From Cave Art to Post Modernism: Thinking in Curlicues

“Most of my life I’ve thought in straight lines. It seems to me that artists think outside the box and in curlicues,” Rebecca Barton, DDS, on what being a Brooks docent taught her.

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What a treat it’s been to be involved with the Brooks Docent Program. After having retired from a career in dentistry I was actively seeking some “fun” projects in which to engage.  I’ve always enjoyed art but was quite unsophisticated in the history and techniques involved therein.  The well-organized and well-taught docent training class was, to me, like getting a Master’s degree in art history and art appreciation.  In addition, the Memphis Brooks Museum becomes “Yours.”  As you learn about the founders and major contributors to the museum and its collections, you gain a deeper knowledge and appreciation not only of the art, but also about the history of Memphis and its people.  In fact, with each new exhibit you learn more about our world history and receive in-depth information about the individual artists and their work. After having gone from Cave Art to Post Modernism in class, you then have the opportunity to share some of that insight with children and adults in an attempt to enhance their experiences while here at the Brooks…and also enjoy and learn from them.

Rebecca Barton

Brooks docent Rebecca Barton, DDS

One of my more entertaining experiences involved working with a group of first graders who had come to the Brooks to learn about the Elements of Art…what makes up a picture.  I asked them if they had talked with their art teacher about things that make a picture…like lines, shapes, colors, texture, etc.  In their unbounded enthusiasm they were shaking their heads yes and many hands were waving.  I said,

“Great…Who can tell me about texture?” 

One bright-eyed little girl said, rather condescendingly, I might add,

“Well, it’s REAL easy, you know.  You just take a cell phone…and you use your thumbs…and that’s texter!” 

The docent learned something that day in that children do learn on the basis of their prior experiences and it’s important to be sure that we’re all on the same page in our communications.  Having said that, art is subject to individual interpretation and the things that one person notices and interprets and enjoys in a piece of art may be totally different from what I may glean from a piece and that is very OK.  Emphasis at the Brooks is on allowing the individual to have a positive experience with the works regardless of age or artistic sophistication. (We DID get the difference between “texter” and “texture” by the end of the visit.)

One of the most rewarding aspects of the Docent Program to me personally has been the extraordinary people with whom I’ve been involved.  From the extremely accomplished and dedicated staff to the remarkably creative, clever, friendly, and altruistic docents, it truly has been a wonderfully broadening and learning and enjoyable experience.  You ought to try it!

Rebecca Barton, DDS

Visit brooksmuseum.org/become-a-docent to be on your way to becoming a Brooks docent today!

Mythological Creatures from Grahamwood Elementary

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Grahamwood Elementary’s CLUE class visited the Brooks on Wednesday, November 20th for a day of art-making and viewing related to Greek mythology. Their itinerary included stops at the Greco-Roman Torso of Pan, 1st century B.C.E. – C.E. 2nd century; The Slaying of Medusa, ca. 1680 and The Massacre of the Children of Niobe, ca. 1680, both by Luca Giordano; and several “everyday” items from the Greco-Roman world, such as Mirror, with Scene of Venus Victrix, 2nd c. A.D. and  Finger Ring Depicting Poseidon, 1st c. B.C. – 1st c. A.D..

In the studio, the students created their own mythological creatures with additional inspiration provided by author and illustrator Eric Carle. His book, Dragons and Dragons, is full of mythological creatures with accompanying poems. Using markers, collage materials and everything they had learned, here is what they came up with:

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Four people who should take the SLR workshop

Molly Kennedy, whose business specializes in portraits and lifestyle shots, is leading a workshop all about digital SLR photography at the Museum on November 16. Brooks Blogger Erin Williams posed a series of different photography situations to her, and got great responses as to why everyone from the new dad to the travel ‘round the world retiree would benefit from her teachings.

