• Katsushika, Hokusai, 1760-1849, artist, [between 1804 and 1818] 1 print : woodcut, color ; 23.2 x 17.2 cm.

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  • Katsushika, Hokusai, 1760-1849, artist, [between 1804 and 1818] 1 print : woodcut, color ; 23.2 x 17.2 cm.
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You are viewing 9 posts for 2018 with the tag TPS Teachers Network

Living Pictures: Tableaux Vivants in the Classroom

Author: Cate Cooney

My high school art history teacher had a method of getting students to engage with paintings in a way that I found compelling, meaningful and a lot of fun. For the end of semester review, he passed out slides with figurative paintings to individuals and groups. Our assignment was to take 15 minutes to examine the work, and recreate it by posing as the people depicted in the artwork, using only the few props available to us in the painting studio. Each student presented the pose to the class, and we’d compare the student’s pose to the projected slide. I didn’t know it then, but we were doing an old fashioned type of theater or parlor game, called a tableau vivant. Doing that tableau vivant taught me what contrapposto felt like. It allowed me to embody the lithe grace of Donatello’s David. I looked at the work of art differently when I was considering how to recreate it.

 A tableau vivant is a “living picture;” a recreation or reinterpretation of a work of art by people posing in a mute, motionless charade. It was a popular form of entertainment in the 19th and early 20th centuries, as evidenced by this chapter of a manual for dances and parties from the library’s collection, An American Ballroom Companion: Dance Instruction Manuals, ca. 1490 to 1920. 

A quick search of Chronicling America shows plenty of tablueax vivants documented on the society pages, as war relief fundraisers, or as amusements at parties and other events.

The entertainment was popular enough to be parodied on the cover of Puck. Here we see a circa 1900 reproduction of Jules Bastien-Lepage's 1879 painting Joan of Arc.  

and a 1918 New York Times rotograveur picture section showing a tableau vivant given at St. Francis Xavier College with Laurette Taylor as Joan of Arc, clearly in imitation of the Lepage painting. 

And finally, the cover of Puck, showing Teddy Roosevelt, from 1912

I recently read an excellent article on using tableaux vivants as a pedagogical tool. Bringing Students into the Picture: Teaching with Tableaux Vivants by Ellery Foutch is available here as a free download: https://academicworks.cuny.edu/ahpp/vol2/iss2/3/. Two shorter articles, one from Art Museum Teaching, and one from the Yale National Initiative, also provide information and inspiration for classroom or gallery use. While these how-to articles give good descriptions of how this active form of engagement with art connects with kinesthetic and visual learners, Foutch’s piece also discusses how doing creative reinterpretations with tableau vivants allows the class to deal with social justice issues, and identity. The article describes a longer project than the quick charade my teacher assigned. It includes group work, research, and performance. It gets students to go beyond looking and describing, and onto interpreting and creating something new. Exciting stuff!

 The way Foutch structures the tableaux vivants project is similar to the TPS method: first students examine the object, make observations, reflect, and ask questions. Then, they use these observations, reflections, and questions to inform their research. By creating their own interpretation of the work of art, they are exercising critical thinking skills, and making connections between history and their own experiences.

There are contemporary artists who use similar modes of interpretation and recreation in their work to delve into identity and social issues. Kehinde Wiley uses imperial history painting, such as in his Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps, 2005

https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/169803 to explore issues of race, masculinity, fame, and imperialism. (for more see http://www.npg.si.edu/exhibit/recognize/paintings.html) Cindy Sherman’s history portraits show her embodying old paintings in discomforting ways. https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/essay/the-multiple-worlds-of-cindy-shermans-history-portraits-2/

Part of the pleasure of viewing a tableau vivant is the small thrill of recognition when the viewer recognizes the reference image being enacted. There’s also the spectacle of a body posed in stillness -- the kitschy version might be the living statue street performer. For students who are kinesthetic or visual learners, doing a tableau vivant could be an effective strategy. Have you done tableaux vivants in the classroom? How did your students engage with the work? How did different learners react?

    • The Spirit of America
    • Laurette Taylor as Joan of Arc
    • Tableaux
    • Cover of Puck with Teddy Roosevelt
    • Foutch
    • Kehinde Wiley
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Finding Art Environments

Author: Cate Cooney

It’s summer, time for roadtrips! When I was in graduate school, my now husband and I would spend summer weekends driving around the Wisconsin landscape, seeking out folk art environments, outsider art installations, and general weirdness. We particularly enjoyed large art environments, made by self-taught artists, such as Fred Smith’s Wisconsin Concrete Park in Phillips.

