Sunday, January 29, 2012

Seed pod

            What is a seed?  It is pure potential.  It is a shell filled with the energy and knowledge of all that came before it.  It is a single point of initiation.  Essentially, it is an egg.  The beginning.  When life emerges it must break through its hard shell to sprout.  All the people, places and memories that have made the shell strong have created the opportunity for something new to emerge.   
The seed of me was planted in Virginia where I would be nurtured by the ocean, woods, mountains, animals and family around me.  Each contributed to the structure of the shell and the content of character inside.  The potential was there, given the strength, knowledge, compassion and wisdom passed on from ancestors, places and spaces.

Seed Pod is the result of my family migration study.  It is more of a local study as I chose to take a personal look at how my childhood made me strong through interaction with my family.
The bottom of the seed is the point at which the strength to grow began.  My parents, grandparents, great grandparents supported me as an infant, and each other as adults.  An image of “Granny”, the great matriarch of the Lampe/Bryan family, looking at her granddaughter, my mother, filling her with the knowledge of life in China, teaching, traveling and loving.  Each of the images that have been transferred onto the seed shell represent moments in the migration to who I am now.
            My mother grew up traveling the globe as a Navy officer’s daughter.  I never knew my mother’s Mom; she died when I was an infant.  I new her through Granny, who passed on the stories of what it was like growing up between the US and China with a father that was a layer for the International Settlement in China.
My Dad’s father, “Grandpa Jack”, was a farmer for most of his life, as was his family.  Even after leaving farm life for the railroad he raised my father on the values of hard work and perseverance, and instilled a love for working the land.  When my father turned 18 the draft was in full swing.  Instead of waiting to be drafted into the Vietnam War, he enlisted in the army.   Grandpa retired to the beach in Virginia, which is the only home of his I knew.  It was my favorite place to be.
Moving from the bottom of the seed toward the top are images of my childhood with my sister and parents, my wedding, places that brought inspiration, the fruits of our garden, the hiking trails, and then my children.  The layering of the images illustrates their order in history and in process of shaping the person I am sprouting into.  The choice of colors is symbolic of grounding (yellow), growth (green), and spirit (blue).  The supporting structure is a combination of vines, sticks, tissue paper and wire with a light socket in the center. 
It is lit from within.  This light from within that shines through the opening at the top of the seed is indicative of the inner light that shines out through all of us.  It is a single source of light that illuminates so much.  It is the moment, which ignites the potential stored within to grow.

Roots and Limbs

Roots and Limbs

Roots and Limbs that’s what I’m made of. Actually, that was the title of my senior show finalizing my undergrad. My family has given me strong roots so that I could grow long limbs and those limbs are still growing today.

     I spent my entire childhood in the same house in Newport News, VA. In a neighborhood where kids rode their bikes without helmets, spent hours trying to get lost but never crossing the “big road”, and went swimming at the neighborhood pool. We were told not to come in until dusk, but before the streetlights came on. I would spend weekends with my grandparents at the beach where they lived, which solidified my connection to water and my need for sand under my feet. I’d listen to stories of life on the Carolina farm from my Father, Grandfather and Aunts. I’d visit my Mother’s family and listen to their stories of life in the Navy, as missionaries in China and beyond, as educators, and international travelers. Two worlds so far apart connected for a while and built me.

     With a strong foundation I started out into college, marriage, career and children. Planting myself with my husband in Powhatan, VA gave me the solid ground I needed to venture across the ocean to Spain, Italy and France. When I took my first student group abroad for 14 days I had never been out of the country, been away from my young children for that long, and had never been responsible for 20 other people and myself and into a country where I didn’t peak the language. Even with so many people around me I was alone. It was scary, exciting, eye opening, inspiring, validating, and liberating. That first trip to Spain changed my view of the world, my place in it, and its possibilities for me to grow, learn and live.
In many ways I’ve felt that my adult eyes had never fully opened until I traveled to Spain. Since then, they have never closed. Seeing what I had only studied about and navigating through the winding streets, merchants, and locals going about their daily life made me both appreciate where I came from and want to see more, experience more, and learn more from the foreign places and spaces I continue to explore. I always thought Italy would be the country rich with art and history that I would fall in love with. Yet I ended up in Spain first and experienced Picasso, Miro, Velázquez, Goya, walled cities, tapas, olive oil, heavenly wine, classical guitar, flamenco and Sangria that made me realize there were parts of this great culture that I wanted to absorb into my daily life.  The question of what other great cultures appreciate different customs or ways of doing things that I could embrace into my own life has driven me to keep traveling

