Teaching with Birthday Presents

By Jenny Marvel, Head of K12 and Community Programs, Ackland Art Museum

Genius is looking at things in an unhabitual way.
Work in areas where you are unsure, in places you’ve not been before.
Corita Kent[1]

I love the work that I do in the Ackland’s education department, especially learning about specific works of art, artists, and art-making techniques and then finding ways to share this information with others—whether with our volunteer docents, K12 students and teachers, or community groups visiting the Museum. Often, I find inspiration from one or two pieces within an exhibition, and our current show, Birthday Presents, is no exception! This exhibition showcases major works of art that have been donated or promised by generous friends and supporters, specifically honoring the Museum’s sixtieth anniversary.

Over the past month, I’ve been reading about an artist that I did not know much about, Sister Corita Kent (American, 1918 – 1986). Corita was an artist, educator, and advocate for social justice. At eighteen, she entered the Immaculate Heart of Mary religious order, eventually teaching in the art department at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles for twenty-seven years (1941 – 1968). Often including advertising images, song lyrics, and literature, her prints of the 1960s reflect the Pop Art style.

Although I enjoy her art, I am most inspired by Corita’s teaching philosophy on how to see and experience the world. After reading Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit, which details the teaching methods developed by Corita Kent and her mentor, Sister Magdalen Mary at Immaculate Heart College in the 1950s and 60s, I found many similarities to my own personal life/work philosophy. I was also pleasantly surprised that many of her close looking and creative thinking “assignments” for her students echo gallery experiences that we currently use in the Museum!

She encouraged students to slow down, make close and careful observations of the world around them, and draw. She had them use a viewfinder, a small handheld tool with a square cut out, to see their environment through a new perspective—for she wanted the students to develop what she termed their “seeing muscles.”  According to Corita, using a viewfinder “helps us take things out of context, allows us to see for the sake of seeing, and enhances our quick-looking and decision-making skills…You can then view life without being distracted by content. You can make visual decisions—in fact, they are made for you.”[2]

Now it’s time to put your “seeing muscles” to work! Try making your own viewfinder by cutting a rectangular hole out of a heavy piece of paper or cardboard. Hold the viewfinder in one hand and look closely at the details of an object (a shoe, a tree, a car, etc.). What details become more noticeable with your viewfinder? This tool, like a magnifying glass, can be used to see individual parts of a whole object. Go and explore the natural world or use inside at home or at the Ackland Art Museum!

As I wrap up this post, I wanted to leave you with another looking assignment found in Learning by Heart. This one encourages the viewer to spend time looking closely and making detailed observation notes. Good luck and enjoy!

Looking Assignment: Nothing is the Same

When we give names to things, we often assume that everything that goes by that name is alike.

Take something in nature—two dandelions—and look at them for five minutes. List how they are different from each other. Take two leaves from the same tree and do the same thing. Take two peas from the same pod and do the same thing. Nothing is the same. No thing is the same. Everything is itself and one of a kind.

After doing this for a week, look back at these pairs of things again and make a new list. You will find more differences because you have been exercising your powers of observation.

Jenny Marvel, the Head of School and Community Programs at the Ackland Art Museum, UNC-Chapel Hill, earned a BA in Art History at the University of North Texas (1998) and an MA in Historical Administration from Eastern Illinois University in 2001. Previous to her employment at the Ackland Art Museum, Jenny worked in a variety of education departments including The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, The Museum of Flight (Seattle, WA), and the Dallas Museum of Art. Jenny’s experience includes developing, implementing, and assessing school and community tours, online resource materials for students and teachers, and cross-cultural and interdisciplinary teacher workshops.

[1] Kent, Corita and Jan Steward. Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit. (New York: Allworth Press, 2008), 21.
[2] Ibid, 26.
Corita Kent (American, 1918 – 1986); Made for Each Other, 1969; offset lithograph reproduction of a 1967 screenprint; Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Gift of William A. Koehnline in honor of the Museum’s 60th Anniversary, 2018.27

Making Connections: “Becoming a Woman” and the Permanent Collection

By Carolyn Allmendinger, Director of Academic Programs, Ackland Art Museum

There are only a few weeks left to see Becoming a Woman in the Age of Enlightenment.  If you haven’t seen it yet, make sure to spend some time exploring between now and its last day at the Ackland – April 8.

If you have seen the exhibition, have you noticed the connections between the paintings, sculptures, and drawings in the exhibition and the Ackland’s own eighteenth-century European works? There are five on view in Gallery 15: European Art of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Some of the resonances strike you even at first glance, while others require a little more careful attention to see.