Olympus E-30 DSLR Camera with Zuiko Digital ED 14-54mm F2.8-3.5 II. Cut model at the -30 Fair in Tokyo, December 2008, Author: Hanabi123

There is a lot going on in there…..
Olympus E-30 DSLR Camera with Zuiko Digital ED 14-54mm F2.8-3.5 II. Cut model at the -30 Fair in Tokyo, December 2008, Author: Hanabi123

Congratulations! You’ve just bought your first Digital SLR Camera. It will be perfect for capturing those ideal moments – your sister’s graduation from high school, your nephew’s first birthday, your best friend’s first live concert performance in the park. But wait – you know there’s more than one setting than ‘Auto,’ right? Your camera has the power to do more with the image in front of it than you ever imagined – and that’s before you insert it into Photoshop. Molly Kennedy, photographer and owner of Good Golly Photography, is here to show you how. “A lot of people make the big leap to the digital SLR, and then keep it on Auto the whole time,” she says. “What I’m going to be doing is showing you how your camera works, how to use it and how to get the best pictures out of what you have.”

First of all, why should we bother to take our cameras off of the Auto setting? Doesn’t that take care of everything we need in a photo?

Your camera can only do so much, and when it’s on Auto, it doesn’t necessarily know what the best setting is. It’s a very smart machine, but it can…be so much greater. The Auto settings are going to let you get by with some pretty decent pictures, but unless you really know how to use your camera you’re not going to know how to get all those creative effects. People always ask me, ‘How do you get those little round lights in the back of your pictures?’ And it’s called Bokeh. If you keep your camera on Auto you’re not going to get the bokeh. Everything is going to be in focus, everything is going to be sharp, it’s not going to naturally just give you that look. I teach you how to achieve those types of looks by taking over the controls and not just letting your camera decide what the best settings are. Continue reading

Rhodes CODA Stages Takeover Of Brooks’ Instagram Account

Rhodes College senior Annie Herman on her plans to mobilize Memphis’ Spanish-speaking community–online and off.
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Do you “Instagram”….or have you always wanted to learn?  I hope you will join me this Saturday November 2nd at the Brooks for the Día de los Muertos Community Day celebration.  My name is Annie Herman and I am a fellow at the Center for Outreach in the Development of the Arts (CODA) at Rhodes College. The Center aims to foster leadership, vision, and innovative thinking in Rhodes students with a passion for the fine arts. CODA fellows complete ten hours of community service each week in the Memphis Community related to arts outreach.

Utilizing the social media tool “Instagram”, we will be using the tags “#BrooksDia” and “#CODARhodes” to create a unique real-time photography exhibition of the Dia de los Muertos Community Day celebration. Attendees can help out by joining forces and capturing images of the days’ events on their smartphones and then sharing these shots on Instagram. Rhodes College student volunteers will be joining me to answer your Instagram questions and help create the live feed.    These students, all currently enrolled in Professor Elizabeth Pettinaroli’s upper level Spanish Literature classes at Rhodes, will be wearing special # BrooksDia T-shirts.  We all look forward to interacting with Community Day participants and helping to create this real-time event. Continue reading

Extra Wacky Wednesday

About a minute into “Hot Topic”,  a song by NYC electroclash band LeTigre, artist Faith Ringgold gets a shout out. She’s in good company. The song continues, paying tribute to the artists who have inspired the band: Yoko Ono, to Aretha Franklin, to Eleanor Antin.
Not mentioned, is pioneer video artist Nam June Paik, but as Wynne Greenwood‘s music video for “Hot Topic” shows, Paik’s influence is never far away.
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Alzheimer’s Art Therapy Tours

Brooks’ Docent Coordinator Brenda Burgess muses on leading the Alzheimers’ Art Therapy tour with Erin Williams.

