book: How the Stars Fell into the Sky by Jerrie Oughton (retelling of a Navajo Coyote story, which is traditionally only told in the winter months)
Exhibition Connection: Shapeshifting: Transformations in Native American Art
Art Making: Constellation Light Boxes – We talked about creation stories and specifically constellation stories, and then used awls and sharpened dowels to punch holes in shoe boxes to create our own (or recreate known) constellation patterns.  We then added a hole in whatever side of the box was opposite the constellation pattern to either a) hold up to our eye and then up to the light to see the stars ‘shine’ or b) put a bright flashlight into and project the star pattern into a darkened room.
February Story Trails handout

March: Cloud Factory and Guest Appearance by Illustrator Katy Bratun
BookSector 7 by David Weisner
Exhibition Connection: the concept of storyboarding in art, as exemplified by a series of paintings of a battle in the Maritime Art collection
Art Making: Katy Bratun led a story-boarding workshop in which kids drew a series of 4-8 panels of a story on the theme of taking a journey, and bound them into a simple book using card stock and yarn.  This was a great literacy-skills support program and kids were very, very excited to share their stories with a real author/illustrator.
March Story Trails handout

April: Weslandia
Book: Weslandia by Paul Fleischman
Exhibition Connection: Earth Day, and an incredibly cool bit of textile art on view in Perfect Imbalance: Exploring Chinese Aesthetics that featured pumpkins, ears of corn, and tomatoes as exotic fruits
Art Making: Butterfly Seed Mats — We used burlap, white glue, and butterfly seed mix to create biodegradable bits of art that you could plant in a corner of your garden and grow wildflowers to attract butterflies.  Simple but incredibly effective.  This book happened to be requested in the previous year’s visitor survey, and happily was already on my list for potential programming.
April Story Trails handout copy

May: Sing a Song for Mothers and Family!
Book: Anna Hibiscus’ Song by Atinuke
Exhibition Connection: Mother’s Day, and inspired by both the African Art collection and PEM’s ceramics collection
Art Making: Good Cheer Jars – We mod-podged tissue paper and other bits of recycled paper onto glass jars to create good cheer jars.  A good cheer jar can work any of several ways: a) a semi-voluntary fine paid when one is in a bad mood, the proceeds from which are then used to do something cheery for the family like a trip out for ice cream, b) a collection of slips of paper on which you write things that make you happy and pull one out to read when you need cheering up, c) a mandatory fine for using the household’s forbidden words like ‘I’m bored.’
May Story Trails handout copy

sand serpent

My Sea-Monster sand painting, which is still on display over my desk.

June: Beneath the Deep Blue Sea
Book: The Serpent Came to Gloucester by M.T. Anderson
Exhibition Connection: Local history and the Maritime Art collection
Art Making: Sea-Monster Sand Paintings — Using pre-cut mattes, construction paper, white liquid glue, sand, pebbles, and small sea shells and bits of sea glass, we created maritime-inspired natural collages.  Some of them got very, very intricate, particularly those who decided to make mosaics of sea glass.  This was one of my personal favorite art activities, and many of the adults who were at the program participated with gusto.
June Story Trails handout

Illustration from The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton

Illustration from The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton

July: What a Bright Idea!
Book: The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton
Exhibition Connection: Contemporary art in the Japanese Art collection
Art Making: Day-Glo (and Glow-in-the-Dark) Paintings — Using black construction paper, day-glo poster paint, and some very cool glow-in-the-dark paint, we created scenes that looked awesome in general and even better under the light of our interactive black light box.  We also had samples of varying materials that kids could test to see whether or not they would react with the black light and start to glow, including beads, assorted fabrics, gelatinous substances (in safe containers), and assorted paper products.  This was one of the year’s most popular programs.
July Story Trails handout copy

