Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Hidden Treasures, Artistic Inspiration

A visit to a somewhat obscure museum and some other sightseeing have given me so much food for thought, as well as great lesson motivations.  The museum was The Nicholas Roerich Museum; the beautiful paintings above and below are by Roerich.
My husband and I recently spent a few days playing tourist in NYC, and decided to forego the big art museums that we've been to so many times (the Met, MoMA, the Whitney, the Guggenheim) and instead explored a lovely little museum, discovered a magnificent cathedral, did some sightseeing of the city from the Top of the Rock, and communed with butterflies at the Museum of Natural History.

But first lets go back to the Nicholas Roerich Museum, and the inspiring paintings of Roerich (Russian; 1874-1947).  I thought his rich landscapes could be terrific motivations for multiple lessons.  For example, when teaching perspective - use these paintings to show foreground, mid-ground, background.  (By the way, Roerich spent part of his life residing in the Himalayas, which is why so many of these majestic mountains appear in his work.)
Perhaps the paintings could be used for teaching about color harmony and how certain color relationships can be effective in landscape painting, or how to uses values of color to create form.  Many of Roerich's landscapes were monochromatic, or mostly monochromatic with a focal point of a contrasting or complimentary color.  Other landscapes were more of an analogous color combo, and others  used limited color palettes.
Along with the color and perspective, there's also a lovely peace and spirituality visible throughout his work.  Subtle imagery from various religions appear in many paintings, and Roerich was responsible for the creation of the Roerich Pact, which has for its object "the protection of historic monuments, museums, scientific, artistic, educational, and cultural institutions both in time of peace and in time of war, and provides for the use of a distinctive flag to identify the monuments and institutions coming within the protection of the treaty."  The flag was designed by Roerich, and you can see the design below, and in the painting below it.
 Wouldn't it be nice to design a lesson that represents peace and the protection and preservation of cultural heritages worldwide?  I think, at a time when many of our cultural institutions are being threatened (public radio and TV, and the National Endowment for the Arts, for example), remembering that our nation has signed a pact to agree to protect these institutions is a worthwhile topic to learn about. 
But anyhow, let me just say this - if you ever are in NYC and have a couple of hours to spare, make a visit to this hidden gem of a museum.  And when you are done, walk just a few short blocks and visit The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.  I'll be honest; I'm Jewish and am not easily moved by churches and cathedrals.  But this one....  it's soaring architecture is stunning and worth your time.  Below are a couple of views of the cathedral that do not do it justice (it is one of the largest cathedrals in the world but I didn't have a wide angle lens...).  There's also a pic of a nearby statue that I fell in love with.  I couldn't get closer to it because of the weather, but hopefully this will give you enough of a sense of this cool statue.

Now back to the butterflies....  This was my second visit to the Butterfly Conservatory at the Museum of Natural History.  It appears butterflies like me.  Last time (three years ago), one landed on my hair like a hair ornament and wouldn't leave.   This year, one landed on my backpack/purse, another on my forehead, and a giant one on my cheek!  How lucky am I??  By the way, if you want to have a butterfly experience and you will be in NYC, the Conservatory will be at the museum for another month or two.
Below is the butterfly that was on my cheek, and the beautiful blue butterfly underneath is the SAME species of butterfly, with its wings open!!  That's not my shoulder in the pic; it's just a random guy who was visiting the exhibit, who was lucky enough to host the butterfly sitting still, on full display with his wings open. 
 And a few other butterfly beauties...
Think of all the possible lesson motivations - repeating patterns, color, camouflage (like the "false eye" on the butterfly on my cheek).  And how about creating something with a pattern that looks dull on one side, and then opens to reveal a rich color like that gorgeous cobalt blue?
And while I'm at it, I have a pet peeve about the way butterflies are often drawn in kids' art.  Let's show kids photos of butterflies that clearly indicate where their wings are hooked to their body!  First of all, butterflies have two pairs of wings.  The wings are attached to the thorax, which is the body segment between the head and the abdomen (which is the longer end part of the butterfly).  Butterfly wings are ONLY attached to the central segment, the thorax!!  Let's stop making butterflies that are shaped like the letter B with its mirror image!

It was an inspirational trip to NYC.  Between this trip, and my time there for the NAEA convention, I've had a lot of touristy NYC time, including two museums that do not allow photographs.  I highly recommend them both: the Neue Gallery in NYC is filled with incredible Klimt paintings, and the work of other German expressionists.  And the Frick Collection is filled with masterful paintings by European old masters.  Also on display was an exhibition of magnificent work by Turner.  Photography was allowed only in a garden courtyard, which was where I took this photo below.  They never said we couldn't photograph the windows, and I'll be honest; I only took this photo after I saw someone else doing the same thing.  And then I felt guilty and put my camera away.
I love knowing I can have inspiring travels without having to fly across an ocean!  
Thank you, NYC!


  1. Thanks for sharing, Phyl! As always you have great insights and ideas. It was especially interesting (and timely)to read about the Roerich Peace Pact.