Antoine Vestier’s Allegory of the Arts, for example, one of the first works of art you see when you enter Becoming a Woman, has an interesting counterpart in Jean-Louis le Barbier le Jeune’s portrait of Madame de Villeneuve-Flayosc. While Vestier’s painting is an allegorical image, it is also a portrait of the artist’s daughter Nicole, who, like her father, was an artist. Madame de Villeneuve-Flayosc was an amateur draftswoman and her portraitist made a point of emphasizing her artistic abilities. In each of these paintings, we see a lovely young woman dressed in beautiful clothing that was probably not ideal for working in chalk or ink. (Note how close the tip of Madame de Villeneuve-Flayosc’s pen comes to her gleaming satin skirt!). Both women sit at gilded, ornate tables with antique sculptures and leather-bound books placed on them, and both have a supply of blue drawing paper handy.

How do you think these paintings of female artists compare with representations of male artists you may have seen? During your next visit, consider the examples on view in the Ackland: Charles-Antoine Coypel’s Self-Portrait in Becoming a Woman, and Joseph-Siffred Duplessis’ Portrait of an Artist (hanging beside the portrait of Madame de Villeneuve Flayosc).

In Becoming a Woman, look for Augustin Pajou’s delicate drawing of Venus Disarming Cupid and then find Jacopo Amigoni’s painting of the same subject in the Ackland’s Gallery 15. Think about the choices the artists made and how those choices affect the resulting depictions. Both Pajou and Amigoni successfully captured the playful interaction between mother and child – neither of these two Cupids seems to be in real trouble for all the matchmaking mischief they have caused. But consider the different formats of the two images – one horizontal, one vertical.

What is the effect of the additional space surrounding Pajou’s Venus and Cupid versus the more compressed composition of Amigoni’s? What about Amigoni’s decision to include three of Cupid’s companions and Pajou’s to focus on the two central characters? What might it have been like for eighteenth-century viewers to hold Pajou’s drawing in their hands and contemplate the fine, elegant chalk strokes that make up the scene? How might the larger size of Amigoni’s painting and the pink, coral, and blue tones alter that viewing experience? (We know that the original owner of Amigoni’s Venus Disarming Cupid was the famous castrato opera singer known as Farinelli).

What additional points of comparison can you find between the Ackland’s eighteenth-century art and the works in Becoming a Woman?

 

Drawing at the Ackland

By: Kelly Chandrapal, Learning Resources Coordinator, Ackland Art Museum

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, French, 1732-1806: “Standing Young Woman Seen from Behind.” Black chalk on off-white antique laid paper. 380 x 258 mm. The Horvitz Collection.

One of my favorite things about working at the Ackland Art Museum is helping UNC students and faculty look at drawings from our collection. Works on paper are highly sensitive to light and cannot be on view as often as paintings or sculpture. When classes or individuals want to use works on paper to further their research or studies, we can take drawings and prints out from storage and put them on display in our Print Study room for the duration of the class period. It’s pretty remarkable to view works up close, unobstructed by glass. The students are captivated, observing the variations in mark-making and the distinct characteristics of each artist’s hand. After seeing drawings from the Ackland’s collection, I am inspired to make a resolution to “draw more” this year.

Drawing is a way of seeing and thinking. It’s using your body and mind together to understand the world around you and visually articulate what you see. While we are often eager to take a photograph to capture our experiences, a camera comes between you and what you are looking at, distancing you from the art itself. Drawing requires you to slow down, look carefully, and connect with the work of art.

Here are some tips I recommend for drawing at the Ackland:

Get your materials ready. Bring your own sketchbook or borrow supplies from our front desk. To protect the works of art on display, pencils (regular or colored) and paper are the only art materials allowed in the galleries.

Select a work of art that interests you. What do you find interesting about it? Maybe it’s the texture of a carved sculpture, the movement expressed through a figure’s body, or an intricate pattern. Draw the part of the work excites you most.

Get comfortable. Grab a gallery stool from our coat room, find a bench or sit on the floor. Find a spot away from foot traffic, where you can focus.

Look closely at the work of art. Drawing from observation is more about looking than drawing. The lines you draw should be more about what your eyes are telling you, rather than how you think the drawing should look. Look back and forth frequently between the artwork and your paper and let your hand follow where your eyes take you. If you like a challenge, take it one step further, and draw without looking at your paper, creating what’s called a blind contour drawing.

