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Toasting the New Year

December 31, 2014

Sarah Coffey:

Wishing everyone a safe and happy new year!

Sarah Coffey
Education Coordinator

Originally posted on Dallas Museum of Art Uncrated:

As New Year’s Eve is upon us, we thought it only appropriate to pop, fizz, and clink our way through the collection with some objects created for cocktails. We hope they inspire you to raise a glass and ring in an artful 2015. To get you off to the right start, we’ve got plenty of lively libations in store during our first Late Night of 2015 on January 16. Enjoy the winning cocktail from our Creative Cocktail Contest and then take a tour of more objects perfect for cocktail hour. Cheers and Happy New Year!

Sarah Coffey is the Education Coordinator at the DMA.

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DMA Night Before Christmas

December 24, 2014
"Regimental Oak" shape dinner plate with "Christmas Tree" pattern, Designer: Harold Holdway, 1938, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Stephen Harrison in honor of George Roland

“Regimental Oak” shape dinner plate with “Christmas Tree” pattern, Designer: Harold Holdway, 1938, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Stephen Harrison in honor of George Roland

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the DMA
Not a painting was stirring–not the Matisse, nor Monet;
The Copley portraits were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

The staff were busy working away at their desks
On visions of Late Night and art class they obsessed.
When out on the Concourse there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my desk to see what was the matter.

Away to the entrance I flew like a flash,
Past paintings and drawings and statues I dashed.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.

Diego Rivera, Peasant Woman, 1946, Dallas Museum of Art, Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Lewis

Diego Rivera, Peasant Woman, 1946, Dallas Museum of Art, Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Lewis

A bundle of gifts he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his duties.
Fancy new hats for the Soyer shoppe beauties,
A new shell for Vishnu, a rug for the Reves,
And for Ivy in Flower, three sparkling new leaves.

A scythe and some seeds for the Vincent van Gogh,
A nice plate of dinner for Fox in the Snow.
Two cozy pillows for the old Gothic bed,
For mantle with condors some lovely new thread.

From the top floor to the bottom, he silently worked,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk.
“No touching the art!” he wisely exclaimed,
“Just use your eyes to explore frame by frame.”*

He checked off each artwork on his large museum chart,
Gave a sigh and a nod, “It’s time to depart.”

Berenice Abbot, Untitled (Reindeer), print 1983, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of Morton and Marlene Meyerson

Berenice Abbot, Untitled (Reindeer), print 1983, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of Morton and Marlene Meyerson

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight.
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”

*That Santa–even when he is hard at work, he remembers the Museum rules!

Wishing you and your loved ones a very merry holiday!

Leah Hanson
Manager of Early Learning Programs

Christmas Cookies from the Collection

December 19, 2014

Baking cookies is part of my annual holiday tradition, but instead of sharing a recipe this month, I thought it would be fun to do some decorating inspired by our wonderful collection. Some of my colleagues in Education pitched in for this cookie swap of sorts. Check out our edible masterworks and have a very merry holiday season!

Sarah Coffey
Education Coordinator

Arturo’s Magical Mail: Redux

December 16, 2014

Santa’s mailbox may see a lot of action leading up to December, but our own celebrity here at the Museum gets mail all year long–our family mascot, Arturo!

Amelia Wood, last year’s McDermott Intern for Family and Access Teaching, wrote a post in February about how magical sending and receiving mail can be, especially in the form of letters to Arturo. As we start wrapping up 2014, I think it’s only fitting to share some of the highlights from the year since then–a “best of” Arturo Letters, if you will.

What strikes me most about these letters is always how open and loving the messages are. Sometimes it’s an assortment of pencil scribbles with the child’s name and age (these are usually parent-written: from Sophie, age three, or Mikey, two years old) included at the bottom. Sometimes the sender chooses to use art instead of words. Sometimes the message takes up the whole page; sometimes it is short and sweet. Often, the child simply wants to tell Arturo “Thank you” or “I love you.”

Many days I’m surprised by the insightful questions that these children ask. How does Arturo write his letters? (Feathers make it difficult to hold a pencil, so he has a human friend that helps him write and draw pictures!) Or how do you explain why Arturo, a male bird, has eggs in his nest? Why, he’s a great babysitter, of course!

Arturo also hopes the eggs will hatch soon, Kinner! It will be great to have some new bird friends to play with.

