Sunday, May 31, 2015

Views from an Art Show

A couple of weeks ago, I subbed in my former art room, so that the art teacher could set up the annual art show in the gym.  In other words, this is NOT my students' work, though the older elementary and secondary students were once my former students.  It has been three years (wow, that went quickly) since I retired. I thought maybe you'd like to see what was on display, even though they are no longer my students - perhaps you may see a project that was inspired by something you've posted or seen on a blog somewhere!

Below, a kindergarten project:
I took these photos in the gym at the end of the day, when the art teachers (my elementary replacement and the high school art teacher too) had almost everything hanging.  All of today's photos are work from the elementary art room, grades K-6.
 Above, grade 2, below, grade 4 tooling foil
 I guess one group of 4th grade students was given the choice of an alternate project at some point, and 3 kids selected to do this black glue and acrylic on burlap painting, below.  I really was intrigued by the idea, since I like playing with paint on textured surfaces, so I'll have store the idea for future reference!
These scratchboard vases below are grade 6.
 Woven pouches by grade 5.  We've all made these, haven't we? 
 Grade 4 Mexican bark
 Sharpie bugs on foil by grade 2
 Grade 5 tooling foil designs
Weavings by grade 3
 Grade 2 value studies in geometric shapes
 The display label says this 3rd grade project in the 2 photos below was inspired by Klee, but every time I look at these colorful pieces, I think of Kandinsky! 
 Just like last year, I think my favorites in the art show were these clay looms.  I only used air dry clay with my students, especially since clay is not my expertise or favorite.  But my replacement uses the 'real thing' and then ships them down to the high school art teacher, one floor down at the opposite end of the building, to be fired.  I suppose I should feel guilty I never did this?  But I don't, since we always made large papier-mache projects!  Anyhow, this year, she gave the students the option of giving their looms a 3-dimensional twist, as with the photo at the very top of this post.
 Finally, on a previous visit subbing, she had asked me to start a 'toothpaste batik' project with her students.  Yippee!  I love doing this!  This time, I saw that the students had completed the painting portion of the project, and now have to wash out the resist.  I'm curious to see the finished products.  I discouraged the use of yellow and didn't allow any tints when I did this project with my students, since they seemed not to 'hold' as well when washed out.  But maybe she'll have better success.
Meanwhile, I left behind my sample demonstration piece for the current teacher to show the next steps.  This time I found it completely painted (thoug hmaybe not with the colors I would have chosen!  I probably would have chosen black, reds, violets, and blues) and had been washed.  Here is the finished quickie sample.  I guess it is now a collaborative piece! The muslin it is painted on is beige, rather than white.  I think the beige could be interesting for autumn landscapes, perhaps, though I think I prefer the bright colors on true white.  One shape has been re-traced with a Sharpie marker in this sample.
I also found in her room a sample that I had made a couple of years ago and had searched for with no luck.  I had taken my other sample pieces with me, but I guess I had left this one for her and forgotten!  Here it is, below.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Ugly Lamp - restoring a family heirloom, part 1

My grandfather, Harry Levine,was a Jewish Russian-born immigrant.  In his hometown of Vilna (then Russia, now Lithuania), he was trained as a woodcarver/furniture maker.  He came to NYC in his late teens, somewhere around 1912, plus or minus a couple of years.  (I've not yet been able to find him or my grandmother on any ship manifesto.)  In NYC, my grandfather studied at the Educational Arts Alliance, where his woodcarving skills became transformed into the talent of a sculptor.  I'm very proud that the wonderful Brooklyn Museum owns two pieces of his work.  They can be seen on permanent display in the Luce Center for Visible Storage in the museum.  I've written about him several times before on the blog, in particular here and here

Sadly, my grandfather died young, and my brothers and I never met him.  The legacy he left behind includes etchings, watercolors, carved busts, an intricately carved fiddle, and many wonderful pieces of furniture.  We each have pieces. For example, I have a beautiful hutch-cabinet, and a library-size table that I use as my dining room table, with carved lion heads on the ends.  One brother has the violin, another has a bust and an end table, and so on.  And then, there's the piece that nobody wanted, the ugly lamp...
The lamp has been the family joke for years.  We have no idea who spray-painted it gold, but it didn't help make it look better.  When our parents had both passed away, and we sorted out the remnants of their home, it was the one thing that nobody claimed.  One brother finally agreed to take it, and the lamp has been stored in his basement collecting dust for many years now. 

