Category Archives: Teachers

WAM: Back to School Edition

By Molly Braswell
Learning and Interpretation Assistant

It’s been a busy and exciting summer at the PMA and as September gets closer, the Learning and Interpretation Department can’t help but look forward to the return of school tours. During the school year, the energy of school tours transforms our museum; it is wonderful to see and hear kids in the galleries, excited to be looking at art (and probably to be away from school!). The PMA’s Free School Tours, made possible by the Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust, give Maine students the opportunity to experience one-of-a-kind artwork in person, and to see the way that our state influences artists and their work. Last year the PMA hosted over 9,000 school kids and we are looking forward to another amazing year.

The tours are guided by PMA docents, our very talented and energetic group of volunteers. The docents personalize each tour, tying in the students’ interests and classroom content; they also add a bit of their own personality and perspective to their tours as well. Docents have a variety of backgrounds and experiences, and it’s fun to see how their own ideas and passions are expressed through their tours. Along these lines, some docents have favorite age groups, and prefer to give tours to certain grades. Luckily for the PMA, we have docents for every grade, and of course there are many docents who love teaching all ages.

To get us geared up for the start of the school year, I thought I would share what some of our docents love about touring the museum with students at each stage and age: what students seem to enjoy most about their visits, how different grades contribute to the tours, and why museum visits are fun for all ages.

Kathy Sheehan loves working with the younger kids (grades 1-3) because “they are engaged, very talkative, and are excited to answer questions or participate in discussions.” Before becoming a docent, Kathy was a preschool and kindergarten teacher, so she has a lot of experience with this age. She really enjoys showing these students the artwork in the museum because “their observations are keen, unique, and sometimes very funny.” Kathy says that as soon as these younger students walk into the PMA’s spacious and commanding Selma Wolf Black Great Hall, “they know they’re in for a new adventure!”

PMA docent Rhonda Pearle enjoys taking 4th and 5th graders on tours of the PMA because “they are always excited, willing to share, and sincerely interested in the art they are experiencing.” Rhonda appreciates how the students’ thoughts about a work of art can enable her to look at the work in a completely new way. When Rhonda’s own children were in elementary school, she was involved in creating a volunteer art program for the school. They had a program for each grade, but Rhonda especially loved working with the 4th and 5th graders—she noticed how students at this age really enjoy expressing their own opinions and contributing thoughtfully to a project.

As a former middle school teacher, Sue Smith particularly enjoys taking middle school students on a tour of the museum. Sue points out that students of this age are “old enough to handle more complicated issues and ideas,” and as they have several years of school under their belts, they are able to relate the art to topics they have discussed in school. Sue has learned that middle schoolers “like variety, and it is so easy to provide that at the Portland Museum of Art.” She discovered that “they like anything that is relevant to their lives.” If a student can relate to a piece of art, they will want to share personal stories and observations about the work. Sue believes that “middle school students can be great visitors—they can be quite discerning, opinionated, and fun-loving all at the same time.”

Carolyn Outwin is the docent to call for high school groups. She has always worked with this age group—it is the grade she was certified to teach. She enjoys how high schoolers can really focus while on the tour, and how excited the students can be about what’s in the museum. She particularly appreciates how high school students bring their own personal experiences to the tour—for example, a student on one of her tours made excellent observations while looking at Winslow Homer’s painting, Fox Hunt. In this painting of crows and a fox, it is unclear if the crows are hunting the fox, or vice versa. During a conversation about the work, this student pointed out that “crows don’t hunt—they eat carrion.” The other students in the group then told Carolyn that this student hunts with his father and grandfather. Carolyn is always amazed when students use their own experiences to analyze a painting.

The PMA is excited to have students of all ages in the galleries this year. We hope the students enjoy the tours as much as we enjoying giving them!

WAM (Why Art Matters) is a blog series dedicated to taking a closer look at how and why art matters. From art education in schools to communicating with artists, tell us…why does art matter?

Looking with Head Start

By Julia Einstein
Coordinator of Youth and Family Program

“Oh my gosh, these pieces of artwork are breathtaking! Who would even imagine they were created by preschoolers!!!” -Dorothy Kosinski, LSW, Children’s Services Team Leader at Child & Family Services, a program of PROP—Peoples Regional Opportunity Program.

As you look at young artists’ interpretations of the art of trompe l’oeil (meaning to “fool the eye”)—a style of painting in which objects appear to be real rather than rendered—you’ll see the happy faces and the visual artist signatures of Jesel, Adrianna, Marwa, and Tristan. You’ll see how each object has been carefully arranged onto a real wood board and placed together like pieces of a puzzle. Is it real? Notice a feather—as if from a William Harnett still life, coins and currency from the world of artist John Haberle and torn cards and paper like those found in the rack paintings by Frederick Peto. See them as the young children from Head Start did—as a looking game.

