Monthly Archives: August 2009

Surfaces

By Susan Danly
Curator of Graphics, Photography, and Contemporary Art


[Caption: Curator Susan Danly writing about the new installation Surfaces in the third floor galleries.]

One of the best parts of my job is pulling together new installations from our permanent collection. It gives me an opportunity to “get creative.” Because I’m not an artist, but an historian, this is my equivalent of “making art.” I look for relationships between artists, between works of art, and between ideas inherent in the objects themselves. I always see new things in my old favorites and find new ways to understand how artists work.

I also firmly believe in a pluralistic approach to contemporary art. There was no one straight line from Monet to the Abstract Expressionists as we were once taught. Instead, there are lots of twists and turns, slow meanders, and even some dead ends—all of which make the journey more fun. So this latest incarnation of our contemporary gallery tells a slightly different story. This one is about surfaces.

Here’s a bit of a preview:

Since the advent of Abstract Expressionism in the mid-1950s, many artists have been concerned with “activating” the surface of their work. To do so, they employ a host of attention-seeking techniques: the use of highly saturated color, thickly applied globs of paint called impasto, visible drips of more liquid paint, the layering and scraping of paint, organic matter imbedded in paint or plaster, and applied assemblages of wood and fabric. 

These are just some of the surfaces you will find on view now in the third floor galleries. Come on in and take a closer look for yourself.

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 http://www.umassd.edu/specialprograms/mawh/ 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.

Made in Matinicus

By Grace Kiffney
YourSpace High School Intern

One of our opportunities in the YourSpace internship is to spend an hour at the end of each day sketching from the works in the Museum. We began sketching on the 4th and 3rd floors and slowly worked our way through the Museum.

Finally, we reached the 1st floor and had a chance to sketch in the temporary exhibition gallery, which for the summer, includes the exhibition Call of the Coast. YourSpace, had given us techniques to practice while sketching, and part of that day’s technique was “sketch your favorite view.”

First, I had to find my favorite view. There were many magnificent impressionistic paintings from Connecticut and several thought-provoking modern ones from Maine. But standing out against the numerous breathtaking landscapes was a scene that wouldn’t attract much attention in real life, the working harbor in a small coastal Maine town.

This painting called Matinicus (1916) by George Bellows depicts a cluster of ramshackle buildings in the light of the setting (or rising) sun. The house on the far left was what actually caught my attention the most. This very narrow, pointy roofed house shouldn’t have been standing, it was so worn out. There are several other houses like it in the painting, and their ancient leaning frames bring them to life.

In addition, the wandering cow and geese add a little humor to the scene. Finally, toward the base of the painting are three fishermen sitting on their boat, surrounded by lobster traps, completing the view of classic Maine.

One can’t fully appreciate the exhibition Call of the Coast unless they see it for themselves.  For days before the exhibition opened, there was so much excitement in the Museum about the new paintings coming.  The Museum’s Artrek camp was centered on the exhibit’s theme of artist colonies, and I had heard so much about Call of the Coast before getting the chance to see it.  But now that I have been able to walk through the exhibition and really absorb the art, I am so glad that I did.

Image credit: George Bellows (United States, 1882-1925), Matinicus, 1916, oil on canvas, 32 x 40 inches. Portland Museum of Art, Maine.