Arturo also hopes the eggs will hatch soon, Kinner! It will be great to have some new bird friends to play with.

The creativity that this simple act of exchanging messages draws out is absolutely magical. Amelia loved “imagining the excitement as children discovered a response from Arturo,” and I’m just as excited to receive their letters in the first place. I’m in for an adventure every time I go to collect the latest crop from that little red and yellow mailbox – there will be some new question, some sharing of an experience in the galleries, or some imaginative drawing that I haven’t encountered yet.

For now, I’ll leave you with one of Arturo’s and my favorite letters yet–a rare, purely parent-written one. Signed only as “Papa Bird,” this touching drawing reminds us of our own families.

"Being a Dad is a Real Adventure - Love, Papa Bird"

“Being a Dad is a Real Adventure – Love, Papa Bird”

So as we head into the holidays, whichever one you may celebrate, don’t forget to give your loved ones a great big bird hug…

…or if they’re too far away to hug in person, a piece of wonderful, magical mail should do nicely.

Jennifer Sheppard
McDermott Intern for Family and Access Teaching

Friday Photos: Wish List for Santa

December 12, 2014

It’s less than two weeks until Christmas, and the art here at the DMA is quite excited about Santa’s impending visit! Have you ever wondered what the art would wish for? We “interviewed” a few of those we are sure will be on Santa’s Nice List to hear what they are hoping to see in their stockings.


Dear Santa,

I have tried to be patient, polite, and pleasant all year long as I sit here in my chair, endlessly gazing off into the distance. If it’s not too much trouble, could you bring me a book to read? I’m finally getting a little weary of having nothing to do.

Love,
Miss Dorothy

p.s. Shamrock has been a very good dog too and would love a new water bowl.

Hey St. Nick,

How have you been? I’ve been keeping things lively here at the DMA, always flashing my golden smile to any visitor that stops by. I’d love a new toothbrush–electric, if you please–so that I can keep my smile shining.

ROAR!
Lion

My Dearest St. Nicholas,

Season’s greetings! I am anxiously awaiting your visit to the DMA this year. It’s been too long since your last visit! I have been keeping a watchful eye on my companions here in the Impressionist gallery all year long, and have tried to be a good example of proper decorum and excellent posture. I do feel, however, that my coat and muff are getting a bit drab. Could you bring me a new coat–something trendy and bright?

Yours affectionately,
Winter (a.k.a Woman with a Muff)

We hope that Santa brings everything on your list too!

Leah Hanson
Manager of Early Learning Programs

Of Golden Axes and Tulips: Some Thoughts on Teaching Iconography in the Galleries

December 10, 2014

British Museum: Hollow lost wax casting in gold of a bead in the shape of an axe (akuma), Asante, early 19th century, Purchased from Crown Agents for the Colonies, 1876

A few months ago, I had the great pleasure of spending some time chatting with Dr. Roslyn Walker, the DMA’s Senior Curator of the Arts of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific.  In the course of our discussion, she told me about an event that occurred in 1881 called the “Golden Axe Incident.”  The Asante People of Ghana sent an official delegation to the British-controlled Cape Coast because a refugee from their city had fled there to claim British protection. The Asante arrived to demand the refugee’s return, bearing a ceremonial Golden Axe. The British interpreted the axe as an explicit symbol of warfare, and suddenly, the threat of war loomed much to the Asante’s surprise. Only when the Asante later sent their most experienced official to deliberate was the Golden Axe’s meaning clarified to the British authorities: the axe symbolized the desire to cut away all the blockages on the path to settlement–it is, essentially, a diplomatic symbol.

I was fascinated by this story, because it shows how the misinterpretation of the cultural meaning of an image–its iconography–nearly resulted in war. Iconography is about explaining what symbols and imagery in a work of art meant to people at the time of its creation, understood through careful research into the historical context of not just that artwork, but a culture’s visual language. And while iconographic misreadings are usually not this fraught, I confess to sometimes feeling wary of how to present such information while teaching in the galleries.

Iconography is privileged knowledge. It is usually only understood by experts after laborious study, research, and careful analysis. Such knowledge is part-and-parcel of art historical practice, but can be tricky in gallery teaching. As Rika Burnham in Teaching in the Art Museum attests, iconographic information is often exactly what audiences and students are seeking, and offers momentary insight and relief, but usually stops any discussion or further analysis.