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When a docent gives a tour, there are multiple factors that he or she has to keep in mind: Am I boring the audience? Can everyone hear me? Did I give enough time to ask questions?’ The parameters can vary with the group, but they manifest themselves ten-fold when the patrons are of a certain age – and state of mind. Before Brenda Burgess, docent coordinator and Alzheimers’ Art Therapy guide, gives Tuesday’s  tour, she shared her experience of leading this group of grand individuals around the gallery spaces in a conversation with guest blogger Erin Williams.
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Spotlight On: Our Lady of Sorrows School, 5th and 6th Grade ABC Program Experience 

Some of my fondest memories of elementary and middle school include the art projects that went along with the most interesting units that my favorite teachers thought up – the same teachers that inspired me to go into education myself. As a first year educator, I was daunted with the task of creating not only engaging standards-based lessons, but also incorporating art into what my students were doing in the classroom.

Participating in the ABC (Art and the Basic Curriculum) Program through The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art exposed both my students and me to excellent lessons that highlighted how to successfully use art integration in the classroom. We were also privileged to take part in guided museum visits and activities that showcased the wonderful educational resource that is the Brooks.

Most of my students have lived in Memphis all of their lives but had not been to the Brooks before participating in this program. I have a combined fifth and sixth grade classroom of mostly boys who are between the ages of 10 to 12 – not a group that most would say would be interested in fine art. When, during our first museum visit, I saw my entire class sitting at attention (a difficult task for many a middle school student) and intelligently discussing the symbolism in a particular painting with our fabulous museum educator Ms. Brown, I knew we were taking part in something special.

Ms. Brown’s three visits to our classroom at Our Lady of Sorrows School in Frayser were equally rewarding for my students. They learned how to create a Sioux Winter Count – an activity that brought an ancient Native American tradition to life for them within the four walls of our classroom. Their study of plant and animal cells in science was reinforced by our final ABC lesson for the year, which consisted of creating a scientific illustration of a cell.

From having the opportunity to join in on an ABC teacher watercolor painting workshop earlier this year to seeing the growth in my students because of their participation in this program, I look forward to the interesting lessons and activities my students and I can expect for next school year!

This blog is written by Elizabeth Black, educator at Our Lady of Sorrows School.

Sustainability at the Brooks is Measured in Food and Art

Sustainable. As the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art approaches its 100th birthday, I think that word is appropriate. While we reflect on what has made the Brooks last for a century, we also look cautiously to the future, assessing the factors that will not only help the museum survive for generations to come, but will make this world and this city the kind of place those generations can enjoy.
By now, we’ve all heard that word used in the food industry, including the Brushmark Restaurant.

It may qualify as a “buzzword,” but it is so much more. Defining what sustainability means to me in terms of food is complicated. It includes things like proper crop and livestock pasture rotation, growing foods that complement their environments, and using farming practices that won’t harm those environments. Farming in a way that is good for us to eat and good for the Earth is complex. Doing it a way that is economical is even more daunting.

It is natural and responsible to want to associate our food, businesses, and lifestyles with a word that implies “forever.” At the Brooks and the Brushmark, we are constantly evaluating the impact our footprint has on the Earth and learning new ways to make that footprint smaller – through biodegradable takeout boxes, induction stovetops, reduced linens to launder, local produce, etc. We learn from the local community and are grateful for the support and insight of local advocates like recent E-Cheivement Award recipient, Margot McNeely, and Project Green Fork. We are proud to be Project Green Fork certified and embrace their vision of a sustainable Mid-South. We hope that the steps we take now – both small and large – will mean a better future for generations to come.

This blog is written by Andrew Adams Chef de Cuisine for the Brooks.

Amy Beth Rice: Adventures in Art Education from the Eyes of an Intern

While trying to think of an effective environment for socially-concerned art, I used to have visions of left-leaning galleries, street art, and house shows by small artist collectives. I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t think of art museums. The word “museum” conjured images of quiet, chilly rooms housing  masterpieces being respectfully observed by a few individuals with clasped hands and raised eyebrows. However, my experiences at the Brooks and with my internship in the Education department began to gnaw on my preconceived notions of one-dimensionality and the Aztec dance performance during the Day of the Dead event definitely shattered them! The Brooks is so dynamic! I am so often inspired by conversations I’ve had with the staff in Education and others I’ve met here. The passion for art and to engage and educate the community is evident and it’s exciting to learn about and see the ways in which we do so.

