Wednesday, April 28, 2010
For many years the Woodson Art Museum has organized thematic exhibitions drawn from the permanent collection to share with other museums. The industry jargon is “traveling exhibition.” To date, nine Woodson exhibitions (not including Birds in Art, which travels annually) have traveled to dozens of museums across the country and around the world.
Naturally Drawn, Natural Wonders, A Reflective Nature, Fowl Play, Visual Poetry, and Wild Things are among our popular offerings. Some of the titles provide a hint of the subject or focus.
Since I am currently developing three new exhibitions, I thought I’d share the organization process specific to one. It’s not a difficult task; I liken it to being in a shoe store with a nearly limitless gift card. There are many styles, colors, sizes, textures, and materials; the challenge is to make the most thoughtful choices.
I like to first establish a theme, next select supporting artworks, and then bestow an enticing and overarching title on the exhibition. Following these three steps, I tackle the nuts and bolts.
A recent bequest included hundreds of paintings, drawings, books, and ephemera from the studio of Don Richard Eckelberry. This gift offers a wealth of material from which to draw works for an exhibition.
Beginning in 1959, Eckelberry made repeated visits to Trinidad to birdwatch as well as capture the avifauna in watercolor. Because the bequest included dozens of these exotic and spectacular works along with journal narratives, the birds of Trinidad and Tobago seemed a natural theme.
While cataloguing the bequest, I examined many intricately painted, vibrant watercolors of tropical birds, each so beautiful it screamed–or should I say squawked – to be shared. The exercise of culling the works to a mere 50, while challenging, was a treat for my eyes.
Now for a catchy title. My particular working style consists of accumulating descriptive words and phrases, writing them down in a column on the left side of a page, then making combinations on the right that tell the exhibition story. I share these ideas with others who add more word combinations. I do more tweaking until reaching that aha moment! A Naturalist’s Eden: Don Richard Eckelberry’s Birds of Trinidad and Tobago.
Tremendous behind-the-scenes work follows, including identifying possible venues, gathering education materials, writing object and didactic labels, and the list goes on.
And then there are the artworks. Each must be carefully prepared, including matting, hinging, and framing. Crates are built or retrofitted to safely move the exhibition, and packing and shipping instructions are written.
Each step in the overall process involves a great deal of work by members of the Woodson team. Nearly everyone on staff plays a role. Though projects such as this consume hundreds of hours, the end result is always rewarding.
A Naturalist’s Eden: Don Richard Eckelberry’s Birds of Trinidad and Tobago debuts at the Woodson Art Museum mid-August.
If you know a museum in your area that might be interested in this traveling exhibition, please contact me. I’ll provide venue updates in a future blog.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
I’m no stranger to travel or to accompanying groups, but I have to confess that the lead-up to each departure is a mix of excitement and anxiety. I want everything to be just-so and pride myself on attention to detail. I’m confident that we’ve checked and rechecked each and every detail for St. Louis; I don’t leave anything to chance.
We’re due at St. Louis’ Lambert Airport at 11:00 a.m. and we hit the ground running, heading directly to the Missouri History Museum. The afternoon includes the Cathedral Basilica with its famed mosaics and the City Garden. Our first day wraps up with dinner on The Hill and a stop at Ted Drewes for frozen custard.
Thursday begins with the Arch, Ride-to-the-Top, and the Museum of Westward Expansion. An afternoon replica paddleboat ride on the mighty Mississippi and a docent-led tour at the St. Louis Art Museum round out the day.
A St. Louis Symphony “coffee concert” with guest maestro Pinchas Zukerman fills Friday morning. The afternoon will be spent at the renowned Missouri Botanical Garden. Before departing on Saturday afternoon, the group will visit the American Kennel Club’s Museum of the Dog and Laumeier Sculpture Park.
This relatively short get-away covers quite a bit of St. Louis turf and major attractions, including architectural and artistic highlights and a range of specialty foods. A winning combination, really: excellent art and music, historic sites, distinct cuisine, and delightful traveling companions. Who could ask for more?!
P.S. The Woodson Art Museum generally offers one short (two to three days) and one long (four days or more) trip each year. We share advance information with those who have traveled with us previously and those who have asked to be included on our Preferred Traveler List. If traveling with the Museum interests you and you’re not already on our list, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Kathryn Piffl at 715-845-7010 with your name and contact information.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Shower, brush teeth, and the morning routine continues while I try not to wake up the entire household. 5:25 a.m. I fill my coffee mug and I’m out the door, on my way to Madison to judge the Visual Arts Classic (VAC). I’m making the drive alone, a good thing because singing along with every song that comes on the radio makes my day roll out in a perfect way. Why would anyone want to listen to someone talk at you in the morning? I wouldn’t; that’s why I change the station every few songs to avoid the talk.
I make great time and at 8 a.m. I pull onto Park Street and up to the front of the Humanities building on the UW Madison Campus. A young lady hands me a parking pass. Off I go to the Helen C. White parking ramp. The sun is shining and the campus is busy with activitiy. It feels good to be back. It’s going to be a glorious day!
Buses line up and students off-load with artworks they spent their entire school year creating. Lively chatter greets me as I enter the Humanities building and hike upstairs to the Seventh Floor Gallery. The hallways are packed with students, teachers, parents, and judges. Everyone but the judges clears the gallery space by 8:30 a.m. I hear hammering as the last few artworks are put in place. I feel excited as I enter the gallery and that’s how it should be. There are almost 300 artworks created by 69 high school VAC teams from across Wisconsin on display to be judged and critiqued.