Head Start in the Museum is a new community partnership with the students and teachers of three Pre-K classrooms in Portland’s PROP Program. Fifty-three students (ages 3 to 5) and six teachers participated over the course of three visits meant to celebrate the joy in sharing Museum experiences with the very youngest of audiences!

Portland Museum of Art gallery teachers, Nancy Marino, Barbara Hoppin, Wendy Seltzer, and Cricket King helped us create a child to adult ratio of 2:1, and we began in the children’s Deering Place classrooms on Cumberland Avenue and Parkside. We liked exploring our Museum neighborhood and helping each child use a special artist’s viewfinder to look through and discover the Museum as walked, holding hands, up High Street to Congress Square. Once inside the Museum, we went into the special exhibition John Haberle: American Master of Illusion and spent about five minutes with four different paintings. As each painting represents a different approach to the artist’s subject, this gave us the opportunity to take a different approach to looking and “reading” art. We carried small toy binoculars and asked, “Can you believe your eyes?” We look longer and we smiled as we discovered the illusion. We continued on to our Community Studio for an art-making activity. The most fun was making new friends and working with wonderful teachers, Sharon Roach, Sarah Noyes, Carrie McLean, Lenore Hilton, Missy Wlodylo, and Julie Sullivan-Drouin.

“All the children have enjoyed the experience. They recognize the museum when we have taken other walks. One child, who understood the concept of the images being pretend, was looking at the artwork and trying to tell if it was real or ‘a trick’ as he put it.” -Sharon Roach, Teacher/Family Advocate at Deering Place Child Development Center.

PROP, People’s Regional Opportunity Program administers the federal Head Start program in Cumberland County for children aged 3 to 5. This program is FREE to qualifying families. In Head Start, children learn through play.

Maritime America in the Age of Winslow Homer

By Stacy Rodenberger
Coordinator of School Programs

The first week of August found the Museum’s Winslow Homer Gallery buzzing with teachers from all across the country. They were participants in the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s four-week teacher institute, Maritime America in the Age of Winslow Homer, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. From their home base at the UMass Dartmouth campus, these teachers traveled to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the RISD Museum of Art, and to the PMA to study original paintings, watercolors, prints, and drawings by Winslow Homer. They also visited several maritime history centers, including the New Bedford Whaling Museum, in an interdisciplinary study of the culture, economics, history, and art of late 19th century America. Homer’s famous paintings of Gloucester, Massachusetts and the Maine coast served as the visual thread in this intensive, thematic study.

The participants were K-12 teachers from a variety of disciplines, including visual arts, social studies, science, and language arts, and their goal was to develop an interdisciplinary lesson plan based on Winslow Homer and maritime history to teach in their classrooms this fall. As a consultant to the project, I had the opportunity to work with teachers and to hear their lesson plan presentations. At the PMA, we closely examined the paintings in our collection with Homer scholar Marc Simpson, curator from the Clark Art Institute, including Sharpshooter, Artists Sketching in the White Mountains, as well as two of Homer’s ocean-themed paintings: Taking an Observation and Weatherbeaten. We also discussed ways that teachers can place Homer’s art at the center of the curriculum, techniques for developing a truly integrated lesson plan based on careful looking and extended conversations about the work of art, and reviewed formative assessments to measure student progress.

Back at the UMass Dartmouth campus, it was a treat to hear how the teachers had synthesized three and a half weeks of content and experiences into cohesive, creative lesson plans for their students. Building on larger themes such as “exploration,” “interdependence,” “labor,” and “sea life,” teachers from Washington state, Washington, D.C., Tennessee, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, and Maine shared the ways they will engage their students in the art and time of Winslow Homer while meeting their state education standards in a variety of content areas. The teachers were energized to go back to school, to collaborate with colleagues, and to test their lessons with students this fall.

Having planned and presented my own Winslow Homer-themed Summer Institute for Teachers here at the PMA, I applaud the hard work and creative planning by Dr. Arlene Mollo and Dr. Mary Malloy, co-directors of the institute. The teachers had an amazing learning experience that will have a major impact on students across the country. I also learned so much from the directors and teacher participants that will influence future PMA teacher institutes and workshops. The Portland Museum of Art is proud to have been a part of this special program. If you are interested in seeing the teachers’ lesson plans, please visit in September.

Image credit: Winslow Homer (United States, 1836–1910), Weatherbeaten, 1894, oil on canvas, 28 1/2 x 48 3/8 inches. Portland Museum of Art, Maine, 1988.55.1.