Branching Out Opens Tomorrow

Salem Willows at Sunset, September 2014.  Photo by Meg Winikates

Salem Willows at Sunset, September 2014. Photo by Meg Winikates

The Art & Nature Center’s new show, Branching Out: Trees as Art opens tomorrow, and it’s going to be a fun day of tagua nut scrimshaw, bonsai demonstration, maple syrup and chocolate tasting, storytelling and musical performances, and more.  Learn how to engage in active meditation with a tree, hear participating artists discuss their work, or create your own visual art with data taken from the bioelectric energy of a potted plant in the Maker Lounge!  Programs run 10:30-4.  If you’re in the eastern MA/near NH area tomorrow, come say hi!

Finding the Fun: Three guides for a new school year

Fall is here (yikes! Where did summer go, anyway?) which means that even though I’m not *literally* going back to school, I still get that happy feeling about September and bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils.

Click image for photo source

Click image for photo source

For those of us who are looking for that fresh burst of inspiration and wonder that a new school year always meant, here are three great books to find the fun in your everyday, in and out of a formal learning environment!

Art is Every Day by Eileen Prince

Subtitled “Activities for the Home, Park, Museum, and City,” this book caught my eye in the bookstore immediately.  Though it is of course full of fun art-making ideas and some great examples in full-color, the most helpful parts of the book are the substantive suggestions to parents and educators about how to talk with kids about art in general and kids’ own art in particular.

Made to Play by Joel Henriques

Everyone needs a book on how to make toys, right?  The projects in this book use everyday and easily recycled materials, require a minimum of crafting know-how (some light sewing and woodworking required), and leave a lot open to the imagination of the maker for how the final product looks.  I’m seriously considering a number of the projects for possible use with my Story Trails programs.

How to Be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith

Probably better known for her “Wreck this Journal” series, Keri Smith delivers on ways to be a more observant, curious collector of experience with her “portable life museum,” inviting you to doodle with coffee stains, photograph interesting typography, record overheard bits of conversation, and make lists of 10 things you notice in a particular space, be it familiar or entirely new.  This is another great resource for journaling prompts for kids or just to revel in your own reflective, creative practice.

What books or resources get you excited for a fresh new school year?

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!

Museuming in the Maritimes

The author on the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton, NS

The author on the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton, NS

“Look at that sea, girls–all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen. We couldn’t enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds.”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Mine is a traveling family.  As often as I say I grew up in museums, so too did I grow up in national parks, historic houses, cathedrals, theaters, and the luggage-piled backseat-turned-X-wing of whatever the family car was at the time.

These days, travel for me is often a busman’s holiday–I still go to museums for fun, but end up thinking about more than merely the exhibits’ contents.  (Ask me about an exhibit while I’m still in it and I’m as likely to talk about label copy, lighting design and interpretive choices as ‘gee, what a cool patent model’ or ‘I never knew that about tapestry cartoons.’)

This summer’s trip was two weeks in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick.  Compared to a trip to Florence or Washington DC, this trip was a lot more about natural beauty (scads of it!) and appreciating quieter, more localized traditions of artisans, architecture, and histories than Smithsonians and Uffizis.  That said, there were still a number of great (and small!) museum moments to share.

 Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Halifax, NS

I am one of the happiest versions of myself when on boats, so an afternoon in the Halifax Maritime Museum put plenty of wind in my proverbial sails.  The museum is ambitious, covering many aspects of humanity’s connections and fascinations with the water, spanning many periods and significant points in history, including remarkably heartbreaking and well-done coverage of the Halifax explosion and the Titanic rescue and recovery attempts.  They made a lot of consistent and interesting interpretive choices in those two exhibits in particular, placing the focus less on finding out  who was to blame, and more on the human reaction to the tragedy: rescue, recovery, rebuilding.

Other galleries have clearly not been updated in a while.  For instance, the Age of Sail gallery (a favorite era of mine) still featured a lot of mismatched typewritten labels, which admittedly had a charm of their own when paired with some of the hilarious products of an early tourist society (see below).

Sailors' valentines, guano bottle art, and a coconut shell decorative dish at the Maritime Museum, Halifax. Photo by the author.

