Day #1: February 26, 2013

Today was the first day of the Teen Docent Program! Nicole, the program instructor, and Hilary, the education intern, were thrilled to welcome ten students to the American Folk Art Museum. Six attend the performing arts high school Talent Unlimited (TU), while the other four attend Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS). During a quick ice breaker activity, it was revealed that among the Teen Docents there are:

  • a belly dancer who performs at parties with her magician brother,
  • a baker of upside-down cakes, mini-cupcakes, and upside-down mini-cupcakes,
  • a sushi-fanatic, as well as someone who has never tried sushi before,
  • a lover of both lasagna and the band the XX,
  • an only girl among her siblings and cousins,
  • a proud owner of two cats she swears will win over the cat-haters in the group,
  • and much more!

Students participated in an activity called “The Sort,” in which they worked together to sort images of art objects into three piles: “Probably Folk Art,” “Probably Not Folk Art,” and “Who Knows?” At the start of this activity, students were completely unaware that these images all represent artworks in the museum collection. Some of the students remembered seeing Mr. Imagination’s BUTTON TREE when they last visited the museum, which helped them place it into the “Probably Folk Art” pile. Everyone agreed that a needlework piece and several 19th-century portraits were folk art because of their subject matter and because they “looked old,” while a Henry Darger drawing was “Probably Not Folk Art” because it looked very contemporary. In the end, they discovered that, in fact, all of the objects are considered folk art and are part of the museum’s collection. The students reevaluated their ideas about the term folk art–in a museum context–to understand that it includes artwork made by a self-taught artist.

As a group, the students had two lively, extended conversations about American Folk Art Museum icons the ST. TAMMANY WEATHERVANE and Edward Hicks’s THE PEACEABLE KINGDOM. They made thoughtful observations, brought impressive knowledge of Manifest Destiny, William Penn, and Quakers to the discussion, and easily built off of, refuted, and were inspired by each other’s ideas—natural museum educators!