(Photo from the Carol Highsmith Collection, https://www.loc.gov/item/2011632363/) Fred Smith was a child of German immigrants, born in Northern Wisconsin in 1886. He never learned to read or write, but he farmed, and later built and operated a tavern. Maybe it was his building experience, or the work he did on his ornamental rock garden, or maybe it was all the beer bottles from his tavern, but something prompted Smith to begin building large-scale sculptures from wire and hand-mixed cement, decorated with shards of glass and other objects. By 1950, he was building an art environment he called the Wisconsin Concrete Park, which eventually encompassed three and a half acres. The Wisconsin Concrete Park was preserved by the Kohler Foundation and gifted to Price County, WI.

Wisconsin seems to be rich in this form of folk art. I first visited Dr. Evermor’s Forevertron on one of our rambles, though I had passed it several times a year, as I drove past the Badger Munitions plant, on my way to visit family friends in Baraboo, WI.

Just a few months ago, I visited Prairie Moon, near Cochrane, WI. It’s a lovely location, not far from the Mississippi River. The only company we had on our visit was a pair of bald eagles. A video about the site is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XncMap5EJuU From that video, I learned that Rusch had visited Dickeyville Grotto, an art environment I have on my to-visit list. 

These sites raise so many questions for me. What causes someone to spend so much time and energy creating them? Why do they choose the materials that they do? Is concrete frequently used because it is relatively inexpensive and easy to work with, or is it because the artist has experience using that material for more practical purposes? What about metal or other found objects? Are there common themes in these installations? Were they meant for personal enjoyment, or was the artist hoping for a larger audience? Did the artists think of themselves as artists? Are these kinds of installations more common in rural areas or in cities? Why? What keeps people from doing this more often? What would happen if I decided to start making my yard into an art installation?

There are examples of vernacular art installations in the Library of Congress collections, but they can be hard to track down. It’s a challenge to catalog something like this, I suppose. The subject heading “naïve art” which the Getty Art and Architecture Thesaurus (http://www.getty.edu/research/tools/vocabularies/aat/) uses for this kind of sculpture didn’t yield anything (though I think that’s a good thing, because of the pejorative connotations of “naïve”) Library of Congress subject authorities https://authorities.loc.gov/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?DB=local&PAGE=First gave me the terms “outsider art” and “primitivism in art.” A search of outsider art resulted in an image of a Dubuffet sculpture, which is not what I am going for. I tried folk art, which got me closer, and led to Grandma Prisbrey’s Bottle House.

The subject heading “vernacular architecture” led me to images of Watts Towers, but only those images in the Carol Highsmith collection. The Highsmith Archive is a good place for locating images of these kinds of artistic expression, such as this wonderful image of Highsmith’s own cousin amid his artwork.

Like so many things in life, it’s easier to find images of art environments by self-taught artists in the library collection if you know what you are looking for. Two sites that are useful for finding outsider art along your roadtrip route are Roadside America https://www.roadsideamerica.com/ and the Atlas Obscura https://www.atlasobscura.com/

Maybe you’ll find the inspiration to start your own art environment.

    • Highsmith
    • Grandma Prisbreys Bottle House
    • Dickeyville Grotto
    • Forevertron
    • Concrete Park
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Philadelphia: What Shapes the Look of the City?

Author: Cate Cooney

When I think of classic Philadelphia buildings, I always think of red brick structures, such as the Gloria Dei or Old Swede’s Church, depicted here in this silkcreened WPA poster by an unknown artist from somewhere between 1936 and 1941.

The lovely brick of Independence Hall, shown in a lithograph from 1876, is emblematic of Philadelphia, with its stately, solid brick. This image of Independence Hall appears to have been made as a box cover for a commemorative souvenier for the centennial.

The charm of brick is evident in Elfreth’s Alley’s Federal and Georgian townhomes, built between 1720 and 1830, as seen in this photograph from the Highsmith collection.

Of course, brick is used all over the city, for less grand structures such as this abandoned home at 20th and arch streets, photographed in 1938,

Or this privvy, which was once behind the Athenaeum of Philadelphia. Why so much brick? Is it simply that brick endures? Floods and fires would destroy wooden structures, but brick would remain. However, I don’t believe there’s been a conflagration like the Chicago or San Francisco fire to explain the abundance of brick in Philadelphia.

The answer could be just below our feet, but we’ll need to dig for it.

Here we have a general soil map of Pennsylvania. Note the narrow band of yellow at the lower right. According the the map key, the yellow indicates a substrata of marine clay and sand. 

