Have you ever wondered what your teachers do on the weekends when they go to the Museum? Here at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art we have professional development classes for K-12 teachers of all subjects through the year. The topics vary, but what doesn’t change is an eye for how the arts can be used in the classroom to enhance students’ learning.
On March 15, the Museum hosted one of our ongoing Saturday Sessions for Teachers. Twenty-four educators came for a professional development session focused on the exhibition At First Sight: Collecting the American Watercolor.
Having time to look at the art is a cornerstone of all profession development sessions. For most teacher sessions, therefore, we begin with time in front of the art. I will add that it doesn’t hurt that for these sessions, which are held before Museum public hours, we are alone in the galleries to discuss the works in question. For this session, however, we were inspired by Crystal Bridges’ founder and board chairwoman Alice Walton. The exhibition At First Sight offers a glimpse into how Ms. Walton’s early interest in watercolor grew into a lifelong love of art. That inspired us to change the order of the day, and begin the session in the studio, rather than in the galleries. Teachers experimented with different types of watercolor paint and paper. We also had other materials that can affect painting, like salt and rubbing alcohol. One science teacher was mapping out different ideas for her classes after seeing the watercolor disperse when alcohol was dropped in.
All of this looking and experimenting in the studio was just the start of the day. With the morning in the studio still on every one’s mind, we entered the exhibition to look at and discuss the works of art. The teachers were amazed at the precision and detail in the some of the paintings. Minutes before, they were struggling at controlling the watercolors, now they are seeing these works with a whole new perspective. What at first looked like a simple line depicting a fishing rod in Nicola D’Inverno Fishing on the Val d’Aosta by John Singer Sargent, now gained new depth as the teachers realized how difficult it had been to create a straight line in the medium. Another example was in looking at Georgia O’Keeffe’s Evening Star No. II. The first response might have been, “that’s looks easy” or “my child could do that.” Instead, the teachers had a deeper understanding of how O’Keeffe was recreating the canyons and sun with her carefully controlled, radiating colors.
The day ended with time for planning lessons or classroom extensions using what the teachers had experienced here at the Museum. We are looking forward to hearing how these lessons turned out and what new ideas will be sparked at the next professional development session on May 10.
Now you know—when a teacher says they are going to Crystal Bridges for a teacher professional development session, it’s not just a day with great art, but a chance for the teachers to be a part of a professional learning community of their peers and plan for ways to weave the arts into their classrooms.