The Anatomy of a Workshop : Behind-the-scenes of a Family First Workshop

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The Anatomy of a Workshop

by Julia Hood, Coordinator of Education, @LearnReynolda
On the first Sunday of each month, I host our Family First Workshop series. These 2-hour, hands-on workshops are designed for kids in grades 1-6 and a favorite adult to come create art together. I start by leading participants into the museum galleries to look at and discuss selected artworks or decorative art objects (even architecture!). This brief tour prepares the group to create their own artworks when we return to the studio.
To see this in action, come behind-the-scenes with me to see planning through final product of our recent Shadowbox Assemblage Workshop.
Choose a topic or activity
About three months before the fall or spring, I determine what the workshops will be for the next season. I make these decisions based on what exhibitions might be on view and what artworks might be inspiring to families. When I learned that there would be a sculpture by artist Joseph Cornell in Things Wondrous & Humble: American Still Life, I knew that kids and adults would enjoy creating personal shadow boxes.


In the case of this workshop, I researched information about the life and art of mid-twentieth-century American artist Joseph Cornell. I learned what kind of ideas he thought about and what sort of materials and processes he used when creating artwork. I wrote down lists of objects that he collected and put in his shadowboxes.


Plan the art activity
To prepare for this workshop, I had to consider whether I could find or make boxes.
[Cutting down donated boxes to create shadowboxes.]
After creating new boxes from larger boxes, I painted gesso inside to give a clean white look:
Then, I gathered materials. This involved looking at lists of things Cornell himself collected but also going “shopping” in our storage closet. Here are some of the items we set up for the workshop:
We needed some papers, fabrics and other materials that could make for interesting backgrounds (back wall of the box). Then, participants could use different-sized objects in the foreground (front part of the box) and middleground (middle part) of their boxes.


I also made a sample artwork. In making a sample, I thought about how I could best teach the activity and what kinds of challenges that participants might face. For example, I learned that—although it looks cool—tying lots of strings to suspend items in the box was more involved than I thought. So, I did not recommend this approach in the workshop.


The Workshop
At the start of each workshop, we tour part of the museum. For this, I considered what kinds of questions would help guide a discussion with children and adults about Cornell’s artwork. I decided that we would start by looking at Audrey Flack’s Bounty to talk about symbolism and what it means for an image to symbolize something. We discussed what symbols might be universal (where lots of people would understand them, e.g. a Christmas tree symbolizing that holiday or a heart shape symbolizing the idea of love) or what symbols might just be personal (where the image has a unique, personal meaning to the artist).


After the group talked about Bounty, we discussed Joseph Cornell’s Untitled (ca. 1955). We observed the materials he put in his box—cork ball painted white, two metal rods, a cordial glass, wood painted white, a clay pipe, star charts, papers with constellations, blue paint—and talked about what these items might mean individually and what they mean when you bring them all together.
Participants then created their own shadowboxes. We had lots of ways to connect items:


Participants selected objects that they wanted to use in their artwork and got to work.
My volunteer assistant and I helped participants as they figured out how to connect their selected items to their boxes. Sculpture involves lots of problem-solving.
Participants completed their boxes and left with some amazing creations:
Great work!

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