Hitchcock and Rosemary

Rosemary_bushA scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds. “This tilling of the soil can become compulsive, you know.” Suzanne Pleshette’s dirt-smudged face and sultry voice sticks in my mind as I wander the aisles of the local garden center, accompanied by a multitude of sparrows chirping in the metal rafters overhead.  Mental headline reads, “Woman Pecked to Death by Sparrows at Local Home Depot.” I smile up at them thinking “Not enough of them for an attack and they don’t look like the angry crows in the movie.” Not yet anyway.

I love shopping for plants. How can you miss the slow joy of wandering through a humid wonderland filled with flats of colors and scents, envisioning the English garden soon to appear in your back yard? How can you hurry through that experience? I see ample evidence of how all around me. The cloyingly sweet perfume of the frantic gardener next to me slaps my nose as she piles her plants onto a wobbly orange flatbed. I move over an aisle to get away from her. She clops past me all red lipstick and ridiculous spiky heels. Rushing her treasures to the check-out.

I take my time to breathe in the surroundings; the smell of fertilizer,wet potting soil, spicy tomato plants. I had made a list of plants I wanted the day before, which I know I will never stick to because plants I have never seen will call me and end up in my cart. I’m what you call an accidental gardener; I accidentally get a plant in the right spot in my garden and it grows. I love to grow things from seed, and currently Alyssum, Zinnias, Dianthus and Cosmos are the tiny seedlings making their presence known in my back berm. It’s cheaper to plant from seed and you get to know the plant foliage as it develops I reason. But today, while my sweet husband is looking at chain saws and weed eaters, he has turned me loose in the garden center to buy bedding plants. Heaven.

I’m practically mowed down by a plant vendor with a sweaty red face pushing a six-tier cart of tender young plants ready to be pushed onto the shelving. ” What the hell are you doing?” she says to the pimply faced worker she spots ahead, who is evidently not moving fast enough for her. “Get that stuff on the tables!” Sigh. I move over another aisle.

I think about my grandfather now, who was a real gardener, he kept greenhouses, widow ladies’ yards and knew plants. He had a true green thumb. I have red Begonias in my cart in his honor, he loved them. The riotous colors of the Moss Roses are for him too. The Spanish Lavender I chose is for my husband, who had never seen that variety until a landscaping company put one in our yard seventeen years ago. Now that I think about it, most of the plants I plant are about other people. Zinnias for my grandmother, the Cosmos, Larkspurs, Moonflowers and Morning glories are for my mother, who loved wildflowers, the Petunias, Dianthus, and Alyssum are for the characters from a book called “The Uninvited”, where a ghostly presence was heralded by floral scents.

I plant for animals too. Salvia and Cardinal vine for the hummingbirds. Sunflowers for the woodpeckers, mockingbirds, chickadees and titmice that populate our Texas yard. The Fountain Grass I choose because our kittens used to love playing hide and seek in the soft mounds of grass, leaping out to roll and tumble down onto our back patio. We no longer have the kittens, but just seeing this grass makes me smile inwardly.

And what new treasure did I find, just for me? A beautiful blue Lobelia. A feathery Yarrow plant and some Mexican Heather. New plants I’ve never planted.

And one old favorite, a Rosemary plant, for remembrance.

CC Image by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

My Favorite Meal

#mwisdmatters

My 4th grade art students always seem to have fewer barriers between their art and their imagination than my 5th and 6th graders. I’m not sure why that is, but is delightful to watch and listen to them as they open up to a project. I revisited an old classic recently when I asked my 4th grade artists to draw their favorite meal.

The set up for the project is a discussion about going on a picnic. Students get to pick their favorite foods to have at the picnic, which must include a main course, sides, drink and dessert. They must also include silverware and a napkin and a tablecloth under the plate.

I have three goals for this project.