Thursday, January 12, 2012

When Things Go Wrong

When things go wrong…….. 

I walked into the kiln room this morning to retrieve the relief sculptures some of my students resorted to creating after all other attempts at casting and carving had resulted in epic failures, and what I found both crushed and puzzled me.  Never in all my history of creating art have I seen such a disgusting pile of what can only be described as appearing like hardened diarrhea.  The clay had melted and liquefied to form low mounds of popped bubble ooze that congealed together when cooled to become slabs of hardened funk.  I was perplexed.  What happened?  It was the same red clay we had always used.  It was set to slow fire.  The pieces were not quite bone dry, which is why the kiln was set to such a low fire.  I didn’t understand.  Until…. I looked back at the cone chart and found my mistake.  There is about 1,000 degrees difference between a cone 6 and a cone 06.  I had set the kiln to 6 and melted my students’ clay pieces.  This effected 4 of my 25 students.  Their clay slab was the only thing (artwork) they were going to have to show for all their work, and I ruined it.  I seemed to have screwed most things up on this project.

The majority of this quarter has been, in the terminology of my students, an epic fail.  I started out with what I thought was a great concept.  The guiding question was how can relief sculpture be used to express a personal narrative?  The studio skills to be learned included modeling, additive and subtractive sculpture techniques, casting processes, and three dimensional surface designs.   The sculpture artist we mainly discussed was Ghiberti and his Gates of Paradise baptistery doors, but we also looked at several narrative paintings and discussed how the artists used imagery and object placement (background, middle ground and foreground) to show importance.  We also used Robert Hasting’s poem The Station as a discussion starter about important moments in life.  We went back to our mind map on identity and the things that shape it to look at possible starters for the personal narrative.  Here is where things started to go south. 

Problem 1: I don’t think I was clear enough or thorough enough in my instruction of narrative art and more contemporary artists who create personal narrative art.

Problem 2: Getting personally connected to the assignment.  Most students had a hard time coming up with imagery that could tell a story about an experience, memory or feeling that held any significance for them.  Seeing this I adjusted the motivator and we discussed how many songs tell a story.  Students could illustrate a song.   So we discussed song lyrics.  What’s your favorite song?  Why is it your favorite song?  Could any imagery be created from the lyrics?  This led some students to choosing a song to illustrate.  Most songs they wanted to use were either not school appropriate or it was the rhythm that made it a favorite song, not the lyrics.  I was then unable to get them to visualize how they could represent the rhythm.  With some students I compromised and let them create a relief of a favorite place or object.  At the beginning I told students they would be writing the narrative to accompany their final artwork.  I thought of having them write it first, but I was afraid if I did, they would never get to the making part of the assignment, which is what they all wanted to do.  With 25 students I had to get them moving or I’d definitely loose them.  In retrospect, I should have done that anyway.  May be then they would have thought more about the what, why and how of the art they were going to create and their designs would have been more successful.   

Problem 3:  Technical difficulties and underestimation of needed materials.  When I created my sample piece it all worked out great and seemed easy enough for my intermediate students to handle.  It would have been if I had enough material for every student to make their rubber mold and cast it in plaster like I had done.  Alas, that was not the case.  I didn’t limit the size of student’s clay models like I should have.  That, along with the fact that there were 25 of them, led to their not being enough casting material for every person to use.  I should have stopped here and just fired their clay slabs, but I was too focused on them learning about casting that I lost sight of the guiding concept, which was to create a narrative artwork.  I should have recognized that the process of casting was not as important as the concept behind the artwork.  Yes I wanted them to learn casting, but not at the expense of creating meaning with their art. So I pushed on.

