The Ackland through Young Eyes

K-12 tours are a vital part of the Ackland Art Museum’s community outreach. Interactive in nature, they engage students in interdisciplinary activities outside of the classroom. Please visit https://ackland.org/education/k-12/guided-tours/ to learn more or request a tour. 

Bill Cosby’s late ’90s television show “Kids Say the Darndest Things” may be off the air now, but I felt like an audience member when I observed a group of kindergartners taking a tour at the Ackland. They came to learn about different art forms—and definitely weren’t lacking in funny, yet intuitive, comments.

They all gathered on the floor, sitting “criss-cross applesauce” and wide eyed, admiring the art from the Ackland’s permanent collection. The girls donned bright patterns and bows in their hair, and the boys were sporting superhero shirts and tennis shoes.

It came as no surprise that the art work that garnered the most attention was a colorful, contemporary IMG_1318 (1)piece by Hans Hofmann. The Ackland docent leading the group asked the inquisitive kids what objects they saw in the picture. They all raised their hands, waiting to be called on. At first, they remarked on the bright colors and shapes that resembled animals and mountains, but their comments quickly took a different turn.

One boy enthusiastically raised his hand, bouncing up and down, until he was called on.

“Um… there’s a Hans in ‘Frozen’!”

And then came the squeals of excitement. Surprisingly, there is not a big difference between a group of 5-year-olds talking about “Frozen” and a group of 21-year-olds talking about “Frozen.” There will always be one trying to out-do Idina Menzel by belting “Let it Go” at the top of their lungs, and one repeatedly asking if anyone wants to build a snowman. Needless to say, I’ve never felt more connected to a kindergartner.

DSC00317On their tour, the group also went back in time and learned about Hercules, another one of my all-time favorite Disney movies. They sat quietly as they listened to tales of Hercules’ battles and admired an ancient Greek pot he was depicted on. The kindergartners even decorated their own pots on paper. The kids put a modern twist on themes in ancient pottery and drew modern day superheroes.

Watching their eyes light up as they explored each gallery made me smile and think back to when I was their age. Visiting the Ackland is a great opportunity for young minds to explore and engage in hands-on activities, all while having fun.

Glimpse into the Collection: “Tea Pots”

Abigail Wickes is a digital image technician at the Ackland Art Museum, and is part of the three-person team working to make digital images and metadata for all 17,000+ objects in the Ackland’s collection available to the public online. She became interested in digital image cataloging during an internship at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center while she was working towards her Master’s in Library Science at UNC-Chapel Hill (2012).

tea pot #1

Unidentified Artist, Chinese: Teapot with Lid, early 18th century, porcelain, Transferred from Louis Round Wilson Library, Willie P. Mangum Collection, 84.19.7ab.

Most of the art in the Ackland Art Museum’s collection of over 17,000 pieces is two dimensional, but there are also hundreds of three dimensional objects, like sculptures and pottery. Adding 3D objects to a museum database is a bit more complex, since there are more surfaces to photograph; there might be images on multiple sides (e.g. the front, back, top, and bottom views) of many 3D objects.  Continue reading

Raise a Glass, not a Hatchet

When Hunter and Cathy Allen donated the 1920s through 1940s prints now on view in our exhibition America Seen, they knew that the works would inspire research, education, and insight. But they might never have expected that their collection would inspire the Ackland’s first annual ARTINI.

Artini_ambiance_366x403pxWe knew right away that we wanted to host a celebration of the period covered by the prints—an incredibly turbulent and colorful time in our nation’s history that included the Roaring Twenties, Prohibition, the Stock Market Crash, the Great Depression, and the New Deal, to name a few landmark trends, “scenes,” and events.

Such a party called for signature drinks—ones with period ingredients and each with a unique taste from the era. We sought out a few of Chapel Hill’s best bartenders, to see if they would be interested in creating a cocktail that “spoke” to America Seen. Needless to say, we were met with enthusiasm. Each bar—The Crunkleton, JuJuBe, Roberts Lounge at the Franklin Hotel, Sugarland, and Top of the Hill—embraced our mixologist/artistic challenge and succeeded in capturing this incredible era of American history in a drink. Continue reading

A “Homecoming” for Artist George Nick

Works of art have histories – personal and collective.

AMH_blogpostFeb2014In January, American realist painter George Nick came to the Ackland with our former director, Charles Millard. Nick’s painting, seen with the artist at right, was recently pulled from Ackland storage and installed in the office of the Chancellor. This photograph documents the day when the artist rediscovered his old friend: his own work. It is privilege to hold works in trust for the people of North Carolina, but more than this, it is a rare delight to know that museums also facilitate homecomings, moments with artists are reunited with their works.