He and his wife recently bought a retirement home in Cape Cod, and have been cleaning out their former home and getting rid of stuff.  Periodically, a package will arrive in the mail.  Recently, the package included a lovely needlepoint that my mom had made.  It was rolled up, smelled like wood smoke, and was dirty.  I had it dry-cleaned, matted, and framed with glass, and this weekend we hung it on the wall at our Loon Lake cottage.  I remember my mom making this, and I know she'd be glad to know I have it safely now. 
Also in the package was... yup, you guessed it; the ugly lamp.  I agreed to take the lamp with the agreement that nobody would get upset with me for giving it some sort of funky renovation.  My plan is to make it whimsical and multicolored, possibly with colors like turquoise, yellow, and magenta, though that is just my current idea; I could change my mind tomorrow.  But I will not change what my grandfather carved.  In the base of the lamp there are three panels with engraved insignia.  The first panel has an intertwined H and an R, my grandmother Rae and grandfather Harry's first initials.
 The other panels have a Star of David (often called a Jewish Star) and a menorah.  Compared to my grandfather's usual intricate, detailed, sculptural carving, these crude engravings are rather odd.
The lamp, when I received it, was filthy from years of living in storage.    So I figured I'd start by scrubbing it off with some soapy water and a stiff brush.  And suddenly, I discovered there was other paint under the gold. 
 The more I scrubbed, and rinsed, the more of the gold paint came off, and the more red and black I discovered.  I think the red was painted over the black, though I'm not sure.
And then, as I continued scrubbing, the red and black paint (and some white that I presume is a primer) all started to come off too, exposing the bare wood underneath. 
 When I finally stopped scrubbing and rinsing today, this is how the lamp looked. 
 The paint almost completely came off the top of the  lamp, but not around the curves. 
Now that it's drying out, I'm trying to decide how to next proceed.  Can I just spray a coat of primer on the whole thing once it is dry?  Or now that so much paint  has come off, do I have to get off every stitch of the paint, that I wasn't originally planning to remove at all?  (I absolutely HATE doing paint removal.)  I have no idea what kind of paint is on the lamp.  If you, my readers, have done any  similar renovation/restoration projects, I'd love your advice on techniques and materials.  In the meantime, this is how the lamp looks as it is drying out. I'll be posting 'part 2' when the project is complete!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The hallway gallery; how it was created!

Tempera elephant, 18"x 24" - grade 1
I wrote about this butterfly project, on 12"x 18" paper, here and here.  The original inspiration for the project came from Art Project Girl.
 My tiny rural school district built a new K-12 school about 15 years ago.  Before then, we had been in three impractical old buildings in three towns, each several miles (and an exit on the highway) apart.  It was wonderful bringing the whole district together in one building.  When we moved in, I noticed a long stretch of hallway.  A main atrium leads from the front of the building to the doors to the central library.  Then, a long hallway stretches left to the elementary end of the building, and right to the secondary.  The hallway travels along the back of the auditorium and gymnasium, which means that one side of the hallway has no doorways, no windows; nothing.  On the other side of the hall, there's a couple of doors to the nurse's office, and again, a long stretch of unbroken wall. I thought it would be great to create a growing permanent gallery of student artwork along this otherwise drab hall. In this post, I'll tell you how I made that happen, and talk a little about the artwork in the gallery.
Andy Warhol tempera cat, 9"x 12" - grade 3
Tempera cityscape; color mixing exercise 14"x 16" - grade 4
 All photos in this post are from the elementary wing of this gallery.  (It took a few years before the high school art teacher decided to participate in this idea.)  Due to the narrowness of the hall, the height of the artwork, my (lack of) height, and poor lighting, the photos are not great quality.  There's reflections of the glass from the hall light, the color balance is often wacky, and because of my height, some of the pics were taken at an angle.  I was only able to get pictures of of about 2/3 the elementary artwork, and I did not get photos of the high school part of the gallery.  Currently, there are about 60 elementary pieces, and about 20 secondary works, including photography.  I tried to crop, edit, and color balance the photos to a point, but they are definitely not up to my usual photos standards.  But I think they will do for this post!  Anyhow, here's how the gallery came to exist, in case this is something you want to do in a neglected hallway in your school.
Oriental fan design with ink and Mod Podge - grade 6
 Above, 18"x 24" teddy bear paintings - grade 2.  Our 2nd grade takes an annual field trip crossing Lake Champlain on a ferry, to go to the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory.  We always built teddy bear chairs in grade 2, for their bears to relax in!  I have posted about making these teddy bear chairs, here and here

