Fear No Art

Seeing, smelling, hearing, touching and tasting bluebonnets...?

Not having grown up in Texas, when I first joined the Carter team I did not realize the significance of Julian Onderdonk’s painting A Cloudy Day, Bluebonnets near San Antonio, Texas. A reproduction of it was hanging in my office when I arrived, and I was not impressed. It was only after the Gallery Teachers and I decided to use it on a tour that I began to appreciate the painting’s aesthetic qualities as well as its importance to the state of Texas.

Julian Onderdonk, A Cloudy Day, Bluebonnets near San Antonio, Texas, 1918, Oil on canvas, Ruth Carter Stevenson Acquisitions Endowment, In honor of Lady Bird Johnson

Julian Onderdonk (1882–1922)
A Cloudy Day, Bluebonnets near San Antonio, Texas, 1918
Oil on canvas
Ruth Carter Stevenson Acquisitions Endowment, In honor of Lady Bird Johnson

Students from Texas are so familiar with these little blue flowers that most of the time they don’t even need to look at the label to figure out what we are looking at. In fact, when we situate students in front of this painting they can hardly wait to start talking! I apprise students of my non-Texas-native status and they are thrilled to tell me why this flower is so important to the state (for those of you who don’t know bluebonnets are the official state flower of Texas. A springtime Texas tradition is to take photographs of kids and pets nestled among the bluebonnets.). They also warn me not to pick bluebonnets in the wild (a commonly held belief is that it is illegal to pick wild bluebonnets in the state of Texas). Once we establish what we are looking at (field of bluebonnets), where we are (just outside of San Antonio, Texas), what season it is (bluebonnets bloom in the spring), we begin our multi-sensory approach to experiencing this work of art.

As the students and I begin our imaginary trek on the path that cuts through this field of bluebonnets, I ask them to stop and take look around to tell me what they see. The value in stopping and just looking is apparent when students begin to describe their bluebonnet surroundings. They notice (of course) the bluebonnets, but then they take in the tall, gangly trees on the left with the green tufts of leaves and contrast them with the delicate, wispy trees on the right that are just starting to blossom with the slimmest white buds. They explore the scene a little more and discover the hills in the background as their eyes begin to look upward to the sky. Students often remark that in a painting so full of blue that it’s hard to tell where the bluebonnets end and the sky begins.

We move on to our next sense as we are standing on the path. I ask the students to close their eyes, inhale deeply, and tell me what they think they would smell. Fresh air, rain, dirt, and the country are all frequent answers. My favorite has to be “it would smell like when you pull towels out of the dryer and stick your face in them.” Yes, this field of bluebonnets would smell exactly like a face-full of clean towels.

This seemingly silent scene seems to spring to life when I ask students to listen for sounds. We frequently hear birds chirping and tweeting high up in the trees. As soon as one student mentions that we might hear a bee, one by one each student begins to buzz until we have a gallery that would make a beekeeper smile. Every once in a while we encounter a snake on our walk. Slowly the students start hissing and suddenly one snake becomes a nest of snakes as we talk about all of them slithering through the bluebonnets. Students like to point out that we probably wouldn’t see the snakes in the tall bluebonnets, but we would hear them.

We stop again on the path and this time I ask the students to pretend to take off their shoes. As we take a few barefoot steps I want them to describe what they feel underneath their feet. This is their chance to practice using texture words: hard, rough, gritty, bumpy, course, dusty, rocky, and dry. Next I ask them to imagine that it had rained earlier in the day and to take a few steps. Now the fun texture words enter into our conversation: squishy, soggy, muddy, sticky, gooey, jelly-like, and slippery.

As we near the end of our walk through the bluebonnets I can always tell that they students are wondering what I am going to have them taste. Rather than having them eat a bluebonnet, I tell them that we are going to have a picnic and they get to pick what they would like to pack in their picnic baskets. After a little encouragement, students are very excited to talk about their food choices. Sometimes their lunches are inspired by the bluebonnets and include grape jelly sandwiches, purple Gatorade, blue raspberry Jolly Ranchers candy, blueberry pie, red grapes, berry Fruit Roll Ups, and grape soda. Other times students are truly thinking with their stomachs and say they would pack chocolate cake, hamburgers, nachos (with jalapenos), sandwiches, fruit, cookies, Happy Meals, and their mom’s meatballs. One of my favorite taste-related responses was from a student who requested to have a pizza delivered to our field of bluebonnets. I don’t think pizza would taste quite as good anywhere else.

As you look at and think about A Cloudy Day, Bluebonnets near San Antonio, Texas, I invite you to use the same multi-sensory approach as we use with students. Where do your eyes take you in this work of art? What does the country-side smell like to you? If you listen closely, what do you hear? Run your fingers along the delicate tops of the flowers; how does it feel? Finally, what meal would you eat in this glorious field of bluebonnets?