And in many ways, this is what iconography is meant to do–it’s not our cultural or individual interpretation of what a symbol means, it’s what it meant at the time of creation. This can be a difficult set of knowledge to tease out through discussion, although by no means impossible.

But when to introduce iconographic information during the course of learning?  Ideally, the need to raise what certain symbols and images meant is prompted organically in the course of a discussion, but how much information should the teacher offer?  If we open the floodgates, pour forth all the information we know for every symbol, we risk that sense of closure and discovery we want to carefully allow students to explore on their own. If we offer too little or carefully selected iconographic details, we risk, at the very least, presenting a stilted understanding of what the artwork might have meant historically.

I was thinking of these questions when standing before Jean Marie Reignier’s Homage to Queen Hortense, featured in the Museum’s new special exhibition, Bouquets: French Still-Life Painting From Chardin to Matisse.

Jean Marie Reignier, Homage to Queen Hortense, 1856

Jean Marie Reignier, Homage to Queen Hortense, 1856, Credit: Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, Inv. A 2896

As part of a beautiful exhibition of floral still-life, this grandiose painting stands out (it’s nearly seven feet tall and five feet wide): a lush garland of flowers surround a sculpted bust of Napoleon III’s mother, Hortense, atop which sits an eagle bearing an olive branch.

These details–the portrait bust, the eagle, the olive branch–as well as the scale of the painting tantalize us that despite the floral imagery, something else is going on here. For me, it would be easy in the context of the exhibition to dismiss these and focus on a comparison of this with the other floral still-lifes in the exhibition…If it were not for the seemingly unavoidable depiction of a paper label at the upper right bearing the number “7824189,” placed just under the eagle’s left talon. This numerical notation must have a specific meaning, right?

Thus we begin down the rabbit hole of the complex iconographic meaning imbued in this painting. Some symbolism here is relatively common, such as the olive branch as a symbol of peace. As the mother of the leader of France at the time (Napoleon III came to power in 1852), this homage to Hortense is rife with political and personal symbolism, ranging from the inclusion of red tulips (at the upper right) as symbolic of Hortense’s title as Queen of Holland and violets and bees (towards the lower left) as Napoleonic symbols, to the palette held by the figure (to the left behind the portrait bust) as indicative of Hortense’s own practice as a floral painter. And that number? It is supposedly the number of votes cast for Napoleon III in the election, securing his victory and rightful leadership of France.

I’ve learned all of this iconographic meaning from a wonderful series of lectures and trainings Dr. Heather MacDonald, the DMA’s Lillian and James H. Clark Associate Curator of European Art, has offered to the public, staff, and docents since the exhibition’s opening. And the symbolic understanding of Reignier’s painting offers a wealth of insight into aspects of how imagery worked as political propaganda in France at the time, even as this painting avoids many of the traditional symbolic tropes common to floral painting up to this point in history (the memento mori and cycle of nature suggested by wilting flowers, for instance). It is also helpful for understanding the intentions behind this painting: as a “statement” painting, this artwork was meant to elevate floral imagery to the same level as other academic painting approaches that relied on the human figure.

The “privileged” nature of iconographic meaning is a slippery slope in gallery teaching. And while I don’t think every painting that is iconographically rich necessitates a discussion of such iconography when teaching in the galleries, I can’t help but feel that here, that tag with painted number on it, likely forces an educator’s hand while teaching before it, or a painting like it.

How do you handle iconographic analysis when teaching in the galleries or your classrooms? Leave tips, thoughts, and feedback in the comments below!

Josh Rose
Manager of Docent and Teacher Programs

Friday Photos: Dallas CASA Angel Tree

December 5, 2014

In true holiday spirit, each December the DMA chooses a beneficiary and hosts a charitable drive for that organization. This year, we adopted fifty angels from Dallas CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), a non-profit organization whose trained volunteers are voices for abused children in court—children that have been removed from their homes because it isn’t safe for them to live there. CASA staff and volunteers get to the know the children, review records, research information and talk to everyone involved in the child’s life. Then, they make recommendations to judges about the best permanent homes for these children, so that they can be safe and thrive. Learn more about Dallas CASA here.

A big thank you to all the DMA “elves” who shopped for these special kiddos!

Andrea dropping off gifts with CASA Staff

Andrea dropping off gifts with CASA Staff

Andrea Severin Goins
Interpretation Manager

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