Museums Across the Curriculum Part I

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Who knew Lowell had a commitment to Public Art? Not me.  As part of our exploration of cultural opportunities in Lowell, we will locate

Sculpture Two, Boarding House Park

and learn about some of Lowell’s Public Art.  Both the University and Dick Howe, a local blogger and Registrar of Deeds, have good maps and information about this aspect of Lowell.  Since 1981, former Senator Paul Tsongas, led the development of Lowell’s Public Art collection, which continues to be expanded upon today (see Jay Hungate’s sculpture for the Riverwalk).

This session, our exploration included the Mogan Cultural Center, the Tsongas Industrial History Center, and Boardinghouse Park area of Lowell. As a third grade teacher in the City, I am well acquainted with the excellent programs provided by the Tsongas Industrial History Center. Even after taking students for the last 5 years, I continue to be awestruck by the excellent learning activities which draw my students into the history of their community and the role Lowell played in the Industrial Revolution.

Today, however, because the Museum course provides a more broadly painted overview, I heard about and briefly tried some additional activities for students. I was particularly interested in the Yankees and Immigrants program because of the timely role playing of a “town meeting” in which students argue and advocate on both sides of an issue which continues to pop up in current times: whether or not to use tax monies to build a school for immigrant children. If schools were allowed to take additional field trips would I take my students to this program – absolutely!

Sunday, 27 March 2011

I learned something very important yesterday. Never use a new camera when you want to document something photographically.  Many of the pictures I took yesterday at the Boott Mill and Tsongas Industrial History Center were horribly fuzzy. This puzzled me because I had set the D50 — a cast off from my husband who is a photographer — on auto focus. Or so I thought.  After unloading the images, I got a refresher course on how to operate this thing. Hoping today is a better day, image-wise.

Our first visit today was to the Lowell National Park to see a video documenting the history of Lowell. While not as slick or up-to-date as the film we saw last year in Lexington, the National Park Service does a great job of relaying the historical importance of Lowell.  The connections we can make to past labor unrest and today are very striking.

The Worker

"The Worker", Ivan & Elliott Schwartz

Before meeting at the Visitor Center, I located two more Public Art pieces: “The Worker” and “Homage to Women”. The Worker, a bronze by Ivan and Elliot Schwartz, commemorates the immigrants who dug the canal system; prior to 1820 that was the only work immigrants were allowed to participate in. As I learned from the NHP video, immigrant mill workers were not allowed until after 1840 — after the Mill Girls brought from New England farms had become too costly and demanding for mill owners.

The second piece, Homage to Women, was created by local sculptor Mico Kaufman. In

Homage to Women

"Homage to Women", Mico Kaufman

Kaufman’s words, the sculpture depicts women who work hard without much notice. Originally I thought Kaufman had been commissioned to create this sculpture to honor the Mill Girls; however, he himself states that this bronze memorializes women workers from all over the world.

The second stop today was the American Textile History Museum. Although I’ve been in the museum once or twice for social events, I had not been to see the exhibits.  I enjoyed viewing the museum’s collection of clothing and textiles through history.  The detailed stitching, the design changes mirroring more freedom for women, the utilitarian aspects of design and sports gear — all very interesting to consider.

Bust of Whistler

"Whistler", Mico Kaufman

Our third stop today was the Whistler House were the director, Michael Lally, entertained us with not only the history of the Whistler House Museum, but the beautiful – and original – artwork housed here. Among my favorite pieces was a Frank W. Benson’s painting of the Children donated by the young boy who is pictured in the painting. Benson’s use of light and impressionist technique create shimmering images which I find appealing. Also in the Whistler House’s Parker Gallery were two temporary exhibits. In one, area quilters have recreated Whistler’s Mother in cloth — but have sent her around the globe.  I think my favorite quilt was the Cowboy Whistler’s Mother, complete with kerchief and braids.  The juried exhibit “Looking At Lowell” was also in the Parker Gallery — and one of my husband’s photograph’s was included.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

When I heard that snow was in the forecast for the end of this week, I got into gear and visited some of the sites on this day’s tour. On Thursday afternoon I was able to get over to Lucy Larcom Park after school to see the public art installation “Industry, Not Servitude.”  Reading the words of the women who were at the forefront of the women’s labor movement was very powerful, especially in these times when union busting is a popular political sport.  Ellen Rothenberg, the sculptor of this work, has incorporated slogans from the Lowell Female Reform movement in it’s five components.

