Monday, December 21, 2009

The Museum Project Part II: Making Connections at the Peabody Essex Museum

Since the start of the school year, the Addison’s Education Department has been working with the Kindergarten Prep class at the Children’s Place, a Bright Horizons child care and early education center located on the campus of Phillips Academy, to connect an understanding of the value of museums to the cultural value of their own collections and to learn how to communicate these values to others through display and interpretation.

Click here to read Part I of The Museum Project on Blog Addison.

The students have been exploring ideas about collections and museums for the last few months, working with their families to document their own collections at home, presenting their documentation in class, reading book after book about collecting, art, artists, and museums, and documenting a visit to a museum of their choice with their families. Their incredible teachers have infused these ideas into everything they do in the classroom, from studying collections of primary and secondary colors to making collections of vocabulary words to learning about collections of books at the local library.

On December 4th, 2009, seventeen Kindergarten Prep students, twelve parents, two teachers, and the Addison’s museum educators boarded a bus to the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) in Salem to explore the museum as a group and put inspiration to use in creative ways.

In the Trash Menagerie exhibition, which presents over thirty works of art created from things most of us simply throw away, PEM’s School and Teacher Program Manager (and former Addison Education Fellow) Rebecca Hayes helped students exercise their observation and interpretation skills, consider the function and use of everyday objects, and see what incredible things can be made from recyclables.

Rebecca: What is this sculpture of a moth made of?
Students responses: Trash, a plate, a broken plate, a pot, wood (It’s from a piano! I can tell because it’s white and brown.), little wires, elastic…

(Image credit: Michelle Stitzlein, Sulphur Blue Smeck, 2005, Moth Series, piano keys, roofing metal, light fixtures, bicycle fenders and fork, china, electrical wire, lawn mower handles, and other trash, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem.)

A discussion about the moth’s antennae being made from bike handles led to a conversation about what you could create from an old bicycle, which then led to brainstorming about creating art.

Rebecca: What could we use at home to make art? What do we recycle?
- I make airplanes out of old writing.
- Juice boxes! I’m going to make a school bus!

In the adjacent art studio, students used this inspiration to cut, rip, glue, and color empty cereal boxes, egg cartons, shampoo bottles, string, and paper strips into their own art menagerie.

- A flower! Now it’s a snowflake.
- A sketch of lightning. I cut one half and now I have to cut the other half.
- A spider. We’re making it together so we can make a big one.

Students also had the opportunity to meet PEM security guard Peter, who fielded a wide range of questions, including:

- Why do you have badges?
- Do you work all night?
- So why do we have museums, anyway?

Peter, an artist himself, was quite stunned when the students said that they had been studying the work of Robert Rauschenberg – along with Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet.

These profound connections between objects in the museum and in home collections, between topics in the museum and classroom curriculum studied, and between art and ideas will push students’ curiosity immeasurably further in the coming weeks.

Stay turned for further updates as this project progresses.

Posted by

Jamie Kaplowitz
Education Fellow

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