This map of Philadelphia from 1797 shows that the English and Swedish occupiers of this area were very familiar with the building material that lay beneath their feet. They recognized the clay and sand as ideal raw materials for making bricks. The curious little pond-shapes with accompanying solid dots show where the brickworks and kilns were located within the city. There are at least a dozen in this image. Bricks, which shaped the look of the city, were shaped by the site of the city itself.

Indeed, brick manufacturing took off in Philadelphia, with 14 brick kilns within the city by 1794. Brickmaking, and building with brick employed enough people that the Bricklayers Company was formed by 1799.

 A search of Philadelphia directories from the late 18th and early 19th centuries tells us more about who these brick makers were, and where they lived as well as where the many bricklayers lived.

https://archive.org/stream/philadelphiadire1801phil#page/80/search/brickmaker I found this image from the 1801 Philadelphia Directory in the Internet Archive, contributed by the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

That bricklayers were an important groups of trades people in the city of Philadelphia is evidenced by this wonderful document, which describes the procession order for a parade in 1788, which honored the establishment of the constitution of the United States. The brickmakers marched just after the cabinet and chair-makers, right before the painters, and the bricklayer marched between the fringe and ribband-weavers and the taylors. 

Another interesting piece of evidence about bricks in Philadelphia is John Cromwell’s Brick Layer’s Company membership certificate from 1811, now in the collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

It is always thrillng to see how dull-sounding historical documents like membership certificates can provide a window into the past: this certificate includes a detailed illustration of early 19th century building practices, tools, worker’s clothing, and of course, the city.

Following my curiosity led me to a variety of primary sources, from soil maps to early city maps and directories, and bits of ephemera, resulting a better understanding of why I see what I do. Now I see Philadelphia's buildings with even more curiosity, wondering what other stories they have to tell. 

    • Brick Layers Company
    • Philadelphia 1797
    • arch street
    • Independence Hall
    • Old Swedes Church
    • Arch Street
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The Medium of Maps: Art, Textiles, Maps, and Data

Author: Cate Cooney

What stories can we tell with maps?

If you’ve been listening to NPR in the mornings lately, like I have, then you know they are covering the 10th anniversary of the 2008 financial crisis. I was thinking about how to understand the effects of the mortgage crisis on neighborhoods, and how art could be used to communicate how areas were affected. While photographs of boarded up homes or a street full of for-sale signs might tell a story, I was interested in finding more abstract, or less literal objects to analyze.

A textiles curator friend pointed me to Kathryn Clark. Clark was an architect and designer, working on planning New Urbanist neighborhoods from 1994-2004. When the foreclosure crisis hit, she felt she had to make art about it, to communicate the severity of what would happen to the urban fabric. She turned to the craft tradition of quilts, those quintessentially American emblems of thrift and resourcefulness. You can see one of her quilts in the Smithsonian American Art Museum https://americanart.si.edu/artwork/washington-dc-foreclosure-quilt-109954 and other examples on the artist's website: http://www.kathrynclark.com/foreclosure-quilts.html.

Foreclosure Quilt, 2015, linen, cotton, and recycled thread, Smithsonian American Art Museum, © 2015, Kathryn Clark, Museum purchase through the Stephen D. Thurston Memorial Fund, 2015.40

To make these quilts, she used RealtyTrac maps of cities as her source, cutting, rubbing, or pulling the fabric away, thread-by-thread to show the plots with foreclosed homes. The result is abstract, and affecting in its familiarity. Her work immediately brought to mind a fascinating primary source available through the Library of Congress: Sanborne Maps, such as this late 19th century one from Detroit.

Sanborn maps are fire insurance maps, which describe not only location, but shape, size, construction, and details such as windows and doors, roof types, sprinkler systems, etc. for dwellings and other structures so that the insurers could adequately judge the risk of loss by fire.

In this detail, you can see pastedowns, where corrections or additions were made, which echo the mendings on some of Clark’s quilts. (I have to announce with great joy that I created this detail using the Library's clip image tool -- so useful!) These pastedowns are an example of thrift, not dissimilar to the quilt tradition: rather than going through the expense of reprinting entire pages to show corrections or updates, the maps makers would simply add small glued-down bits of paper with the edits, putting them directly over the area to be changed, just as one would patch a frayed quilt block.

The Library of Congress has a significant collection of Sanborn maps, which have been digitized and made available at high resolution. Researchers use them for a huge variety of reasons, and the Library has provided an extensive guide available here: https://www.loc.gov/collections/sanborn-maps/about-this-collection/

 Tanvi Misra write a nice article about the interpretive possibilities of Sanborn Maps, available here: https://www.citylab.com/equity/2014/10/the-accidental-revelations-of-sanborn-maps/381262/

TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List wrote a short piece about textile maps on their blog. It has good images, including a nice detail for a Kathryn Clark piece, but not a lot of text: https://www.tafalist.com/mapping-the-world/.