August: What Does the Clay Say?
Book: Dave the Potter, Artist, Poet, Slave by Bryan Collier and Laban Carrick Hill
Exhibition Connection: Ceramics in the American Art collection
Art Making: Experimenting with Clay – Though the idea was to start with pinch pots and some coil-building, clay programs always take on a life of their own.  Some people made pots, others branched out into sculpture and beyond.  Everyone had a fabulous time, including some adults who had missed the story and had no kids, but wanted to come work with clay anyway.
August Story Trails handout copy

September: Hats Off To You!
Book: Miss Hunnicutt’s Hat by Jeff Brumbeau
Exhibition Connection: Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones
Art Making: Decorate a hatbox – We used 12″ cake boxes from ULine, which fold into very decent sized hatboxes and are easy to decorate with colored pencil, stickers, collaged recycled material, and crayon.
Sept Story Trails handout copy

October: Canine Crusader
Book: Dex – The Heart of a Hero by Caralyn Buehner (alternate title Superdog)
Exhibition Connection: Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones and the Caps, Capes, and Characters weekend festival (organized by me)
Art Making: Superhero capes with interchangeable emblems – We used SmartFab and craft foam with adhesive velcro dots to create capes (I cut each cape to length to suit children individually), and discussed designing emblems that suited their personalities for their superhero alter egos.  The velcro made it possible to rearrange or replace emblems later.
Oct Story Trails handout copy

Detail from the Pastrana tapestries

Detail from the Pastrana tapestries

November: Oh What a Knight!
Book: The Knight and the Dragon by Tomie dePaola and The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke
Exhibition Connection: The Invention of Glory: Alfonso V and the Pastrana Tapestries and the Weaving Tales of Glory weekend festival (also organized by me)
Art Making: Tournament pennants — More SmartFab and back to fabric paint — we created jousting pennants inspired by the fabulous examples in the Pastrana Tapestries and the illustrations in both books.
Nov Story Trails handout copy

December: A Patient Brush
Book: Twenty Heartbeats by Dennis Haseley
Exhibition Connection: Perfect Imbalance: Exploring Chinese Aesthetics
Art Making: Chinese brush painting – We used rice paper (available at ACMoore or less expensively from Dick Blick), Chinese calligraphy brushes, and red and black watercolor paint, with examples from ‘how to’ books on traditional brush painting style.
Dec Story Trails handout copy

Found Poetry in Altered Books

"Iron Woman" steampunk print by Karen Hallion

“Iron Woman” steampunk print by Karen Hallion

As a librarian’s daughter, an avid reader, and an English major, I am always attracted to wordy art projects, and I often find artworks made out of recycled print absolutely beautiful while simultaneously wincing over the fact that one must deface books to create them.  After all, books are meant to be read, and what are they when they are no longer readable?

Poe's Short Stories, altered book art by Susan Hoerth

Poe’s Short Stories, altered book art by Susan Hoerth


Paper roses made from book pages by Twigg Studios

For some artworks like the roses above, one could easily substitute with magazine pages or old maps (about which I feel decidedly less squeamish), and for others newspaper will also work.

However, I have finally lit upon a type of altered book artwork that bothers me less than others, because while it still alters the original intent, the book still gets ‘read’ in a new fashion.

Found Poetry in Altered Book Pages

As with the roses, this is an activity that can be done using other forms of the printed word (newspapers, magazines) and can also be done without altering the original text at all (words captured and written down in a new form from museum object labels, etc.)  However, it combines both poetry and the visual arts in a way that is perfect for the programming that we do at PEM for the Massachusetts Poetry Festival.  (Guess what’s going in this year’s program?)

The image I saw on Pinterest that started it all: A Batman poem out of some other detective/adventure story

The image I saw on Pinterest that started it all: A Batman poem out of some other detective/adventure story

How does Illustrated Found Poetry work?