  1. They must have their food shown from a bird’s-eye point of view, which involves a demonstration and discussion of how shapes change when they are shown from different perspectives.
  2. They must show a place setting, which involved a discussion and pictures of how you set a table. Social skills in art class. I wonder how many families sit down at a common table for dinner these days, so I hope I filled in a gap for some of my students who have not ever set a table.
  3. They must show a pattern of some kind on the tablecloth, which reinforces the definition of a pattern in art as a repeated shape or color series.

Students have a large sheet of paper as their format, 12 x 18 inches, and draw first in pencil, then outline in sharpie and color with crayon. I give them a paper plate to draw around to make sure we don’t have miniature plates.

And oh the stories about what food my students like the best!

And the extras! Ants on the tablecloth. Butterflies flying over the picnic.  Good memories about family. Great fun.

And So..The Museum

 

#mwisdmatters

As I heard my teaching partner Skipper Bennett describe this museum the other day, The Amon Carter Museum of American Art is “an exquisite little jewel-box of a museum.” I explored that jewel box again as we visited the museum with a group of 6th graders from Travis Elementary School this week. I found some new gems inside.

The building, designed by Philip Johnson, is a work of art on its own. But for the next two years, the building atrium is graced by a lovely installation work by Dallas-based Mexican artist Gabriel Dawe, Plexus no. 34, 2016. What fun to see the open-mouthed astonishment of our students inspired by this ephemeral art work. dawe-3

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On the atrium stairs at Amon Carter

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A soft web of over 80 miles of sewing thread is on display in the changing light of the atrium. In my head the colors sang to me, sounding like the whispers of wind over a harp.

With a little over one hundred students in two separate tour groups, the Museum Educators split our students up into workable groups of eleven or twelve and went on a 90 minute tour. The trip combined the study and writing of poetry and how it can be inspired by art. So with a dual purpose, our students got a lot of mileage out of those 90 minutes.

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One of the second gems on the trip was our students’ access to the Amon Carter’s research library, which I had incorrectly assumed was only available for scholarly research. The library was manned that day by Archivist and Reference Services Manager Jonathan Frembling, who was absolutely wonderful and friendly with our students, showing them  Josef Albers color plates and Calder pieces and reading poetry with enthusiasm and great feeling.  He said something that stuck with me, “Writing is your chance at a kind of immortality, the words you write may live long after you are gone.” dsc00643What a great way to talk to students and a key concept when art work (visual communication) and poetry (written communication) are compared and combined . Our students separated out and wrote poetry, then read it aloud. It was a nice moment.

dsc00619He invited us back to bring student groups and offered to put together any research materials we might need to use on a future project or artist. He showed Mr. Bennett and I an original survey of the Grand Canyon, made before photography was available, illustrated with stunning intricate line drawings. I found this part of our visit especially meaningful, surrounded by hundreds of art documents and books beautifully bound in leather and carefully preserved. There is a rich musky scent and feel to a quiet wood paneled room filled with journals and old books that just can’t be duplicated.

As the tour wound through the museum, they made several stops, taking in and writing about a diverse group of artworks, one of which is a newly acquired piece by George Bellows, with a surprising vivid color that was unexpected.

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We also stopped at the classic Dash for the Timber, hands down my favorite of the western art in Amon Carter’s collection.

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dsc00590invented-worldsbridgetdsc00608dsc00633It was a memorable trip, made comfortable and meaningful by the Museum Educators. A special thanks to those Educators, I don’t have all their names. But to Erin Long and Bridget Thomas and all the others, thank you so much. We felt very welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

Why Do Art Teachers Need A Conference Time, Anyway?

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My elementary art student: Think of the best “valley girl”-accented voice saying, “Why do art teachers need a conference time anyway?”

I’m thinking, “You seriously did not just say that to me, right?” I smiled. Actually I think I bared my teeth and took a deep breath.

Me: (think Julia Sugarbaker accent). My answer:

“Ok, We’ll just examine that question, my friend.

