From evening news interviews to acrylic paint smeared across your backside, the life of a Woodson Art Museum educator is a charmed but chaotic one. The proverbial “it’s all in a day’s work” feels appropriate after many a busy day at the Museum. Tuesday, October 23 was no exception.
Yesterday morning was spent with coworkers Joe Ruelle and Dave Jones installing an exhibition of local student work created last week during “Pyro-techniques” with artist-in-residence Julie Bender. The pyrography works on view offer an inviting and attractive way for the public to appreciate the positive experiences students shared with this Birds in Art artist at the Museum. Participating students were given 5” x 7” maple wood blocks (generously donated by Merrill woodworker Mark Duginske), wild turkey feathers, pencils, paper, erasers, and basic pyrography tools. The results were amazing. The breadth of the artwork produced by students – in under an hour, utilizing a tool and technique new to most – is truly a testament to the creativity and diverse artistic styles lurking in all of us.
Many raised eyebrows from teachers and chaperones were cast my way when Julie cautioned that the pyrography tools get “twice as hot as an oven” or “1,000°F!” That line was quickly followed by my “But not to worry! We have a first-aid kit here and so far I’ve been the only one to burn myself.” What is often a deterrent for adults can be a selling point for students.
Working with artists-in-residence is one of the highlights of my job for a number of reasons. Not surprisingly, working closely with an artist allows you to gain a deeper appreciation for their work – a benefit students visiting during residency programs also take with them. Additionally, my colleagues and I feel strongly that working one on one with a professional artist in his or her medium is a memorable event that enhances the viewing of their artwork and how we relate to all art in the galleries. I always learn a lot during a residency program – about an artist’s medium, process, and materials as well as gaining more general insights into people.
Following Julie Bender’s residency, I can conclude with confidence that students are braver than adults; when faced with unfamiliar wood burning tools they proceeded with determination while adults proceeded with caution. “Oh, I don’t know; I’m not an artist,” adults often say, “I failed art in high school.” Either art educators are prone to fail many more students than I suspect or some adults are letting some nerves get the best of them. The desired end result is exploration, not a perfectly burned pyrography artwork. (I’ll move on before climbing onto the soapbox . . . .)
Yesterday afternoon was dedicated to welcoming students from Wausau School District’s Engineering and Global Leadership (EGL) Academy, who were treated to an introduction to the Museum’s audio tour app developed by their peer Alan Raff. Curator of exhibitions Andy McGivern and I have blogged many a time about the challenges and successes of this constantly evolving project. This visit afforded us the opportunity to show off the app and our brilliant school district collaboration to local media and school administrators as well as give Alan his proper time in the limelight.
Early evening rolled around in time for Museum educator Jayna Hintz and me to lead a Little Masters/Young Artists studio class inspired by Owen Gromme’s ornithological paintings. Participants, 5 – 12 years, used reference photos of avian subjects to paint portraits or depictions of birds in action, using acrylic on canvas. Sometimes excited young artists become quite liberal with their brushes and paint application, and sometimes educators are standing in the wrong place at the wrong time.
These dynamic elements of my position keep me on my toes; and I’m constantly learning on the job. Tomorrow Jayna Hintz and I will speak at the Wisconsin Art Education Conference (WAEA) in Sheboygan on how the Woodson Art Museum serves as an extension of community classrooms. This will be my conference presentation debut (gulp); it’s all part of a day’s work!