  • Pick a piece of text with a decent amount of wording to it.
  • Read through it for the sounds of the words and not necessarily the narrative or the original author’s intent.
  • Find a theme to the words that inspires you.  Use as many or as few as you like: cherry pick a word here, a phrase there, etc.
  • The one limit to working on the original sheet is that you cannot rearrange the words to your own liking–the poem flows in the same direction as the original text did.
  • Pencil boxes around the words you want.
  • Pencil in any illustrations (doodles, sketches, details) that help to give your new poem mood, shape, or further depth.
  • Use marker to darken the boxes around your poem and color in the details of your illustration.  You may want to use highlighter within the boxes for your poem to help pick it out of the illustration, depending on how much color there already is in your drawing.
  • Use black marker to cross out any words left that are not part of your poem or are already obscured by your illustration.
"Leaving Town" by Meg Winikates, originally from a page of The Walk West by Peter and Barbara Jenkins

“Leaving Town” by Meg Winikates, originally from a page of The Walk West by Peter and Barbara Jenkins, click to read in full-size

The plan is to have a bunch of genres of books available from which to select pages: sci-fi, mystery, classics, memoirs, maybe even some more technical books.  Hopefully this will show people that poetry can be found absolutely anywhere.  The 2013 festival will be held May 3-5 in numerous venues around Salem–I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes!

Links for images in this post: Karen Hallion’s Etsy Page
How to make Book Roses
Poe’s Castle Short Stories Altered Book
Batman Altered Book Poem Illustrated

In Search of Alternative Art Making Materials

Art making in the gallery, solution 1: interactive art cart with touchable materials, sketching, and ‘safe’ art-making alternatives like sumi-e water painting and scratch art

PEM is undergoing an exciting construction phase which means our art studios are currently out of commission, a grave sadness to those of us who are in love with messy art projects.  Many of the materials we’ve used in the past are on the “I seriously doubt it” list when talking about doing art activities in alternate spaces like galleries or the museum’s atrium.  Such materials include recycled make-up, a variety of paints (though the atrium space can take a few more of those than galleries obviously can), liquid glue, melted wax, silk screening, glitter anything, anything with sharp tools (for stamp cutting, some clay tools), and even most clay is on the iffy side.

So what to do?

Fortunately, I’ve been collecting fun ideas in preparation for this whimsical construction period, so here are a few I’m looking forward to trying out in the near future:

Multicolored translucent paper folding (click the inspiration image to go through to the artist’s site)

Kinetic Rubber Band Art (click the image to go to the directions)

Holepunch Art (click the image to go to the artist’s site)

Teaching Activist Art

A few weeks ago for PEM’s Arts Adventures Club, I got the opportunity to play ‘guest artist’ and lead an afternoon session focused on art with a message. I had the chance to work with several different sets of kids, and found that (unsurprisingly) it worked best with the oldest group, who ranged from 12-15. I used the following set of slides with all groups, just using slightly different language to carry the examples, and even in the group of younger kids, they turned out some fantastic works of their own.

The structure of the lesson started with a recap of the tour of public art and a reference back to the artist they’d been introduced to in the morning, and then a discussion of the motives behind activist art, using the slideshow and examples of works by Banksy and Shepard Fairey. Then we brainstormed possible topics for artworks of their own based on what interested or concerned them in their own lives: at school, at home, in their communities and in the wider world. Topics ranged from bullying and terrible school lunches to global warming and marriage equality. Next they sketched ideas and brainstormed words or quotes they wanted to include, recording it all in their art journals, and finally went on to create the finished product.

Educator shows group of students a sketchbook with a multimedia drawing/painting of a submerged city and overtaking sealife to express concerns about global warming.

Showing off the layered approach to creating a multi-media artwork

Inspired by the multi-layered prints and other works by Shepard Fairey, the camp coordinator and I decided to introduce the students to a few techniques to create a visually dense multimedia art piece.

Here are the steps we outlined for the kids, though we gave them the choice to depart from the steps as their own inspiration dictated.

1) Cover the page with a watercolor wash.

2) Add basic details in pencil.  Color as desired.

3) Create your own block print out of styrofoam or use the provided stamps to add depth, words, or repeated patterns.

4) Use mod-podge and a bone-folder to do newspaper transfer of print or simply collage black and white imagery to the top layer.

The final products were as varied as the kids that created them, and it was very fun to see them included in the “exhibition” the kids put on at the end of the week.