Not everyone can claim this particular kind of homecoming when they come to an art museum, but visitors to the Ackland often tell me of their personal relationships with particular works of art. For some it is the Rubens portrait, for other, the Thai Buddha. Some come to see the ancient pots, others the North Carolina pottery. For each, it is a personal homecoming with a public collection. Continue reading

“America Seen”: Sneak Preview (the intern’s favorite)

This semester at the Ackland, I’ve been conducting research and writing interpretative text for the exhibition America Seen: The Hunter and Cathy Allen of Social Realist PrintsThrough this process I’ve become very familiar with the prints in the show and wanted to share one as a first impression and in advance of the opening reception this evening.

Subway

Fritz Eichenberg, American, born in Germany, 1901–1990: Subway (Sleep), 1935; wood engraving. Ackland Art Museum, The Hunter and Cathy Allen Collection, 2013.21.13.

America Seen features 38 prints from the mid-1920s to the mid-1940s by American artists. The majority of the artists represented in the exhibition lived and worked in New York City. They were inspired by the scenes of everyday urban life they witnessed around them and the subway was a popular theme. One of my favorites prints, Subway (Sleep), falls into this category. Although the print depicts a rather unremarkable moment in the daily life of any New York City subway rider, I’m drawn into the composition through Eichenberg’s use of strong contrasts between light and dark, as well as his careful attention to realistic details inside the subway car, such as the straps, signage, and advertisements.

I can empathize with the occupants of this train car, from the weary, young couple at the far end to the child sleeping in her mother’s lap. I have also been on the subway, tired after a long day, and eager to get home. But where are these people going? What were they doing before? Perhaps the proud and poised woman in a stylish hat is headed to a party or to church. Is the man to her left her companion or a stranger? With a souvenir balloon as a clue, I suspect the collapsed child is returning home from a fun day at the park. While it is impossible to know for sure, the artist, Fritz Eichenberg, invites us to look and speculate about the lives of those pictured. Continue reading

What’s in a Name? (and What on Earth is “Varech”?)

Look at the label next to any painting in the Ackland Art Museum, and the third or fourth line down will give you the title—the name of the painting. Once in a while, with a painting made after 1940, the label will say “Untitled,” a sort of warning that the label will give you no help in figuring out what this painting shows (“Just look hard at it and figure it out for yourself.”). 

The strange thing about this is that most paintings made before about 1700 really were untitled. If we see a 17th-century painting labeled Saint Jerome in Penitence, that is not really a title: it’s a description of what the painting shows you (if you know something about Saint Jerome). The first owner of the painting didn’t need to give it a title because he already knew what the subject was; just as you don’t need to write your mother’s name on the back of a photo of her in her wedding dress (although your great-grandchildren may wish you had when they are looking through a stack of old family photos).

Between 1700 and 1900, the way that art was presented to potential owners changed, and publicity became a more important part of art commerce. An artist who submitted a painting to an exhibition—and who hoped that some journalist would mention it in a newspaper—might want to distinguish it from similar paintings by other artists. A distinctive title, like September Morn for a nude bather in a lake, could help. It could also call special attention to one particular aspect of the painting: if you see a landscape titled The Sentry, your thoughts turn to war, and you search for what may be a tiny figure in a broad panorama.

Bernard_Wave_ARS

Émile Bernard, French, 1868-1941: “The Wave,” 1892; oil on pulpwood board, mounted on canvas. 22 3/4 x 33 9/16 in. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ackland Fund. 71.29.1. © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

In April 2013, Neil McWilliam, a scholar who specializes in paintings by Émile Bernard, called our attention to an inventory that the painter himself had made in 1901. One entry reads:

La vague – Raguenez – la mer, un tas de varechs, des chênes, une tête de paysanne à l’avant plan

(The Wave – Raguenez – The sea, a mass of “varechs,” oak trees, head of a peasant woman in the foreground)

Continue reading

Fear Not the Blue Border: Mix and Mingle at the Nasher!

Though Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have a long-standing rivalry, students are coming together at the universities’ respective art museums to go “beyond blue borders.” Two collaborative parties—designed for students from both universities—are upon us, hosted by two world-class art museums in the Triangle area.

Facebook_Rameses_Nasher_highlight 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

Carolina Students: Make the Ackland YOURS!

SahmatAckland-102-XL_cropped

Carolina students at the opening reception for “The Sahmat Collective,” September 12, 2013. Photo: Briana Brough

As the Ackland Art Museum’s director of academic programs, I’m blogging to tell you that because the Ackland is the University’s art museum, it’s your art museum. This is a great time to check out all the ways that you can be involved with the Ackland, making memories, meeting great people, enjoying art, and having fun! Continue reading