Links I Like

Isn’t the Internet great? There is so much good information at your fingertips and, sadly, so much bad information too. The Teaching Resource Center offers an online tool that helps you find classroom-worthy content. Look for grade level appropriate Web links on the Teaching Resource Center's del.icio.us bookmark page. Here at the Carter we talk about a wide variety of subjects and this is reflected in the tags used to describe the selected Web sites. Look for Highly Recommended and TRC-Materials-Available tags for Web pages that directly support art on the walls and ongoing conversations in the galleries.

Check out these helpful links for classroom activities in February ”¦

African Americans Seen Through the Eyes of Newsreel Cameramen

This small digital collection from the libraries of the University of South Carolina features newsreels of African Americans selected from the period of 1919 to 1963 when "Fox News and Fox Movietone News camera crews covered the people and events of the country and, indeed, the world." Some of the clips include the third anniversary of Tuskegee Army Airfield, Josephine Baker in the Netherlands, and Jack Johnson's Jazz Band.

A Guide to Harlem Renaissance Materials Library of Congress

Examples by African-American artists of writing, music, and art during the 1920s and 1930s are well represented in the vast collections of the Library of Congress. This guide presents the Library's resources as well as links to external Web sites.

Images of African Americans from the 19th Century

This site offers thematically categorized selection of images from the New York Public Library and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Topics covered range from the Civil War to Social Life and Customs.

George Bellows, Sixteen East Gay Street, Lithograph, ca.1923-1924

Geoge Bellows, Sixteen East Gay Street, Lithograph, ca. 1923-924

Getting to Know: Thomas Cole

Did you know that the artist known as the father of American landscape painting was born in England? Born in the industrial center of Bolton-le-Moors in 1801, Thomas Cole immigrated to America in 1818. His masterpiece The Hunter’s Return (1845) visually demonstrates the principles of landscape painting he put forth in his artist manifesto “Essay on American Scenery” penned just nine years earlier.

Thomas Cole, The Hunter's Return, Oil on canvas, 1845

Cole challenged his fellow artists to look around their own backyard and capture the unique beauty of the United States, rather than the European scenes and styles he felt many American artists were then using. He believed that American landscapes should include five crucial elements: wildness, mountains, water, forests, and sky. Can you find them all in The Hunter’s Return?

Besides championing a uniquely American style, Cole also was forward thinking in terms of the environment. After describing the beauty of the American landscape, toward the end of his Essay he remarked

Yet I cannot but express my sorrow that the beauty of such landscapes are quickly passing away---the ravages of the axe are daily increasing---the most noble scenes are made desolate, and oftentimes with a wantonness and barbarism scarcely credible in a civilized nation. The wayside is becoming shadeless, and another generation will behold spots, now rife with beauty, desecrated by what is called improvement; which, as yet, generally destroys Nature’s beauty without substituting that of Art. This is a regret rather than a complaint; such is the road society has to travel; it may lead to refinement in the end, but the traveller who sees the place of rest close at hand, dislikes the road that has so many unnecessary windings.

Look again at The Hunter’s Return. What visual evidence do you think Cole has included to express his concern about westward movement?

Over 150 years later, American artists are still grappling with how the environment is changing. Next time that you’re at the Carter, make sure to visit Cole’s work and tip your hat to this American painting pioneer!

What a Great Year!

We had many friends–old and new–visit our museum in 2009. Almost 20,000 students had a conversation about great American art in our galleries; about 6,500 visitors stopped by for a docent-led tour of our permanent collection or a visiting exhibition; and over 2,500 visitors enjoyed our five Family Fundays.

We welcomed many a virtual visitor too! Our distance learning program reached over 15,000 students. We now have over 700 Facebook fans, and 2,700 folks follow the museum on Twitter. Our Web site gets hundreds of thousands of hits each year.

All in all, we were busy, and now we’re working on making next year even better. Join us here in Fort Worth or online as the Carter Gets Modern in 2010.

Yasuo Kuniyoshi (1889–1953), Milking the Cow, 1922, lithograph

Yasuo Kuniyoshi (1889–1953), Milking the Cow, 1922, lithograph

Happy New Year!

A Nose? A Platypus? A Sack of Flour?

Last year the education department introduced over 19,000 students to the Carter’s permanent collection through our school tours program. The Gallery Teachers use an inquiry-based style of teaching which often includes asking students for their initial observations when discussing a specific work of art. One of our favorite paintings to use with student groups is by Georgia O’Keeffe.

We’ve found that the easiest and best way to approach this work of art with students is simply by asking them “What do you think this is?” or “What are you looking at?” We have compiled a list of the most interesting, most creative, and funniest responses below.
A nose
A platypus
An elephant
Sacks of flour
A shoebox
A couch
A bunch of pillows
Brown grocery bags
Couch cushion forts
An easel
The back of a picture frame
A sand castle
George Washington’s teeth
Secret doors
A fort
A recliner
Peach Jell-O
A pulpit
A trashcan with a garbage bag coming out of it
Marshmallows

Now, it’s your turn”¦what do you see when you look at this painting?