Sailors’ valentines, guano bottle art, and a coconut shell decorative dish at the Maritime Museum, Halifax. Photo by the author.

Much as I enjoyed picking out my dream sailboat in the small sailcraft hall, or running my fingers over steel bolts like the ones used to connect Titanic’s hull-plates, and especially checking out the extensive and alarming exhibit of the many hundred shipwrecks that have taken place around Nova Scotia in recorded history, there were a few other museum moments on this trip that also deserve some attention.

Joggins Fossil Center and Cliffs, NS

In front of the Fossil Center, in the fog

In front of the Fossil Center, in the fog

This small (but very green-engineering) center packs a lot into its one exhibit hall.  It’s fairly text-heavy in some places, but the timeline, dioramas of the area at different times in its geologic past, and magnifier to examine the ‘fossil of the day’ are all well worth it, if you can even be bothered to spare some wonder after climbing down the cliff to check out the fossils themselves lying on the beach and embedded in the cliffside.  We were there just after the super-moon, when a new section of prehistoric tree trunk had just been uncovered by the unusually high tide, making us ‘practically the first people to see it in 300 million years!’ (Okay, so the tour guide was actually really instrumental in making this an awesome experience, and I’m a very jaded former tour guide myself!)

joggins2

300 million year old fossils on the beach at Joggins. Photo by the author.

Citadel, Parks Canada, Halifax NS

We saw a *lot* of Parks Canada sites on this trip, and though there was an awful lot of the Halifax Citadel that seemed familiar (Castle Island in Boston, anyone?) the living history approach here was great.  Even after seeing a stadium full of bagpipers earlier in the week at the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo, watching these reenactors drill and hearing them play really made a difference in experiencing the fort.  At AAM this year there was a discussion at the “Real or Fake? Who Cares?” session about reenactors–but I am firmly in the camp of the pro-theatrics.  Seeing those bayonet drills made my quads hurt in sympathy in a way just hearing about it never would have.

citadel1

Bayonet drills at the Halifax citadel. Photo by the author.

Louisbourg Fort, Louisbourg, NS

Speaking of living history, there’s nothing like chowing down on French toast in a jam-packed tavern in 98 degree heat with only a gigantic pewter spoon as an implement, wearing half a table cloth for a napkin tied around your neck.

Rubbing elbows with the lower class tavern patrons for lunch in Louisbourg.

Rubbing elbows with the lower class tavern patrons for lunch in Louisbourg.

Heat exhaustion made me wish for a little less of the historical accuracy, but this summer was the 300th anniversary of the founding of the fort at Louisbourg, and there was a lot of awesome stuff going on while we were there, including an archaeology fair.  Parks Canada staff were on hand to talk about the marine archaeology in the harbor and were also actually doing a dig out on one of the further reaches of the point.  I also got to participate in a historic dance demonstration, which was also fun and would have been even better in air conditioning.

Alexander Graham Bell Museum, Parks Canada, Baddeck, NS

Even as someone who has worked in two different science museums, I hadn’t expected to have as much fun at the Alexander Graham Bell museum as I did.  I clued in a little when I discovered they had kites available in the lobby to go fly on the front lawn overlooking the lake (so beautiful!), and they had a (sadly deserted at the time) fairly well designed kids’ games and experimentation area right up front as well.

Kites in the Alexander Graham Bell museum in Baddeck, NS.  Photo by author.

Kites in the Alexander Graham Bell museum in Baddeck, NS. Photo by author.

I expected to hear the same info about the invention of the telephone that one gets in elementary school, but it turns out there was a lot more to the man, and also to his rather impressive wife and their circle of brainy, crazy, flight-mad friends.  Of particularly impressive impact in the lower exhibit hall were pieces of the original HD-4 record-setting hydrofoil boat, and also the full-size reconstruction.  This was also a site that, much like the Maritime Museum in Halifax, used film very well.

Reconstruction of the HD-4 hydrofoil craft.

Reconstruction of the HD-4 hydrofoil craft.