Make lots of marks. Drawings are interesting because you get to see the lines, even the ones that are not exactly right. When starting out, make light, quick marks, applying little pressure to the paper. Practice making shorter lines and more lines. As you go along, experiment with different lengths, thicknesses, and speeds of mark-making.

Have confidence! Everyone can draw – it’s all about having the confidence to do it. Remember, you are not trying to make a perfect copy, instead you are trying to capture what you see. Relax, have fun, and enjoy the experience.

Learn from the masters. Come see drawings on view in our current exhibition Becoming a Woman in the Age of Enlightenment: French Art from the Horvitz Collection. Featuring a variety of media – red chalk, graphite, washes, ink – the drawings highlight the artistic style of some of the most prominent artists of the period.

Other ways to draw at the Ackland:

  • Borrow a Close-Looking Kit from our front desk to take with you as you wander. Use the family-friendly materials and Art Cards to explore the art in different ways.
  • Come for a Drawing in the Galleries session, happening on the second Saturday of every month. Sessions are free and all skill levels are welcome.

The Study Gallery

By: Elizabeth Manekin

As is true in lots of encyclopedic collections, much of the artwork in the Ackland was never intended to be in a museum. Made for religious rituals, mass markets, burial sites, and banquet tables, it lives in harmony alongside works that were intended for gallery walls. We collect and combine the gamut as “Art.”

Sammy Baloji Culture Congolese, African, “Kalamata, chief of the Luba against watercolor by Dardenne” 2011:
medium archival digital photograph on Hahnemuhle Paper. 2016.6.

Perhaps my favorite part of my job is teaching and learning about these diverse objects from multiple perspectives. Teaching in the galleries, I regularly engage in lively discussion with students and faculty; in the Study Gallery, I get to put some of those conversations on the wall.

The artwork in the Study Gallery aligns with course objectives from all corners of the University, and its organization often eschews the traditional display categories of country or chronology. I work closely with faculty to determine which works of art will enhance their course and its learning goals. The art might illuminate a cultural context, or push students to consider a familiar concept from a new perspective. Works of art may develop new competencies, of empathy or visual literacy for example, or might be a platform for further research, reflection, and creative response. With two eight-week installations per semester, there’s always something new to see and consider on view.

This semester is no exception. In our first rotation, for example, graduate students in the Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program visited the Ackland’s Study Gallery on multiple occasions as they investigated experiential learning. Students examined the different experiences depicted in the artwork and reflected upon their own experiences of looking at and talking about art. As students looked repeatedly, they evaluate the concepts that define experiential learning and how they relate to their work in the classroom.

Also on view were works for the Art History courses “Introduction to Architecture” and “Art and Sports,” which presented multiple representations of building and athletes, respectively. Students in a Renaissance history course used works of art on view in the Study Gallery to learn to read visual and material primary sources. A Women’s and Gender Studies class analyzed photography and thought

about issues of identity. Graduate students in musicology explored the influence of Russian refugees on global artistic production in the wake of the Revolution in 1917. This last course coincided with a graduate-organized conference, and their scholarship was accessible in the gallery.

Egon Schiele, Austrian, “Church and Houses at Modling, near Vienna,” 1918: black chalk and gouache. 58.1.238

Anyone of these Study Gallery installations is engaging on its own, but I also love the challenge of figuring out the ways in which these separate courses are in dialogue with one another. This semester, the theme of how we form identities, as individuals and as nations, is an undercurrent. In what ways do both the buildings around us and the sports teams we root for shape our sense of self in relation to the world outside? How do we draw the boundaries of “otherness”? What are the roots of our faith in reason and logic? What role do we play in shaping our own identities? These are big, difficult questions, helped along by the experience of looking closely at what is sometimes a small and specific thing. For all visitors, the Study Gallery is a window into the classrooms at Carolina and an invitation to ask these questions on your own.

I invite you to come to the Ackland’s second-floor Study Gallery. Look closely and think big. Pick up a syllabus. Discuss issues with a friend. The Study Gallery is for everyone!

Compelling Questions and a Commitment to Art: Phillip Cox, ’16

Phil CoxIn Fall 2014, Phillip Cox (’16) enrolled in the Research Methods seminar for UNC Art History majors in their junior year. The course topic was “The Nude in Renaissance Art” and each student in the class chose a print from the Ackland’s collection from a group pre-selected by Dr. Tania String, who taught the course. Each student’s print was to be the focus of their semester-long research project. Phil found many of the prints intriguing. He decided to let other students in the course choose their prints first, and when his turn came there was only one print left: Hercules and Antaeus by Agostino Veneziano. It was not one of the prints he’d hoped for, but as he proceeded with his research, he realized there were compelling questions to investigate.