Georgia O’Keeffe, Ranchos Church, New Mexico, 1930/31, oil on canvas, ©Amon Carter Museum.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Ranchos Church, New Mexico, 1930/31, oil on canvas, ©Amon Carter Museum.

Join Us for More Family Fun

This Sunday, January 10, from 1:00 - 4:00 p.m., is our next Family Funday. The folks from the Noble Planetarium will turn our library into the night sky and art-making activities, poetry, and storytelling will lead you to our galleries. Get bundled up and be ready to check out winter landscapes and night-time adventures at the Carter!

Happy Holidays Artist-Style

One of my favorite things about the holiday season is making handmade cards. The process begins as early as summer, when I select the perfect papers and start devising that year’s theme. This tradition has now grown into such a production that almost every surface in my home is covered with envelope liners, labels, stamps, and eyelets for the first few weeks of December.

I am not alone in my handmade card fascination. The Smithsonian’s Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture’s current exhibition Season’s Greetings: Holiday Cards from the Archives of American Art showcases a variety of artists’ greetings. If you can’t make the trip to D.C. before the exhibition closes on January 10, you can enjoy thirty-four examples online, including works by artists in the Carter’s collection such as Alexander Calder, Stuart Davis, and Werner Dreves.

Haven’t had time to send your own holiday cards this year? The Smithsonian’s site allows you to send a free e-Card of one of the artist’s handmade treasures.

Family Fun Guaranteed

During our November Family Funday, families came from all over the metroplex to participate in multiple activities surrounding the theme Way Out West. Favorite activities included making charm bags and corn husk dolls, and striking silly poses for Shadow Silhouettes, a photography activity.

Making corn husk dollsFamily fun in the galleries

Shadow SilhouetteShadow Silhouette

Children and families also explored the galleries in search of specific works of art and American Indian Storytelling. A fun day was had by all.
Don’t forget to mark your calendars for Night Visions, our next Family Funday, on Sunday, January 10th from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. where you can explore nocturnal works of art, listen to stories and poetry, and make your own evening inspired masterpieces. Family Fundays are free and great for the entire family.

Know Before You Go

The Carter encourages you to visit our Web site before you visit to learn about our collection as well as exhibits and programming that we hope will be of interest to you.

Our home page is the gateway to all the Carter has to offer. Want to know about what is hanging on the walls? How about going on a tour? Perhaps you want to get your kids ready to come to the museum for a visit? There’s also a way to see some of the art that is not on display at this time.

Starting December 12, 2009, the Carter will display a new acquisition. Edward S. Curtis: The North American Indian exhibits this comprehensive collection for the first time. Visit the Library of Congress American Memory page for a great look at this collection online and then come see the real thing in the gallery.

Photograph by Edward Curtis
Edward S. Curtis, Yellow Owl, Mandan, Photogravure on vellum, 1908.

Getting to Know: Louise Nevelson

One of my favorite artists in the Carter’s collection is innovative printmaker and sculptor Louise Nevelson (1899–1988). Whenever I see one of her imaginative sculptures, it always seems to command attention no matter its size or the other works in the same gallery. Get to know this great American artist a little better and be on the lookout for her work at the Carter and other art museums you visit”¦

Black, white, and gold are the signature colors of Nevelson’s sculptures–colors that transform her found object assemblages from a mixture of items like bedposts and chair seats to masterful displays of pure aesthetic form. She was born in Kiev in 1899 and immigrated to Rockland, Maine, in 1905. She eventually made her way to New York City, where she not only filled her days with creating artworks, but also became a student of modern dance, combining the two in the Carter’s sculpture [Untitled] (ca. 1935), which represents a kneeling dancer engaged in dynamic movement. “Modern dance certainly makes you aware of movement,” Nevelson recalled, “and that moving from the center of the being is where we generate and create our own energy . . . I became aware of every fiber, and it freed me.” Her exploration of motion continued in the Carter’s [Untitled] (ca. 1947), which is designed for each abstract piece to rotate on a central axis (although you must only imagine the movement rather than engage in a hands-on lesson!).

Nevelson is best known for her wall reliefs of all sizes using found objects like the Carter’s Lunar Landscape (1959–60).

She would roam the streets around her New York studio, searching for the perfect items to combine in monochromatic sculptures–recycling long before the term became fashionable! Lunar Landscape, Sky Cathedral, Silent Music IX, America Dawn–her titles reflect her idea that viewers should consider each work’s beauty of form and line instead of trying to determine the identities of the included objects. To me, Nevelson’s works hold appeal because of her creativity and ability to transform a myriad of scavenged objects into a beautiful unified whole. The next time you’re at the Carter head into the galleries and let her sculptures inspire you.