I had no idea how much tedious effort it takes to organize an exhibition. Kathy Dumlao allowed me to help organize the student-created altar exhibition for the Day of the Dead event. This primarily took place through emailing, designing promotional and informative material for teachers, more emailing…and then a lot more emailing. I enjoyed the process, but it was not until the kids’ altars were installed and people began to enjoy and connect with them could I understand the richness of what we had been building.

Working on Peaceful Warriors: Aim For Change; showed me how involved the community could become in the exhibition. The photos and text in the show were created by high school students from Trezevant, Hutchison, and Westwood high schools after we visited with them in their classroom. My favorite part was that Karleen Gardner and Jenny Hornby allowed me to develop a powerpoint lecture in which I could use photography examples from the civil rights era and other revolutionary moments to babble on about what I’m most interested in: art and social change. The community then selected the photos for the exhibition on a facebook page. The images touched on a wide range of issues from gang activity to the importance of nutrition to animal cruelty. By focusing on “peaceful warriors” and their strategy to fighting a specific issue, the pieces offered a pathway to solution within their simultaneous focus on a problem. This gave the show a constructive, positive energy that inspired nonviolent action, yet it nicely accompanied the warrior theme of Armed and Dangerous: Art of the Arsenal.

It was exciting to see so many people in the auditorium for the student panel discussion that followed exhibition and to listen to the thoughts of the students and other community voices on the issues impacting our world. Together we pondered the meaning of  the exhibition and how a community can work together to face issues and I realized the active role a museum can play in fostering impactful dialogue.

I’m so grateful for all my experiences at the Brooks, all the fantastic people I’ve met, and the example the ladies in Education have given me of thoughtful, constructive thinkers and doers.

Lectures, Films and Scholastic: What Museums Are Today

I work at the Admissions desk every weekend and have been for over two years. I have seen the progression of the Brooks in that short time, and realized that museums are so much more than the exhibitions they house. It is more, from my perspective, what each exhibition represents to the institution and to its audience.

The museum had a great crowd this month due to the opening of the Mid-South Scholastic Art Awards Exhibition, a Decorative Arts Trust lecture and the British Arrow Awards film. Those are three distinctive events all occurring in front of the eyes of all of the artworks the museum shows such as our extensive permanent collection that focuses on art that spans time to our traveling and in-house shows that represent so many interests…

Looking into the future, I believe that museums will offer even more to their cities. There are already so many possibilities and ways to turn an institution into exactly what you need it to be for you personally. One could come cost free on a Wednesday, have an inexpensive date on Thursday night or a picnic date on the weekend while lazily strolling around the museum with a full stomach. Or you could catch up with friends and family to eat and shop. I had no clue that museums offered so much! I look forward to seeing you here soon.

What is Provenance and Why Does It Matter?

This past May I attended a Provenance Seminar at the National Archives in Washington D.C. funded, in part, by a grant from the Kress Foundation. Before I worked in museums, provenance was not a word I was familiar with, but since I have come to realize all of the legal and ethical issues associated with it. Provenance is the history of the ownership of an object as it passes through time. Some objects have rather lengthy, illustrious histories. They may have been owned by royalty, barons, wealthy international collectors, or even foreign governments. Others may have been passed down through a family, uneventfully, from generation to generation. But whatever the case, it is the responsibility of a museum to make certain, to the best of its ability, that any object entering the collection has been transferred legally from one owner to another, and that no import/export laws were violated.

One provenance issue that has been of prime importance to museums in recent years is that of Nazi looting in WWII. A seminar that I attended in Washington D.C. in 2011 dealt primarily with this problem. During the war, Hitler and his officers confiscated many works of art during the invasion and occupation of Europe. Some works were taken from state museums, palaces, etc., others from Jewish family collections. After the war, rather than being returned to their legal owners, many of these artworks made their way to the art market, some resold a number of times, and they fell into public and private collections around the world.