Green Gables, Parks Canada, Cavendish, PEI (and neighboring MacNeill Homestead and Silver Bush Museum)

Green Gables Heritage Place, the family farm that inspired Montgomery.

Green Gables Heritage Place, the family farm that inspired Montgomery.

Younger me felt a certain connection with Miss Anne Shirley of Green Gables, and current me enjoyed a day in ‘Anne Country’ thoroughly–though this time it was Lucy Maud Montgomery who felt like the kindred spirit.  Parks Canada has an interesting line to walk between presenting the truth of the history of the area and of LMM’s life with the expectations of legions of fans who are hoping to see as much Anne as Maud in the places described.  They do this quite cleverly by presenting within the house historically accurate furnishings, etc, and then layering in details recognizable to readers: in one room, for instance, there hangs a brown puffed-sleeve dress and a thoroughly cracked slate is casually tucked in a corner.  Out on the grounds, Anne’s names for places reign supreme (“The Haunted Wood” and “Lover’s Lane,”) but along the paths there are plaques of Montgomery’s personal reactions to these places, a trend which spills over to the nearby MacNeill homestead (where LMM grew up with her grandparents), and at Silver Bush, another family home and inspiration to Montgomery further down the road.

"Anne's Room" at Green Gables, complete with physical details from the first book's plot. Photo by the author.

“Anne’s Room” at Green Gables, complete with physical details from the first book’s plot. Photo by the author.

Quote from Lucy Maud Montgomery at the MacNeill Homestead in Cavendish. Photo by the author.

Quote from Lucy Maud Montgomery at the MacNeill Homestead in Cavendish. Photo by the author.

I could keep going, but I’d be likely to drop into rhapsodizing about being within feet of a pod of 20 pilot whales off the coast of Cape Breton, or being head-to-toe silty after a rapids ride thanks to the tidal bore on the Shubenacadie River, or even being driven to tears on back-to-back nights at the productions of Anne of Green Gables: The Musical and Evangeline: The Musical in Charlottetown.   Suffice to say that indoors, outdoors, in museums, and in the wild places, I found a lot of inspiration in the Canadian Maritime Provinces, and I’ll definitely be going back.

Did you come across any interesting interpretive choices in a museum trip this summer?  I’m always looking for new additions to the travel list, so let me know!

Ideabox: Sand

Pinterest is a remarkable tool.  I use it to collect ideas for blog posts, artworks for possible  exhibition topics, creative and professional inspiration, and cute and geeky things that make me smile.  It also, however, has made me really think about the way I do Ideabox posts, since it is so easy to type ‘playdough’ into the search box of Pinterest and find 90 recipes for everything from scented to sparkling to glow in the dark doughs. (See my Ideabox: Dough post for some of my past favorites.)

pinterest_meSo what makes the Ideabox different from losing a few hours to pictures of smoothies and babies in Ewok costumes on Pinterest?  Why keep doing it?  I’ve decided the answer is context and connection, which is still at the heart of why I write here.

And so (because it’s summer and the beach is calling to us all) I present:

ideabox sand

A Grand View of Sand (Geography & Travel)

Sand collected from a series of travels as a slowly evolving souvenir. Found on Pinterest

Sand collected from a series of travels as a slowly evolving souvenir. Found on Pinterest

I currently live on Massachusetts’ North Shore, which has an awful lot of pebbled beaches just waiting to churn underfoot and dump you on your rear when you’re carrying 50 pounds of dive gear.

Pebbles on a Martha's Vineyard beach, photo links to source

Pebbles on a Martha’s Vineyard beach, photo links to source

But even here in Massachusetts there’s a lot of variety, such as the purplish sands of Plum Island, or the soft white dunes of Provincetown.

provincetown ma sand

Provincetown, photo from Lonely Planet (photo links to source)

Sand from Plum Island, Rowley, Massachusettes Magnification 250x

Sand from Plum Island, Rowley, Massachusettes Magnification 250x, by Dr. Gary Greenberg, photo links to source

And of course, lots of other places are known for their colored sands: black, pink, etc.  I can imagine a lot of great geography assignments featuring sand samples and postcards with writing prompts from different places, discussing the plants and animals found nearby, what makes for a good travel destination (or not!) and why, and all of it tying back to our next topic, the geology of the area involved.