Let’s just talk about materials and tools for a sec, ok?

It may have escaped your notice that on days like today when we paint, when you arrive for your thirty- minute art class (that is really just twenty-five minutes because we have no passing period) that these things are already ready for you on your table:

  • twenty-four large manila backer papers
  • a paper towel
  • a mixing plate
  • and a paint plate with red, yellow, blue, and white paint on it
  • the paint rack where you store your paintings is empty and ready for you with a clothespin on the front with your class number on the side you are supposed to use
  • twelve water cups are filled and ready for you to share with your partner
  • the paint brushes you used yesterday are clean and ready to pass out
  • soapy water is in a tub for your used brushes

Now, about those pesky ideas and goals for my lesson. (I did smile again, really.)

The painting formulas for mixing secondary colors and tints are already on the in-focus screen for you to refer to and your goal for the day is posted on the white board. Ah, vocabulary; like tint, primary, secondary, foreground, middle ground, background, and landscape. Did you think the Keebler Elves handed those to me on a notecard just before class or that I planned what I wanted you to learn?

How about when I carefully taught you procedures for taking out and putting up your artwork and materials by colored table or chair number, did you think that just happened spontaneously through a light sprinkling of fairy dust? No planning involved at all? And that I do all this for six classes a day?

Does that give you a hint of why I might need a planning period?”

The room had become eerily quiet. They were all looking at me like I had grown another head.

Student: “May I have some more yellow paint?”

Me: “Sure.”

Note to self: Switch to decaf tomorrow morning.

3-D Snowflakes

#mwisdmatters

It has been unusually warm here in north Texas. I’m not complaining mind you but I’m craving a little Christmas weather.

The kind of weather where a pot of chili with cornbread takes the chill off your bones. The kind of weather that makes cider and hot chocolate taste good. Sweater weather. So time for a little snow artwork.

My good friend Billie Slater used to bring her Cadets into the building singing…”Pray for snow….pray for snow….” in their best Native American chant rhythm. Well I’m not quite up to that vocally, so we are making snowflakes. Big 3-D snowflakes. I found a very clear tutorial here on the wonderful blog, One Less Headache. Add good instructions plus a sprinkling of science and math and voila, 3-D snowflakes.

 

I have my winter board done too for a little extra snow mojo.

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Let’s get this straight…..not sleet…not ice..I want snow, the big fluffy kind you make snow ice cream with.

Every Once in A While

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This is the long haul in teaching. From the enthusiasm and excitement of the first day of school in late August until the Fall Break in November. More and more on weekends I turn to my husband,who is a retired teacher, and say, ” Listen.” He says, ” I know, no one is saying your name, asking a question, tugging on your  arm…it’s quiet.”  I smile. He understands.

But yesterday, something happened that shook me out of my ” Oh my gosh, what now…” mindset. A small quiet fifth-grader, a slender wisp of a boy, did something so grand…..

We were at recess playing a game called ” Steal the Bacon”. Two classes line up at either end of the gym and when their number is called two children from either side run up and try to grab the “Bacon” (a cloth bundled to look like a slab of bacon ) and run back to their side without being tagged.  All children are included in recess games, so several students that have special needs are in the line-ups.

Not once, but twice, this quiet young man was paired up against a special need’s child. Both times, he let the special need’s child win, in a moment that was not too obvious but full of understanding. Both classes in the game applauded, no complaining. It was one of those moments in teaching that happens every once in a while and takes your breath away with its compassion. And in this bitter election season it gives me hope for humanity.

I asked the quiet boy privately why he did what he did. He looked up at me and said,” My mom told me that if someone is like that, it is my job to take care of them, to let them win if they can and feel good.” Good job Mom. I told him I was proud of him and gave him a 200 club ticket, something we do to promote unsolicited acts of kindness. So in this long haul up to Thanksgiving I am thankful to teach a child like that, to experience those moments and learn from them.

Image Pixabay CC0 Public Domain