 In the beginning, acting in partnership with the PTSA, my students created artwork for the annual PTSA fundraiser.  The PTSA did all the paperwork and organization of the fundraiser; I was just responsible for having every student grades K-6 create a suitable work of art.  In return, the PTSA agreed to give me a sum of money each year, to subsidize having 3 pieces of student art professionally matted and framed. Meanwhile, I made the selection of student art from work that I saved throughout the year.  I saved about a dozen pieces, and then brought in a few other staff 'critics' to help make decisions about the selections.  This kept me from 'playing favorites'.  They did not see the student names when picking artwork.
Black glue and chalk pastels, 12"x 18", after Peter Max - grade 5
Marker 'shoescape' with contour line shoes, 18"x 24" - grade 5
 One basic rule: I would never select the same child's artwork twice.  All students whose work was selected for the gallery were given a letter to take home, asking permission for their artwork to be permanently installed in the gallery.  I gave each student a certificate, and also took a photo of each child with his/her artwork, and printed it and put it in a small frame for a keepsake gift.  After a couple of years, I began to be more thoughtful about the media for the pieces selected, being aware of fading.  In the beginning, I hung a beautiful construction paper mola, and a Picasso 'fractured face' with markers, and both have faded significantly.  A couple of lovely still life paintings in watercolor are also quite faded.  Tempera and acrylic seem to hold up well.  We generally select work that is colorful, since the hallway is rather lifeless otherwise.  Thus, you won't see subtle charcoal drawings here.  Also, if we were debating a final selection, then we would look at the names of artists represented, and try to select students that did not usually get recognition otherwise.  Several talented special education students have lovely pieces hanging on the gallery wall.
Patterned cat, oil pastels on tempera, 18"x 24"  - grade 5
Glue and pastel chalks on black paper, 12"x 18" - grade
 Over the years, I wanted to add more artwork each year, so I was frugal about how I used the money.  I bought a good mat cutter and started cutting all the mats myself.  For smaller mats, I could use mat board 'cutouts' given to me by my framer.  I think you will find that most framers will willingly donate mat board scraps to art teachers! 
Painted tissue paper collage, a la Eric Carle, 12"x 18" - grade 4
Sharpie on foil dragon - grade 3; read about how we did the project here. Original inspiration for the use of materials came from a post by Sharpie Woman, here.
 Then, suddenly, several years ago, after a dispute, the PTSA disbanded. (This should serve as a reminder to you all how quickly a disparaging remark made on Facebook will get back to the person being criticized.  That's what started the crumbling of an active PTSA.  Think before you post!)  I found myself without funding, couldn't legally hold a fund drive myself, and frankly didn't have the time to handle it all anyhow.  
 Above, two 18"x 24" "Jazz" paintings in tempera, with CD's - grade 2
Victorian architecture, enlarged detail; tempera, I believe 16"x 18", perhaps? - grade 3
 So I went to my lovely framer, who also framed work for a couple of other area art teachers.  As I said, she had always donated mat board scraps to me; now, she offered to donate some frames, too!  Often, someone will bring something to a framer already in a frame, that they want to replace.  The customer doesn't want the old frame back.  Maybe there's a nick in the wood, or the color is wrong, or the corner needs re-gluing.  The framer can't sell that old frame.  If you form a good relationship with a framer, this is a great way to find frames for student artwork.  Three years after I retired, there's still a box with a few frames left to be used, in my old classroom storage room.  The framer even gave me a couple of large frames that I was able to use for my personal artwork, with her permission!  I would order some large mat board from my annual budget, and use the mat board cutouts from the framer for smaller pieces.
Fauve elephant, tempera, with tissue collage frame, 16" x 20" - grade 3 (click here for details)
At this point, my selection process had to change a bit.  In the beginning, the framer made the frames to fit the artwork, always using the same frame style.  Now, I had frames in a variety of shapes, styles and materials, and I had to select artwork that would fit the frames I had available.  The gallery grew by as many as 6 or 7 pieces of art a year, and by this time, the high school teacher had gotten involved, and we worked together to prepare the work to hang.
 Above, 12"x 18" goldfish bowls a la Matisse, by grade 2 are a collage mix of watercolor, wallpaper, painted paper, and tempera.  Read about the project here and about the still life used for this, here.  The same still life setup was used for the 4th grade 18"x24" tempera painting below.  Read about this project here and here.
 The custodial staff has been responsible for actually installing the artwork.  In the beginning, I would get upset because it wasn't hung exactly at the height I intended, or the distance apart, but I learned to temper my annoyance and remember that nobody noticed those things except me.  The artwork was hung, and that was the important thing.  And then, over the years, the custodian hanging the work learned to come to me, and together we would mark off the wall to show exactly which piece went where.  I love coming into the school now and seeing the gallery, and knowing that kids can walk down the hall, point to a framed work of art, and say "I did that!  I'm an artist!"
The 9"x12" piece above, by a 4th grade girl, was a design for a greeting card for a fundraiser project by request of a local charitable organization.  The lettering wasn't up to the necessary standard so it wasn't ultimately selected, but I loved the idea.  The 12"x18" tempera painting below was by her 4th grade sister the following year.  They moved away, left these pieces behind, and I found frames to fit them both.  Maybe they will return some day!
 Here's a few more pieces -
 Above left is a 12"x18" name reflection in metallic and black tempera, grade 5, and two small chalk on wet bogus paper abstractions, with  Mod Podge glaze, by grade 2.