A Granule of Sand (Geology & Scale)

Magnified sand is one of my favorite things to look at through a microscope or as a piece of science/art photography.  Dr. Gary Greenberg has a number of beautiful images here, and I have also seen amazing posters of magnified sand from around the world, though sadly I haven’t found any recently.  I can, however, imagine creating a set of sand cards in the classroom to look at through magnifying lenses or a good microscope.  This would be a great introduction to a study of scale, an opportunity to do magnified drawing practice, a way to further explore the process of erosion, or even a fun comparison with a similar study of snowflakes.

Maui Pieces #2 by Dr. Gary Greenberg, photo links to source

Maui Pieces #2 by Dr. Gary Greenberg, photo links to source

Aggravations of Sand (Architecture, Engineering, Etc.)

Anyone who’s tried to walk on soft, shifting sand knows how aggravating it can be–slippery as snow and with three times the abrasive power, unless you skim the surface like a sidewinder.

So beyond the uses of sandblasting in architecture, how else can you explore sand from an engineering point of view?

Design Challenges: Build a better beach wheelchair or other adaptive device.  (Sand skis? Apparently these are a thing, but it just looks like an invitation to the world’s worst rug burn to me…)

A beach wheelchair

A beach wheelchair

Explore the effects of sandy ground in an earthquake with a shake-table, tray of sand, and Lincoln Log towers.

Test the efficacy of various kinds of interventions to prevent erosion (breakwaters, jetties, dunes and beach plantings, etc.)

Aggregations of Sand (Art & More)

Second Fig by Edna St.Vincent Millay Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand: Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand.

Second Fig
by Edna St.Vincent Millay
Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand.

Lots of places have sand castle and sand sculpture festivals (above image from wikimedia commons), but here are a few artists I enjoy, some of whom I’ve come across in working on a proposal for a Dirt themed exhibition.

Sand circles drawn by Jim Denevan

Sand circles drawn by Jim Denevan

Sea Dreams by Leonardo Ugolini

Sea Dreams by Leonardo Ugolini

Not actually sand- colored guano bottle art found at the Halifax Maritime Museum in Nova Scotia this summer. Check back later for a 'museum highlights' post from my recent travels!

Not actually sand- colored guano bottle art found at the Halifax Maritime Museum in Nova Scotia this summer. Check back later for a ‘museum highlights’ post from my recent travels!

How else do you suggest exploring sand?  Any good stories, songs, or non-fiction to recommend?

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

Poetry and Puddles

"Poetry" by Alphonse Mucha

Happy National Poetry Month, all!  April is always one of my favorite months, not only because it rescues New England from the bitter drear that is March, but because there are suddenly people talking about poetry all over.  Here’s a collection of some of my classic links and a few new fun opportunities:

Reading Poetry

30 Poets, 30 Days Blogger and author Gregory K. features a new poem a day by well-known poets on his kids’ literature blog, Gotta Book!  Always a fascinating read.

Famous Poets in 140 Characters The New York Times asks 4 poets to write poems that would fit in a tweet.

Writing Poetry

Your Ode to the Big Blue run by the Smithsonian in connection with their Ocean Hall.  Submit an ocean-inspired poem at the link or on their facebook page.  Selected poems will be posted on the Smithsonian blog at the end of the month.

Poem a Day Challenge run by Robert Brewer, a poet and blogger for Writer’s Digest.  Fun, challenging, eyebrow-raising, and entertaining, he’s posting  a poem writing prompt every day this month.

Upcoming Poetry Events

Massachusetts Poetry Festival, May 13-14

Poetry Events by State at Poets.org

A Bit of Inspiration

from the series "Pavement Trees" by Ingrid Nelson

See the world from upside-downish!  Check out these beautiful photographs of puddle reflections by photographer Ingrid Nelson.

in Just-
spring       when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman 

whistles       far       and wee 

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
spring 

when the world is puddle-wonderful 

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far       and       wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing 

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and 

it’s
spring
and
the 

goat-footed 

balloonMan       whistles
far
and
wee 

e.e. cummings