Friday, May 20, 2011

Dixon Discoveries

As a child growing up in Chicago, I remember having some amazing field trips. Surprisingly, the Lincoln Park Zoo and Kiddyland don’t stand out in my memory. What I remember best were the Museum trips. The memories are strong because I was left to discover something on my own, so at the end of the day I felt accomplished and proud. Thanks to those trips I have a warm connection with museums. No matter how big or small, quiet or noisy, artistic or historic-I am at home in a museum.

Fast-forward to the present. I am now the Children’s Program Coordinator at the Dixon. And I find myself in charge of instilling these same feelings with the students who visit this unique museum. The task in my eyes is exciting but also a bit terrifying. As an art educator, the thought of a child being bored by a lesson is an unthinkable consequence, one that could be detrimental to a child’s relationship with our museum. Thankfully, my predecessor and my boss feared boring lessons as well, and when they created the field trip program Dixon Discoveries, it was bound to be fun!

The groups hardly every fit a perfect mold, so it has been a challenge to describe a Dixon Discoveries trip on a pamphlet or postcard. One of the beauties of working here is the freedom to be flexible and creative. A few weeks ago, we had a group of 70 ESL (English as a second language) students from Oakhaven Elementary visit the Dixon. The coordinating teacher wanted: Some students in the galleries, some in the gardens; a lesson based in literature and writing; plenty of free time; and she wanted them to stay all morning and have lunch here. I was excited!

But this was a new problem for me to solve. How can I have 70 children, all different ages, in all corners of the museum, and still make it an enjoyable and insightful visit? How can I make these children want to come back again with their families? Also, I had to be sure the teachers wouldn’t find the trip too stressful because I wanted them to come back too. So the project had to be fun enough to become self-guided by the student’s own motivation.

And what do all kids love to do? They love to tell stories, play make-believe, and tell YOU what THEY think. Luckily, the teacher at Oakhaven Elementary was passionate about letting her children take time to explore.

In the end, the lesson was as follows: All 70 kids filled our auditorium and made a book with colorful covers, yarn binding, packed with drawing paper and line paper. Then they went out to the galleries to see the amazing show Private Memphis. I asked THEM what THEY thought was going on in each painting. And boy-oh-boy, they had some fascinating stories! Then they wrote in their hand made books and illustrated them using the characters in the paintings as springboards. The younger kids went into the gardens with a scavenger hunt made just for them. They too were instructed to write a garden story.

The group stayed for well over 2 hours. As the kids left, many asked if they could come back and bring their families. “PLEASE DO!!” Despite my intense morning, I couldn’t help but spend my afternoon daydreaming about what I might do with my next group.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Private Memphis is open!

Since I last wrote, the Dixon has changed exhibitions, and Private Memphis is now almost half-way through its 5-week run.  We have enjoyed such an overwhelmingly positive response to this exhibition--our visitors are loving having the opportunity to take a peek at the art that graces the walls of the homes of our city's most avid art collectors.
Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, Hard Hit, 1883.  Oil on canvas, Private collection.
It has been such a pleasure to discover the quality and variety of art that exists in private collections here in Memphis.  From the traditional to the contemporary, this show truly has something for everyone.  And just to keep everyone on their toes, there are a few works with a little bit of shock value, but you'll have to come and see it for yourself!
Damien Hirst, In a Spin, the Action of the World on Things, 2002. Household gloss paint on box, Collection of Caryn and Rudi Scheidt, Jr.
We couldn't be more grateful to the lenders to this exhibition for being so generous with us in agreeing to part with their prized possessions for a month and a half!  I think everyone in Memphis can take pride not only in the fabulous fine art that's here, but also in the visionary collectors who are so passionate each object in their collection.
When you're at the Dixon checking out Private Memphis, be sure to stop in our Mallory and Wurtzburger galleries to see the latest exhibition in our series dedicated to local contemporary artists, Larry Edwards: Three Themes.  Larry's work is fun, colorful, and it's truly hilarious to see how he uses animals and fantastical creatures to poke fun at human frailties and foibles.
Larry Edwards, Battle of the Butterflies, 2010. Gouache, pastel, and watercolor on paper, Courtesy of the artist.
Larry's exhibition will be up through July 24, be sure to come see it!  We will be honoring Larry this coming Thursday night at Art after Dark with a 'Meet the Artist Night!'  Larry is truly hilarious and always has a great story to tell, I know you all will love meeting him and experiencing his wonderful creations.
Hope to see you all in the galleries soon!  Be sure to stay tuned to the Dixon blog--we've got a lot of fun things going on this summer, starting with the opening of Jean-Louis Forain: La Comedie parisienne on June 26!

Julie Pierotti
Assistant Curator

Friday, May 6, 2011

A bird in the hand is worth two in a wreath....

I have a garden wreath made of moss on my porch; it was acquired last Christmas during a Memphis Garden Club auction for the 2010 holidays. It hung on my door through the holidays until late winter when a pair of Carolina wrens decided to nest there. I opened the door and suddenly we had two wrens in the house. My eight year old daughter Madison loves birds, so as these birds flitted around the house my daughter declared that this was the best day of her life. We had to catch them in a butterfly net and my daughter got to hold and release the birds one at a time. We moved the wreath to a wall on the porch in lieu of the door and the wrens have now laid eggs and are raising young in the nest this spring. 

Wrens are fantastic songbirds which seem to sing all the time. We live in a wooded area near Brunswick, Tennessee and have lots of great songbirds. They are a perfect complement to my love of trees. Madison and I recently saw a bright red Summer Tanager that I originally mistook for a male cardinal, until I noticed a different beak and profile. This beautiful woodland bird is the only all red species found in North America, and it really glows in the landscape. Debbie Bruce, Co-owner of Wild Birds Unlimited, told me that they were summer resident birds that eat insects especially wasps. I figure a bird that is beautiful, sings, and eats wasps is a good one to have around. I also had the pleasure of seeing an Indigo Bunting which is a deep blue songbird which is also a inhabitant wooded areas.  None of these are typical bird feeder birds, but the wrens do love the mealworms we put out for feed on the weekends. Madison and I have also been putting out oranges sliced with grape jelly on them to attract Orioles but have not seen any to date. We are also on the lookout for grosbeaks, which we should have in the area now. 

The natural landscape of the Mid-South is a forest which provides habitat for many fantastic bird species. I have also installed bird feeders at the Dixon, and we are attracting more song birds like Goldfinches and Purple Finches.

I have recently become interested in birds prompted by my daughter, and have found learning about these feathered creatures is great fun.

Come hear Debbie from Wild Birds Unlimited on June 1st as she presents a Munch and Learn at the Dixon to tell us more about summer birds. I think you will find birds an exciting and a natural extension to a love of gardening.  It is another way for me to connect with nature while creating a bond with my child.