Saturday, August 11, 2012

Week 6

July 9th - July 13th

Monday began with my introduction to Jen and Natalie's Teacher Fellows Summer Institute (TFSI). The program will formally begin on Tuesday so the first day of the week gave Natalie and Jen the chance to practice and refine their gallery talk with an audience (Jen's assistant Clare and I). While Natalie led us through a looking and discussion exercise with Georgia O'Keeffe painting Red Hills with White Shell, Jen interjected to explain the kinds of choices Natalie was making as educator, such as when to give or withhold information, how to change the questions if the audience struggles to answer, and strategies for leading and pacing the conversation.

Georgia O'Keeffe. American 1887-1986. Red Hills with White Shell.
1938. Oil on canvas.  30 x 36 1/2 inches.

Natalie and Jen's program is really interesting. Essentially, they're developing a Learning Through Art program for a middle school audience (LTAs are currently planned for elementary). The pair wants this programs to focus on higher level thinking or what they're calling "habits of mind." These include themes like ambiguity, persistence, and determination. The purpose of the TFSI is to really begin to tie the work that Natalie and Jen have done so far to the curriculum that Texas teachers are required to teach (called TEKS). After the practice session, I helped Kendra by posing for some photos she'll need for the audio tour flyer (fancy!). Later in the day, the staff meeting was held, after which I asked Natalie for some feedback on what I've written on Tanner so far. She looked over my discussion of Tanner's paintings Pomp at the Zoo and A Mosque in Cairo.

Henry Ossawa Tanner. Pomp at the Zoo.
 c. 1880.  Oil on canvas.  20 x 16 inches.
Henry Ossawa Tanner. A Mosque in Cairo. 1897.
Oil on canvas. 9.5 x 13 inches.

Natalie's feedback was very helpful; she let me know what I ideas she thought I needed to expand and gave diction suggestions. She also mentioned that she thought that a lot of the classroom questions that go along with the painting examples, which I had borrowed from PAFA (with permission), aren't strong. Question writing is an area that I'm particularly unfamiliar with so, I hadn't felt equipped to be too critical of the PAFA. However, having watched a bit of gallery teaching by this point, I can definitely agree with Natalie's assessment. My next steps will be to rewrite the sections that Natalie commented on, get feedback for the rest of what I've written, and rewrite the questions. Natalie has also kindly suggested a few articles on question writing to help me out: Pat Villeneuve's Aesthetic Scanning and From Periphery to Center: Art Museum Education in the 21st Century.

Tuesday, I attended sections of the TFSI, notably Natalie's gallery talk and the curriculum connections session, in which the teachers began to brainstorm connections between "habits of mind" and specific curriculum content.Wednesday morning, the TFSI duo lead a group discussion on the topic: what makes a good question? Later in the day, the interns met with Curator of Photography, Anne Wilkes Tucker.

Tucker is one of the biggest names on the MFAH staff as well as within the field of photographic study. One of her biggest accomplishments has been to establish the MFAH's now extensive photography collection, building it up from the very little that the department possessed when she began here in 1976. Her production of exhibition catalogues and other texts on photography has also been prolific. Tucker was able to talk about her life and career, and a bit about WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY; then we had a Q&A session with her.

One thing that stood out to me was her process for both coming up with show themes and adding to the permanent collection. Both seemed to come out of a series of questions: Has someone done this?/Do we have this? Why not? How can we do it?/ How can we get it? It's part of a process that requires persistence, confidence, and a bit of nerve. Another interesting point was that much of being a curator is fundraising (which I think perhaps aspiring curators don't usually realize). A final aspect of the conversation that struck me was how little preciousness she seemed to assign to her work. Although she definitely expressed pride concerning her professional accomplishments, she also noted that no one can know what will survive the test of taste and time. The works and exhibitions that are currently revered may be forgotten tomorrow, just as the pieces that are dismissed today could later inspire awe. After our discussion with Tucker, we met with Del Zogg, Manager of the Works on Paper and Photography Collections, who told us a bit about himself and gave us a tour of the Works on Paper Study Center and storage (freezers and all). On a side note, Tucker recommends Errol Morris' article on the debate surrounding Roger Fenton's famous pair of photographs The Valley of the Shadow of Death, which will be featured in the W/P exhibition.

Thursday, I helped out a little with Family Programs. The activity was gallery sketching and scavenger hunts. This time, these activities took place in one of the temporary exhibitions, Modern and Contemporary Masterworks from Malba - Fundacion Contantini. With these activities, kids get the chance to study and draw from great works like Abaporu (The Man that Eats People) by Tarsila do Amaral and Frida Kahlo's Self Portrait with Monkey and Parrot.

Tarsila do Amaral, Abaporu, 1928,
Oil on canvas, Malba - Fundación Costantini,
Buenos Aires. © Tarsila do Amaral

Frida Kahlo, Autorretrato con chango y loro
 (Self-portrait with Monkey and Parrot),
1942, Oil on masonite, Malba - Fundación
Costantini, Buenos Aires. © 2012 Banco
de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums
 Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society
(ARS), New York

Despite the threat of a downpour on Friday, the interns headed off to tour Bayou Bend (BB). Originally the house and collection of Ima Hogg, daughter of a Texas governor, BB is the decorative arts wing of the MFAH and exclusively features American-made items (furniture, silver, paintings, etc.) from the early colonial times until the later half 1800s. The house is located in the wealthiest of Houston neighborhoods known as River Oaks and has extensive gardens and walking paths.

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