The Workshop

The Workshop is a space for all visitors to engage with the PMA’s collection and special exhibitions in hands-on and interactive ways. Research shows that this kind of playful mindset leads to lasting learning for both adults and children. Here at the PMA, we believe that visitors of all ages deserve the chance to exercise their creative minds and explore art through active participation. Projects rotate four times a year, with each installation presenting a new creative challenge and a gallery full of incredible solutions created by visitors like you.

Our current iteration, open through the Fall, is Storytelling Objects. When you look at a toy car, you don't just see the car. Our brains have the incredible ability to not only identify this object as a car, but simultaneously conjure a flood of memories and associations that are connected to cars. This same object might spark meditations on childhood for one viewer, evoke the sensation of driving and traveling for another, or prompt conversations about industrial design concepts for a third. What you associate with an object depends on your past experiences, your profession and hobbies, your family and friends, your nationality and religion, and everything else that informs your perspective and identity. Artists use these personal and cultural associations to create meaning in their works of art. For this iteration of The Workshop, we're conducting a crowdsourced experiment using this concept. We've chosen five objects that appear in many works in the PMA collection. Over the course of four months, we'll collectively catalogue the variety of meanings that these objects hold. So whether you add your perspective to the wall or explore what others have found, you'll leave with a new understanding of the many stories objects can tell, and ways that artists use objects to convey meaning.

The Workshop is part of Your Museum, Reimagined, a multiyear project based on improving access to the PMA collection and weaving our audience’s voices, creations, and creativity into the fabric of our institution.

Previous Installations:

From April 30 to August 18, inspired by the PMA's Summer of Sculpture, The Workshop's Make a Sculpture That... encouraged you to create sculpture of every variety. Visitors spun a wheel for a challenge to create sculpture inspired by a select idea using hand-crafted, magnetic wooden blocks. Whether they spent 20 minutes on one elaborate creation or tested out five different challenges, they discovered all the ways in which creating a sculpture requires a different approach from painting on canvas or drawing a picture. Instead of working with the illusion of space, scale, and light, sculptors contend with balance, symmetry, pattern, and shadow in three dimensions instead of two. After experimenting with sculpture, visitors were inspired to return to the galleries to find these ideas at work in three centuries of sculpture.   

From February 4 through April 28, The Workshop featured an installation called Cut, Copy, Paste. Inspired by the museum-wide reinstallation of the PMA collection in February 2017, it continued the theme of looking at old favorites in new ways. Hundreds of visitors selected a small detail from one of the painting which intrigued them and copied it onto a paper tile. These individual copies were pasted together on the back wall, creating an evolving collaborative version of the work of art. As the project continued, participants recreated each section over and over, leaving stacks of paper tiles layered up to 24 pages deep. No copy was a perfect replica—each tile was an artifact of someone’s looking, thinking, and exploring. Each one introduced us to some facet of the work that we might never have seen if we were looking alone.

From October 20 through December 31, 2016, The Workshop took its cue from our book-themed special exhibitions, Of Whales in Paint: Rockwell Kent’s Moby-Dick, Unbound: Tim Rollins and K.O.S., and The Art Books of Henri Matisse. Over the course of two months, visitors illustrated hundreds of pages from Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, almost completing the entire epic. Some visitors discovered and drew attention to the tome’s more odd phrases—“Give it up, Sub-Subs!”—while others remixed the 19th-century classic for their own purposes. Sweet, satirical, political, or adorable, each page was a unique, personal, and contemporary response to this global phenomenon.

At any time, visitors could explore bound volumes of their fellow visitors’ creations as well as the most recent 250 pages of the book stretched across the back wall of The Workshop. Behind the pages was an imaginative sea-inspired paper mural, created by members of the PMA’s 2016 Homer High School Fellows—Arikah Conant, Joliet Morrill, and Elle Spurr—using contributions created by visitors during PMA Family Days.

From July 15, 2016 through October 14, 2016, The Workshop featured an installation titled A Bird in the Hand. Birds have inspired artists working in all media with their colors, patterns, textures, and personalities. Inspired by Christopher Patch’s Migration—on view in the Modern Menagerie installation—visitors created a flock of flying bird sculptures. In the Workshop, however, they had only two materials: paper for shape and washi tape for pattern.

From April 15, 2016 through July 9, 2016, The Workshop featured an installation titled Inspired by the Everyday. It took its cue from artists throughout the museum who have transformed the objects and places they encounter into something extraordinary: Duncan Hewitt’s Forks or Porch Mattress in the summer 2016 exhibition Duncan Hewitt: Turning Strange, Christopher Patch’s Migration in the ongoing installation Modern Menagerie, Leo J. Dee’s elegant Small Drapery Study in the spring 2016 exhibition Masterworks on Paper: Highlights from the Portland Museum of Art. Visitors to The Workshop took an everyday occurrence—a coffee spill—and transformed it into a cat, a map, an abstract drawing, an interstellar scene, or whatever else their imagination inspired. Here are just a few of the thousands of creations that visitors shared:

From January 22, 2016 through April 10, 2016, The Workshop featured an installation titled Coloring the Landscape, in which visitors explored the power of color to establish a mood, define a place, direct your eye, and convey a message. We transformed one of our most iconic landscape paintings, Winslow Homer’s Weatherbeaten, into a coloring book page, and asked visitors to test out the implications of color for themselves. Adults and children alike created almost 2,000 versions of this painting. More than 200 of these were framed and hung on the back wall of the gallery so that visitors could see how the image morphed as it moved from sunny seaside to soft monochrome, fiery sunset to Pop-art pink and teal.

Thank you to our sponsors

Installation materials are supported in part by Horizon Foundation, Inc. and Lila Hunt Davies, The Roy A. Hunt Foundation.

Your Museum, Reimagined is a multiyear project based around improved access, and will fundamentally change the way the public interacts with the PMA, its collection, its programs, and more. 

Learn more about Your Museum, Reimagined by clicking the links below:

Collection Catalogue

The Collection Online

Peggy L. Osher Art Study and Collection Committee Conference Room

The Workshop

Modern Menagerie