Plan B was to place the clay slab in a plastic lined box, use the waste clay to form walls and pour a plaster mold around the clay relief.  Then students could dig out the clay and pour more plaster into the mold.  We could then break away the mold and we’d have the positive form that could then be painted.  I had enough plaster for the entire class if it had been mixed correctly and not wasted.  What actually happened was that students mixed their own plaster without paying attention to the ratio of plaster powder to water and their plaster either never set up, and fell apart because it wasn’t strong enough, or they waited too long and the plaster hardened in the mixing bowl before they ever poured it around their clay.  Why did this happen?  Again, I think this was my fault.  I was busy trying to get to each student who needed help with their original clay models or pushing some students to actually develop their image they would sculpt.  I told them as a group how to mix the plaster in my original demonstration and demonstrated it again with the class using the first student’s artwork.  I should have given them each written instructions.  I could have given them each a pre-measured about of plaster to mix, but then that takes away one opportunity to use their math skills.  And they need to use them.  I had one senior who could not figure out how to find out what 1/3rd of 44oz was to know how much water to eliminate before mixing.  She would not even attempt to figure it out.  (This represents a larger problem in the high school population.  That is a story for another time.)  While I was working with some students, others were making their molds or casting from them.  When students leave out the step of applying the releasing agent their castings don’t come out of the mold. 

That led to going back to square one.  This time, instead of starting with clay and building up the design, they started with a plaster block and carved out their design.  This was more difficult and students became frustrated.

Problem 4: All the technical difficulties resulted in final artworks that looked nothing like students had planned and they did not know how to adjust and write a narrative to accompany their new artwork.  They were frustrated with the whole process and didn’t want to think about it anymore.  It was pulling teeth to get them to now write a story about the visual they had created. Especially when they were not happy with what they created.  

Monday, January 2, 2012

Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes

Nothing changes if nothing changes.  Let's be realistic.  Economics and politics go hand and hand with the position of WHAT or WHO holds the power in the public school systems.  At some point it became about keeping a job and putting butts in seats and not necessarily about what's in the best interest of the student.  But think a minute, didn't the most powerful revolutions (or positive changes in society) begin at the bottom.  The grass roots folks who said NO MORE?  The teachers in the trenches.

We know that learning is not linear.  Rather, organic like a tree.  Establish strong roots and then allow students to grow strong limbs to reach out spread.  When children are young and parents have to work to keep the fridge stocked and the roof secure not having to pay for all day child care helps economic security.  So kids go to school earlier and for longer times but is it that time well spent in standards driven structure?   This is a prime opportunity to plant roots.    Is this the place and time for government to support early learning?  If you have money and can afford it you can get your child into a program for early learning (play = research and development), but the majority of people no't have that kids of money.

Too much micro management stifles growth.  Our country is capitalistic to it's core.  Some say it's not necessarily a positive thing.  What if we allowed the schools to make alliances with private industry?  Would that be any better than government control?  What if private industry earned tax breaks, or credits, for the amount of money they put into a local school system?  Would industry have the foresight to equip schools with the tools to teach the new generations the skills needed to sustain an ever changing job market?  Or would they just dictate the skills they wanted their next batch of minions to have in order to make them more money?

I prefer to look on the sunny side and think that just maybe corporate money going directly to the schools instead of continuing to feed the red tape entwined pork that wades around big buildings in Washington looking for the next feeding barrel.  How many new great innovations came out of government mandated and funded programs?  How many great innovations, discoveries, technologies or advancements have come out of the private sector?  Haven't some things started out as an "innovation grant" from the government and then taken over and funded privately, often because of competition, then created faster and developed more for the betterment of the people?  Look at the pharmaceutical and technology companies.   What if the government planted the roots by granting the early learning (developmentally appropriate/learning through play)?  What if.......... 
Brainstorming  possibilities is how things get going.  There's a storm a brewing.