In 2011 the Kress Foundation began the lengthy process of investigating WWII provenance issues regarding works collected by Samuel H. Kress that are now in museums and universities nationwide. Although the majority of the works have indisputable provenance, others have incomplete ownership data. Last November Fulvia Zaninelli, who is heading the Kress Provenance project from her office in the National Gallery in Washington D.C., made a trip to Brooks Museum to examine its Kress paintings as she has done at many other institutions. The images and information she has gathered here will be consolidated with those collected from other Kress recipients and any works that appear to have significant gaps in their provenance will be researched further.

Museums worldwide have taken up the task of researching their own collections to locate any of these objects and return them to their rightful owner. Success in tracing this type of information has been vastly improved due to the internet and many of the newly available resources were outlined and discussed at the Washington conference. Although it is still very time consuming, researching provenance can be extremely fascinating as you check old invoices, photographs, auction catalogues, publications, etc. to verify ownership history. And in the course of your investigation you never know what you may find along the way. In my own research I’ve found previous alternate titles for a work, ascertained that another painting had been cut down from its original size, and other evidence that consequently changed the date of a painting. Very much like searching one’s own genealogy, it takes you on different paths, and sometimes with surprising results.

Marilyn Masler
Associate Registrar

The Mid-South Scholastic Art Awards: A Student’s Perspective

2012 Best Portfolio Kyle Owens “Commitment”

The Mid-South Scholastic Art Awards has been something I’ve looked forward to every year of high school. I always try to greatly improve my artwork and advance my concepts to enter for the following year. Winning a gold key is so exciting, and the chance to have my work in an exhibition at the Brooks is such an unbelievable opportunity.

2010 Best in Show, Senior Division, Kyle Owens, “Alone . . . “

I can remember my art teacher looking at some of my work during my freshman year and telling me about Scholastic. He advised me to do a piece specifically for it. I wanted it to be better than anything I had previously done. This resulted in me obsessing over one drawing the entire semester only for it to not win anything. After this, I began working much harder with art and striving to be better. Soon everything I did involved art. I was constantly thinking about it and just wanted to be the best I could possibly be.

“Forgotten” (this painting also received an American Visions nomination), Kyle Owens

Now I’m in my senior year in high school and have won several Scholastic awards the past three years including “Best-in-Show” my sophomore year, “Best Drawing” my junior year, and “Best Portfolio” this year. These accomplishments have been such an honor and I’m very grateful that there is a contest like this that honors all the young artists around the Mid-South.

2011 Drawing Award, Senior Division, Kyle Owens, “Vanity”

Next fall I plan on attending Memphis College of Art while continuing to hone every aspect of my art. Hopefully after college I will be able to make a living doing what I enjoy the most and continue doing so for the rest of my life.

-Kyle Owens

Armed and Dangerous: Art of the Arsenal Exhibition Installation!!

I have mentioned this before, but one of the biggest perks of working in a museum are the rare behind-the-scenes looks we are allowed. I was first given the opportunity to photograph unloading and exhibition installations over a year ago. Now, it is part of my job to document our traveling exhibitions from start to finish.

The Brooks staff discusses future shows several years in advance. Each meeting or preview lecture provided takes us one step closer to seeing the actual objects in person. When I learned about Armed and Dangerous, I was very excited to see all of the armor and weaponry throughout time! I thought to myself, my fiance always watches these war and roman-esque movies, maybe I can identify some of these things!

I grabbed our camera and snapped some great pictures (from a very safe distance, of course) of the installation. See them and other installations on our flickr page. Enjoy!