Below, the 12"x 18" tempera mask on the left is by a 3rd grader.  The 1st grade portrait on the right was made of Mary, by Karen, by direct observation, when they were in 1st grade, before the new school had been built.  They both graduated from high school a few years ago, and Mary's mother, a former school board member, and her father, school groundskeeper, gave the piece back to me to frame and add to the gallery.  I believe you still could pick Mary's freckled face out of a crowd based on this lovely portrait. 
 And yes, of course the hallway wouldn't be complete without a few framed 'toothpaste batik' works of art, by grade 5, below.  I have posted about this project several times, so just search 'toothpaste batik' in the search bar on the right, or click on 'toothpaste batik' from the label cloud at the bottom of the blog  Too many links to include here!
 And yes, a few more before I sign off...  
The first two, below, were tempera, 18" square, by grade 2.  We looked at Laurel Burch's series of celestial images, and created decorative suns and moons.  I'm smitten by these pieces, I admit.
 And of course, like everyone else, I've done this project below, too; my original motivation came not from a fellow blogger, but much before the internet existed: from an art ed text I found dated from the50's or early 60's, I believe. - 18"x 24" tempera, grade 3
 And these 4th grade trees are 12"x 18" tempera, a limited color project.  Two colors to use together for sky, two for ground, two for tree.
 I don't usually select Kindergarten pieces because I'm not sure they understand, but I was smitten by this piece and I had a frame that fit it perfectly.  Tempera, maybe 10"x14"?  It's an odd size.
 And finally, this moody painting done with tempera, painted over a textured surface created by drawing with Elmer's Glue-All, and sprinkling sand into the wet glue.  I posted about this here and here.You will find a better photo of the unframed piece there.  The original idea for the technique was found here.  Gotta give credit where credit is due!