I am intruiged by the possibilities of using fiber as a medium for understanding data. I am sure there's lots to be done with it, and am excited about the possibilities of weaving, knitting, felting, or sewing. 

    • Kathryn Clark, Washington, D.C.
    • Sanborne Maps
    • Sanborne Maps Detail
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Author: Kathryn Pokalo

We are back in school despite the sweltering temperatures carrying us well into September.  With the coming of the new year, I’m looking forward to implementing some of the ideas for lessons and units of study I gathered over the summer at UArts TPS classes and at the Summer Teacher Institute at the Library of Congress.  

A brief commercial here:  this is a remarkable opportunity to engage with a group of dedicated teachers from all over the country (and the world--one participant in our session teaches in Amsterdam).  So, dear Readers, take a look at the website, and give some serious thought to applying for a spot in one of the summer seminars: http://www.loc.gov/teachers/professionaldevelopment/teacherinstitute/ (this is the listing for 2018; check in a few weeks for the 2019 listing).

I had started working with the idea of building a research unit for my 11th and 12th grade students on communities lost to development, eg, Atlantic City and the casinos, the I-95 corridor through Philadelphia, Seneca Village and Central Park.  I may still come back to this later in the year, but midway through developing the sources, I was galvanized by the idea of combining images by Lewis Hine, of which the Library has thousands, with some of the essays about work that we read in the Riverside Readers.

One of the LOC activities made use of this photo by Hine.

    • Reader

I recognized the photographer’s name from an exhibit of mill workers I had seen earlier in the summer at Winooski, VT.  (https://www.loc.gov/item/ncl2004001505/PP/).  From that combination of experiences, I put together a unit of study that I’ll roll out to my students later this month.  I’ve attached (as separate files) the sequence for those who might like to use/adapt it for their own classes.

Here’s the task in brief:  students will research some of Hine’s photos, cite and describe them:  https://www.loc.gov/collections/national-child-labor-committee/about-this-collection/

They will also listen to and cite some recordings from Terkel’s Working:  https://www.npr.org/series/495535719/working-then-and-now

They will also interview, cite, and summarize someone from an older generation (parents, grandparents, neighbors) about their first work experiences.  They will look at Bureau of Labor Statistics projections of labor categories for the next decade or two. The students will produce an annotated bibliography and a brief (about 500 words) reflective essay on what they’ve learned about work.  I expect the whole thing to take about 3 school weeks to complete, allowing for a fair amount of class time to work on the project.

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How Many Declaration of Independences Are There?

Author: Kevin Mercer

In 1777, Mary Katherine Goddard printed the first official copy of the Declaration of Independence with the names of the signers attached. In comparison to John Dunlap's first edition, this broadside was produced with a level of care and attention that were not possible in the first due to the haste of its production.

Improvements in the type setting included breaking the text into two columns, which made it easier to read. Proper alignment of text, indents and a generous margin made for a more austere presentation.  The addition of the signer's names added human weight and interest to the document, as this was a treasonous offense in the British colonies. Note also that printer Mary Katherine Goddard placed her own name at the bottom of the document, a patriot in the pressroom!

    • Thomas Jefferson, et al, July 4, 1776, Copy of Declaration of Independence
    • Thomas Jefferson, June 1776, Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence
    • In Congress, July 4, 1776. The unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America
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Trauma in Comics

Author: Ian Sampson

I've recently become aware of Harriet Earle's comics research (by way of the podcast Drawing a Dialogue - a must if you're interested in comics scholarship and pedagogy), and I am looking forward to reading her new book Comics, Trauma, and the New Art of War. Earle notes that comics is an inherently profound medium for relating stories of trauma because of the formal structure: Here, from her essay Panel Transitions in Trauma Comics:

Traumatic narratives are not typically constructed around a linear chronology and they do not make comfortable reading. When boiled down to the very basic level, this is the aim of a traumatic text: to create in us some part of the psychological disturbance that undoubtedly plagues the traumatised within the text. The aim of the traumatic comics creator is that of his text-based cousin, though there is a different tool kit required to create the effect. In comics of trauma, the symptoms of traumatic experience are mimicked in the formal techniques of the comic. However, the comics creator has a range of devices open to him that the traditional writer does not and, as I previously suggested, the most important and visible of these is to be found in the gutter.

I immediately thought of the possibilities for pairing comics with LOC imagery of traumatic events - a time-honored approach - but with a focus on how the different media relate the violence and trauma of the events. In particular, the effect in question is possible because of the gutter in comics, i.e. what is left out. The question can be applied to the single-image sources as well - what is left out of this picture? What can we learn through that absence? And how do the different methods of narrative research affect us? 