Amy Aughinbaugh, Exhibitions Intern, Shares her Experience at the Brooks

Having never interned nor worked at a museum before, this internship has been my first opportunity to witness and participate in the inner-workings of museum business. Thus far since I began in August, I’ve been working under chief curator Marina Pacini on the Brooks’ upcoming exhibition, Armed and Dangerous: Art of the Arsenal (A & D). It’s been an intriguing project because it encompasses several cultural regions and different time periods. My responsibilities have primarily involved locating research materials and then helping Marina comb them for relevant information. I have also been working on organizing the exhibit contents so that Marina can pick the best arrangement and layout of the exhibition displays.

A & D is neat because it has taught me to look at objects which are primarily instruments of destruction as items that nonetheless reflect the art and aesthetics of various cultures. Artistic development as related to weaponry also inevitably leads to military history which offers a further perspective on the many facets of intercultural exchange. For example, the Chinese are generally considered to be the inventors of gunpowder and the first guns, but Europeans quickly took over gunpowder technology and harnessed its results for much more precise and deadly means than the Chinese had yet imagined.

I’m grateful to be working on a project that I will be able to see to its completion since A&D opens in less than one month. I will have learned how an assortment of various objects can come together under curatorial management and become a cohesive statement about the development of visual culture. At the same time, I’ve simply learned a lot of weapons and weaponry. (Did you know that Leonardo da Vinci invented a type of gun which became the forerunner for pistols today?)

Working at the Brooks, especially working so closely with its curator, has been a great opportunity for me which has definitely contributed positively to my thoughts on a future career in the art world. After the opening of A&D, I look forward to assisting with more projects and exhibitions, and I’m only saddened that my time here seems to be passing so quickly.

P.S. Armed and Dangerous: Art of the Arsenal opens November 12!

This blog is written by Amy Aughinbaugh, Exhibitions Intern for the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.

In Focus with Girls Inc.

Photographs and video from the Brooks Museum’s summer In Focus program are currently on view in the Education Gallery through Oct 23, 2011. Memphis artist Thomasin Durgin worked with 30 adolescents from Girls Incorporated, a non-profit organization with a mission to inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold. The focus of the program was portraiture through digital photography and included an introduction to stop-motion video.

Adolescents typically struggle with issues of identity and control over their own lives. Through portraiture girls are able to express who they are, and to show themselves as they want to be seen by the world. Many participants began the program with an eye for glamorous shots, yet photo assignments such as composing faceless portraits or choosing to depict specific emotions helped them begin viewing the camera as an artistic tool. Photographs were projected and reviewed at the end of most sessions, which encouraged dialogue and reflection. Composition, framing, lighting, and technical aspects of photography were introduced during these discussions s well.

An exceptional group of talented girls, the participants created work that is moving, creative, thoughtful, and fun.

Viva La France!

Every now and then we get an email from our friend Elisabeth Callihan, who has been living in Paris for the last year. Elisabeth was formerly the Public Relations and Public Events Manager here at the Brooks and she is simply fabulous. She feeds us little tidbits of cool stuff going on across the pond. Her most recent email says, everyone is obsessed with florals here lately – dresses, pants, shoes – everything in florals. Also, drinking outside is big. So put on your best floral dress and come to the Brooks for a drink on the patio.

Florals and drinking aside, it’s been all about France at the Brooks this summer. We even had a Bastille Day celebration with the opening of our new show, The Impressionist Revolution. Come to the Brooks for some French inspired fun, which will continue through early October. Here’s a sampling of what you’ll experience:

-Nicoise Salad, Quiche Lorraine, and more at the Brushmark Restaurant
-95 works of French and related Impressionism paintings
-French pop and hip-hop music by DJ Leroy Trenton during Brooks After Hours
-French films
-A “Kid’s Café” gallery featuring scent games, dress up, and more
-French wine tastings
-Screenings of French operas and ballets
-Sidewalk Impressionists Chalk Festival on September 24

That’s A LOT of French fun! And for a lot less than a plane ticket to Paris. So what are you waiting for? Take a trip to France without the annoying and invasive security checks. Join the Brooks now at http://www.brooksmuseum.org/join or call Andrea Carlisle at 544-6230.

This blog has been written by Diane Jalfon Director of Development at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.