By the end of that fall semester, he had decided to write his Senior Honors Thesis on Veneziano’s Hercules and Antaeus. Phil took several opportunities to share his thesis research and he invited feedback on it: he presented his research at the Ackland’s Student Showcase, at UNC’s annual Undergraduate Research Celebration, and at the ACC Meeting of the Minds Conference, held this year at Syracuse University and featuring outstanding undergraduate research at ACC universities. Continue reading

The Study Gallery – A Window onto Teaching and Research

Portions of this essay were originally published in the Ackland’s Member E-Newsletter of 13 August 2015.

MelancoliaThe start of a new academic year is always invigorating, and my thoughts are on the return of our Study Gallery on the second floor, one of the Ackland’s extraordinary programs. Over the course of the academic year, the Study Gallery will contain 36 short-term small exhibitions that accompany curricular teaching happening all across this wonderful University (six new installations reinstalled every six weeks).

There are always surprises in store here—from little-seen works to unconventional juxtapositions. You can see a socio-critical image by contemporary photographer Danny Lyon next to Albrecht Dürer’s masterpiece print Melancolia (part of the installation supporting a course on “Abnormal Psychology”). Also on view in the Gallery are nineteenth-century photographs of Turkish subjects (amongst the works for a course on “Gender in the Middle East”), a captivating ancient Egyptian cat amulet—surely, at only 1 centimeter tall, one of the smallest works in the Ackland collection (one of about two dozen works on display for “Egyptian Archaeology”)—and many other interesting pieces of art. Continue reading

Thoughts on Museum Success I: Museums Nurturing Artists

Originally published in the Ackland’s Member E-Newsletter of 3 November 2014, this is the first in a series of ruminations on how museums measure success.

Those who work in and around art museums often turn their minds to the thorny question: how do we measure our success? It is a challenging and stimulating question which can lead off into unexpected avenues. I thought I’d share with you some of my own brief ruminations on this question. I do hope that I hear from you with your comments and ideas on this. Feel free to e-mail me at peter.nisbet@unc.edu — I hope to report on interesting ideas. Collectively, we may come up with some good answers!

Let me begin with a simple anecdote. The very first exhibition of my professional career was a show of drawings by the radical and experimental German artist Joseph Beuys (1921-1986), an artist I deeply admire. The details of the show aren’t relevant here; I want to focus on a dinner party conversation shortly afterwards. I found myself seated next to a sculptor, who, without knowing who I was, spoke movingly and at length about how this exhibition had Continue reading

Mapping Armin Landeck

Megan Williams is an intern in the Ackland Art Museum’s Education and Curatorial departments and an MS Library Science / MA Art History candidate at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Artists often turn to their city for creative inspiration. Sometimes they represent exactly what they see down to each minute detail, other times, they produce a barely recognizable impression. Some of the prints in the exhibition America Seen are images of real things and places that still exist today. While researching these prints, I was eager to find the locations depicted. Like photographs, prints can be used as historical records, and they are capable of showing us a vision of an unknown or forgotten past.

York Avenue, Sunday Morning

Armin Landeck, American, 1905-1984: “York Avenue, Sunday Morning,” 1939; drypoint. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,
The Hunter and Cathy Allen Collection, 2013.21.26

Continue reading

Making (Time for) Art – A UNC Student’s Perspective

If you’re a UNC student and you’ve been intrigued by the Ackland’s Art à la Carte offerings, but wanted to know more about what to expect in a session, read on! Seeking a participant’s perspective, we sent Sarah Headley, a UNC junior working in the Ackland’s communications department, to get her art on and blog about it. 

IMG_3691One of my childhood memories is of my aunt integrating crafts into our family gatherings. We would make Christmas ornaments, candle holders, shell decorations—you name it. I still enjoy making these crafts now, if not even more than I did as a little girl with bangs and pig tails.

Now, as a junior in college, I look forward to occasions where I can be artsy. Working in the Communications office at the Ackland Art Museum on campus, the Art à la Carte classes popped up on my radar. On select Fridays from 4:00-7:00 PM, UNC students can learn about different art techniques and try their hand at them. All the materials are provided and each class is only $10, which is a steal for us college students.

I attended the Found Book Art session, where we began by examining published books that had been transformed into works of art. Books can be altered by adding things like paint, or by cutting out words to make a new meaning. Continue reading