One good example would be using a sequence from John Lewis and Nate Powell's graphic novel March in concert with LOC images from the March to Selma. The different media of the event provoke very different responses. Consider this proposal as an addendum to Stephen Wesson's blog post on Teaching Selma.

Another possibility would be Kyle Baker's graphic novel Nat Turner, paired with the strange image of the "Horrific Massacre in Virginia".

    • Horrid Massacre in Virginia
    • Participants, some carrying American flags, marching in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965
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Power to the People: Protest and the American Experience

Author: Christa Reitz

This week, the nation experienced a variety of protests and counter-protests stemming from a call to action by the students who survived last month’s school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  As teachers, we have a great responsibility to encourage students to find their voice during difficult times. By modeling and structuring responsible discourse in our classrooms, we must help to develop a new generation of civically-minded citizens.

As I witnessed student demonstrators in support of and against the ideas behind the walk out, I was very impressed by the thought process behind each person’s action.  Potentially life-altering ramifications involving punishment, college admission, and more were at stake. Administrators had to put plans into place to safely accommodate students who chose to walk out as well as their peers who felt strongly opposed.  I began to think more deeply about the power of peaceful, nonviolent protest in the United States… after all, the very fabric of our nation was woven in dissent.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas was a journalist, environmentalist, and strong advocate for the women's suffrage movement.  She was fierce and fearless, so it is no wonder that students at a school named in her honor have channeled their voices on the international stage.  This teachable moment is unfolding before our eyes and resonates with our students more than most stories of the past decade, as young men and women their age are making headlines.  As you are able, consider taking time to engage your students in this conversation because they will likely have something to say. It may also be a valuable opportunity to work with administrators and parents to continue the dialogue.  Encourage students to support their argument with evidence on either side. Connections with previous protest movements may also be relevant to your course of study.

The Library of Congress offers an incredible wealth of Primary Sources stemming from protest movements throughout our nation’s history.  Here are a few examples from different time periods, including arts and music-related articles:

“Students Rise to Protest”


“Blues as Protest”


“Songs of Social Change”


“Germantown Friends' protest against slavery 1688”


“Why Women Should Protest,” from the Miller NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897-1911


“Flyer for the 1989 Silent March on Washington”


“At the Ballot Box”


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Think Like a Detective

Author: Jodi Sabra


Happy New Year.

I came back to school after a week in Florida, and I have that just-thrown-back-in-the-deep-end readjustment that most middle school teachers are feeling right now.  It’s like, Welcome back, and Wait, where did we leave off?  It’s a perfect time to introduce murder mysteries and How to think like a detective.

I began by introducing my students to W5H: Who, What , Where, When, Why, How?  We’re learning to think and read and write like detectives.  We’re figuring out a murder and unpacking the crime scene.  We’re determining which characters are reliable and which are suspect.

My kids just discovered that the trunk they’ve been sitting on during read-aloud time is full of costumes.  (Funny, they never asked!) And we’re reading Murder on the Orient Express.  The students have figured out how to rearrange the room to match the setting of the novel, and things need to be returned to normal for the next class.  Anyhow, there are several resources on the LOC site that we will incorporate into our classroom stage set.

Here are a few LOC items to enhance their sense of wonder and understanding about: the 1930’s and 40’s; the geography and cartography of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Morocco, Italy, France, England from that time; detective’s tools then and now; determining facts & detecting lies; the fashion and mindset of ladies and gentlemen who traveled internationally; train travel, and The Simplon Orient Express.

 Check out these amazing travel posters that evoke the romance of international travel:


 A glimpse at some NYC police and detectives in the early 1900’s...it might be interesting to compare how crimes are solved today versus in the early part of the 20th century:


A fascinating history of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping which is loosely referenced in Murder on the Orient ExpressFBI File on the Lindbergh Kidnapping

Images of Simplon Pass:


If I project these images on the White Board while they’re setting up the scene, then prompt them to look at the image through their ‘detective’s lenses’, it gives them another opportunity to practice "thinking like detectives." The LOC Graphic Organizer  is a perfect tool for encouraging students to observe closely, pose questions and uncover facts.

It’s hard to take things too seriously while my students are dressed in my mother’s housecoat and my great uncle’s hats, so interjecting images from the Library of Congress brings a bit of ‘real life’ into our discovery time.  If you’ve studied murder mysteries, leave a little message and share any links/books/resources you used for your unit.  Have a great 2018!

    • Early 1900s Detectives
    • Simpleton Pass
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