Industry, Not Servitude

My next stop on Thursday was to visit the Brush Art Gallery.  Tucked away in one of the Market Mills buildings, it is easily missed — and difficult to get in to. The doors on this day were very uncooperative and, only through some bold tapping on the storefront window, was I able to gain entry.  Hopefully the Brush will have resolved this issue as it was a deterrent.

Once inside I not only viewed some of the artists’ studios and exhibit walls put up by members, but was able to see the recent juried exhibition including artists from around Massachusetts.  The painting “I’ll Follow the Sun” by Ann Christensen caught my attention because of the attractive and bold use of golds and blues.  Further investigation revealed that this work is from a set with an interesting connection to my youth – all of the titles are from Beatles songs.

Burke Window, St. Anne'sAfter the snow on Friday, we were scheduled for visits to St. Anne’s Church in Lowell and to the New England Quilt Museum.  The church is only open during services and rare events, like the Folk Festival, so I had not been inside.  Built in the mid-1820s by Kurt Boott, the church has an historic link to the Industrial Revolution in Lowell in that it was provided for the Mill Girls.  A history of the church’s organization can be found here. One of the most amazing aspects of this church are the stained glass windows.  The St. Anne’s Church website details the history of those windows.  The one that I found most appealing was the Burke window in the chapel.  Created by the Tiffany Glass Studio, it was installed in 1898 and depicts Easter morning with the women at the tomb.

The last stop for Saturday was to the New England Quilt Museum. As someone for who hemming is a challenge, the incredibly detailed needlework and piecing that goes into each quilt on display at this museum was jaw-dropping.  Within one of the quilts on temporary display, the quilter had changed the style and shape of the quilting stitches to match the image suggested by the fabric — the grasses were defined by stitching that made the grass appear to be moving.

Unfortunately, Rhonda Galpern who is the Outreach Program manager was unavailable today. I would have enjoyed reconnecting with her; she worked with my second grade students at the Bailey School to create a quilted map of the continents and I was hoping to convince her to work with my third graders on a similar project.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

For me, going to museums in Boston is so much fun! This morning our tours were in the MFA and the Gardner; with cooperative weather – temperatures in the 50s – the Fenway was full of people with the same idea: throw off winter and get out!  We left early so that we could enjoy breakfast at Flour in Central Square.  Best brioche around! While the Central Square Flour is always crowded no matter what the hour, it is worth waiting in line for.  Today we lucked out and found a seat at the window counter.

Dale Chiuly Exhibit

Next stop was the MFA.  We have been members here for quite a while, but even so, trying to figure out parking and entrances is challenging. Not to mention that membership levels (and rules!) have been changed.  Our first stop in the Museum was the Shapiro Visitor Center. The MFA is about to open a special exhibit featuring Dale Chiuly‘s blown glass installations – the Shapiro has one installation, a whimsical  lime green tree-like structure, in the lobby. I’ll be back on Friday to see the entire exhibit.

The new Art of the Americas Wing was our first exploration.  Starting on the first floor, the portraiture of John Singleton Copley and Gilbert Stuart are featured alongside period furniture and furnishings.  The collections in the MFA are impressive and extensive. From the unfinished portraits of President and Mrs. Washington – which Mrs. Washington rejected, hence the “unfinished” designation – to the grand portraits of famous and wealthy colonials; so many pieces here are well known. We continued to the second floor of the Art of the Americas wing and crossed through the rotunda to the European Arts. The MFA holdings include Rembrandts, Pissaros, Monets and Van Goghs.

When my son was young, our trips to the Museum always included a visit to the Ancient Arts, particularly the mummies. Usually I felt overloaded after the visits to the Egyptian sections. The MFA has created a more pleasing display where the art is not so crowded and thereby less overwhelming.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was a quick walk across the Fens. The impressive courtyard around which the Gardner mansion was built was crowded with people who, if they were like me, doubly appreciated the smell of growing plants and the sun streaming through the glass ceiling after this winter. The Gardner crawls with security these days possibly a result of the 1990 art heist – a crime that to date has never been resolved.  The Gardner’s rooms of the objects that Mrs. Jack collected on her tours throughout the world are in chaos these days due to the expansion project, scheduled to open in 2012. The collections are strewn about with folding tables and construction tools, something that should be a concern to the curator. Outside of the courtyard, art in the Gardner Museum is difficult to appreciate.


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