Monday, April 11, 2016

A Love Song to the VMFA

            House at Dusk  1935     Edward Hopper         

I believe one of the most beautiful places on Earth is the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. It is spacious, bright, contemporary and houses an acclaimed art collection. Charlie's mom, Courtney Morano, works at the museum and arranged for the Kindergarten to tour the collection with an emphasis on art depicting the people of the city and animals. It was as you might expect an unforgettable day. 

Vea Vecchi, an atelierista at the Diana municipal school in Reggio Emilia for over thirty years and a current consultant to Reggio Emilia, is a rock star for educators. She was one of our speakers at the Summer Institute in Italy and spoke to the need for a "plurality of languages".  Vea insists that children should have access to the many ways to perceive, interpret and express the world in which we live. These languages should not be "hierarchical" but rather woven together to create a context for learning. 

Later that summer, I reread her book Art and Creativity in Reggio Emilia, Exploring the role and potential of ateliers in early childhood education. She invites ateliers to be "situated within the curriculum, tightly interweaving with all other disciplines." 

"The question we should be asking is to what extent and in what ways do the processes of learning and teaching could change if school culture welcomed the poetic languages of and an aesthetic dimension as important elements for building knowledge." Vea Vecchi

As an educator, I have changed in significant ways during my time teaching at Sabot. I now always reach for the arts to depict the humanity present in all that we learn and do each day in the Kindergarten. Anna Golden, as our school atelierista and Cheri, as our Kindergarten studio teacher also tether us to the aesthetic dimension that Vea challenges us to embrace.

Take one moment to look at the above painting entitled  House at Dusk, painted by Edward Hopper . Feelings begin to bubble up, perhaps distant memories, voices or smells of memories of the city are generated. I recall the loneliness that is sometimes a part of living in the city and the essentiality of a green space. How quickly these impressions are made! 

We distributed each child's city journals and a pencil with no formal request. The children immediately began to sketch what intrigued them while others were curious about the moving shadows that the beautiful space generated.

Each face is engaged and curious.  This photograph is a thesis statement detailing the power and necessity of "plurality of languages" in every school each and every day. 

Glass Pavilion 2011   Theaster Gates

Charlie (later telling the class about the significance of this sculpture): There was an architect and he took old pieces of a building and then they would make a structure. He would renovate the old and make it new.

Sam: Scott (Wayne...our first interview) took apart an old building and made it into a new building. He made the garage into a huge window. He is just like the artist. 

Julia: I drew the ceiling of this building. 

Annabel: I noticed the teacups on the shelf. He must have found those too in the houses he was taking apart. 

This piece of art spoke to the children and invigorated their thinking. They entered the sculpture and stood studying and identifying  the images of architectural landmarks that looked like a negative sheet embossed on the ceiling. 

These sketches from the children's journals depict the ceiling of the sculpture and its complexity and intricacies. 

Scarlett: This was a picture of the barn in the summer. There were cows and horses.

Cal: We also had a barnyard in the winter. In the winter on the farm, there are not many animals to see and it is not very busy. The pictures were the exact same except one had snow and not alot of animals. 
Eve: The summer on the farm was very busy.

Virginia 360 Thomas Schiff

Shayna: I drew the circle outside of the white house.
Scarlett: Hey we stood on that circle when we went to the city on the train.
Sam: It is the Virginia State Capitol.
Zoey: The picture is a panoramic picture.
Penelope: The camera goes in a circle and takes all of the details in.

As the children saw the opening photograph in the exhibit, they were struck by its sheer size. It almost gave the illusion that the viewer could step inside the photograph. It inspired much conversation as we unpacked the field trip later in the classroom.

Summer City   1920 George Bellows

 We are conducting interviews of people who live, work or play in the city. Many of these interviewees discuss their passion for the James River. They describe hiking along the James, mountain biking the trails and even kayaking on the water. Many of the children have had exposure to the river but we have yet to venture as a class. This painting was a catalyst for a conversation regarding the many uses of a river.

Oh, the barnyard filled with animals!  This was a favorite for our young animal lovers.

Lorelia:  I wondered how the animal sculptures were made. They looked so smooth.

Bryce: This was my favorite place because there were dogs and pigs.

 Cal noticed the texture in the sculpture and set off to depict it in his sketch. The children longed to touch these sculptures and pet the animals and feel the stone. They resisted their urges and instead channeled their curiosity into their drawing.

Out West    1977      Roy DeForest

Just one look at this painting by Roy DeForest and you can imagine the reaction of the Kindergartners, The colors, depth perception, the size of the animals and their placement in the foreground incited the children to immediately leave their bodies and inhabit the bodies of a dog, horse, cat and of course the most famous cat of them all Maude. 

This was a Vea Vecchi moment....color, design, texture inciting movement, play and exploration. 

Stadia 2004   Julie Mehretu

Abstraction art is such a mystery to so many adults but for children there is often no need to unlock the meaning. They think poetically and without boundaries. 

How does this picture show city life?

 Cal: It looks crazy. There are soccer fields, flags and buildings.
Eve: All of the scribble scrabble reminds me of how busy the city is. I feel like I do when I want to play and do lots of stuff but you can't decide what you want to do next. 
Scarlett; The road and the cars on the road are so busy and I smell coffee.
Cal; When I go into the city for soccer  I see lots of buildings without many windows. I feel wobbly when I look at it. 

This glorious room was our last stop and almost impossible to leave.  The exhibit was called Artcycle. It is a participatory exhibit that encouraged children to take a virtual tour on a bike through the galleries, generate art with parts of bikes, play with specially crafted gears and chains and explore Spirograph. This beautiful space ( an inspiration of Courtney's) brought back memories of the International Bike Race and the play we produced.


  1. Mary, I also love this museum and we go often, but you've made me see it completely afresh through the kindergartners' eyes. Thank you.

  2. I posted this on my Facebook page and got some lovely responses including "This is what teaching is all about" from a retired NYC teacher. Thanks, Mary! I'm so glad I got to be a part of this.