The Visual Arts Classic is a competition for high school art students. Twelve students comprise a team, and high schools can have more than one team. Coaches must be Wisconsin Arts Education Association members. Teams compete in eleven studio categories: drawing, painting, sculpture, art history, computer graphic design, video, printmaking, ceramics, personal adornment, digital photography, and traditional photography. A theme and twelve representative artists differentiate each year. The 2010 theme was Art and the 1960s & 70s. The twelve artists were Marilyn Levine, Andy Warhol, Peter Max, Richard Avedon, David Hockney, Andre Courreges, Bridget Riley, Roy Lichtenstein, George Segal, Minnie Evans, Alton Kelley, and Stanley Mouse. Teams researched the theme and studied the artists.
In addition to the theme, the VAC poses a question for each of the eleven categories. The challenge is to create artworks during the school year in response to the questions. At earlier regional competitions, students created additional artworks in response to a second question. Students are judged and scored individually and as a team. The first place regional winners advance to the State competition.
Madison is the site of the State competition and the artwork is impressive. I’m one of four judges assigned to the painting category. The students were required to create an original landscape in the style of Peter Max. From across the gallery space, I could see many stylized bright orange suns.
Judging is based on four criteria: solving the problem, originality/creativity, composition/design, and technical skill. Each is worth between one and five points, with five being the highest. A perfect score is 20 (First: 18-20 points; Second: 15-17 points; Third: 12-14 points; and Fourth: 11 and below). While the judges are scoring the long-term projects, students are creating a short-term artwork.
Lunchtime! That means a cold Diet Coke and sub for me.
After lunch, the short-term projects are judged. Once the judging is complete, students have the chance to meet with judges for face-to-face critiques.
The critique time is my favorite part of the day. I’m eager to find out about the artists and the thoughts behind their artworks. It’s especially interesting when you find out this is the first year a student has worked in watercolor or acrylic, for example. Many have never explored the medium they worked in before this school year.
It’s 2:30 p.m. My VAC judging is finished. I leave the lively chatter behind, open the door onto Park Street, and head back to my car. It’s a beautiful sunny day and there are many songs to sing as I travel the 140 miles back home.
Thanks to the Visual Arts Classic competitors for making April 9 a glorious day!
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Tim took on a variety of assignments, under the direction of Museum facilities manager, Joe Ruelle. Tim helped with landscaping and other outside duties, the set up and tear down of the stage for each summer concert, and preparations for OctoBIRDfest.
As the weather got colder, Tim moved indoors and Joe learned that Tim was handy in the workshop. After graduating from DC Everest High School, Tim enrolled at NTC and completed their Residential Building Systems Program.
With the skills learned at NTC, Tim was well suited to take on and help with wood-working projects, including two Art Park interactives for the Norman Rockwell exhibition. He constructed a miniature soda fountain that was a BIG HIT with toddlers, and a second interactive based on Norman Rockwell’s self portrait, swapping out the artist’s canvas for a pad of paper to allow visitors to sketch themselves by viewing their image in a mirror.
Tim also helped construct book shelves in one of the permanent collection vaults and storage racks in another. He assisted in revamping the Museum’s workshop, bringing a dust collection unit online so that each power tool in the shop is now vented.
The last project that Tim took on was an interactive puppet theater à la Snoopy’s Dog House to complement our summer exhibition Peanuts at Bat.
To send Tim off in style, we held a reception in his honor in the storage room off the workshop with plenty of treats to go around.
How fortunate we were to find Tim, who not only complemented the staff, but also contributed significantly to many projects. We wish him the best in his future endeavors.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Kathy Foley’s office is right across the hall from mine so I might get a peek of her signing membership letters, working on a grant application narrative, crunching budget numbers, or editing copy for something that no doubt has a just-around-the-corner deadline.
Then it’s past the Museum’s library/conference room. I always get a chuckle when I see our many art techniques, artist, and art history books filling the shelves alongside bird identification, bird behavior, and bird habitat books. I doubt any other North American art museum library stocks this unusual combo.
Next, I go past office manager Shari Schroeder’s office. Her space is tucked behind a wall so I never actually get a glimpse of what she’s up to unless I stop in. Shari has a rear-view mirror on her computer and would see me if I peeked around the corner. I wouldn’t want to be brought up on spying charges!
Jayna Hintz’s office, next on my route, is generally a hoot because this is where she preps things for the next Art Park installation. Right now I see five dog stuffies dressed in the cutest costumes. Jayna herself is tucked around a corner, but her “welcoming committees” of stuffed critters, puppets, and toys make me smile.
Curatorial assistant Kathryn Piffl has the quietest office of anyone in the Museum. If her light isn’t on, I’d never know she’s in there. Ever efficient and attentive to details, Kathryn’s office is as neat as a pin, too. She obviously was born with the “tidy” gene.
A few feet further on, Erin Narloch’s work space is filled with photos of her adorable son, Blake, now seventeen months old. It’s always a happy place – and that makes me feel happy.
The only office I don’t pass is Andy McGivern’s. His space is beyond Jane’s. He does have a door and it’s open, but I can’t just saunter in to see what he’s up to. That might appear a bit suspicious!! I have to wait for Andy to come to my office.
After I fetch my soda, I make the return trip. You’d be surprised how much can change in just those 3-4 minutes before I head back to my own office.