Class 10: An Inquiry Discussion with Educator Sally Paul

Longtime AFAM educator Sally Paul visited class today. The Teen Docents were tasked with a layered assignment: to learn from Sally and to learn how Sally helped them learn.


Sally introduced her theme–Pattern–and her sub-theme–how the fashion designers in the exhibition Folk Couture were inspired by patterns in folk art–and then led the students over to her first work of art, an early-20th century Odd Fellows papercut.


Through a series of carefully sequenced questions, she drew the students in to notice more and more details, patterns, and symbols included in the papercut. After they had noticed as much as possible, she invited them to interpret what they saw.


She wove in relevant information about the Odd Fellows and helped the students understand how the work was created. Then, she asked them to take a seat and sketch their own symbol related to a value they live by. The Teen Docents shared symbols for values like strength and independence.


She then asked the students to turn their attention to the garment by Catherine Malandrino that had been inspired by the papercut. After a conversation about it, she asked the students to come up with a single word to encapsulate the dress. Their words included “chic,” “simple,” and “Spanish” among many others.

Lastly, Sally led the students over to John Bartlett’s garment and the work of folk art that inspired it. She divided the class into two halves, asking each half to study one of the objects and discuss it among themselves. She then invited the students to share what they noticed. Again, she started with more general observations and moved to interpretation and connections.


The students were sad to see Sally go! When asked what they’d learned from watching her lead a tour, they spoke about her even, soothing speaking tone, her confident way of standing without shifting around, the way she was always aware of the entire group of participants even when listening to just one who was speaking, how she was nonjudgmental and accepted a wide range of opinions, and how despite being very open, she kept the conversation focused and controlled. Hopefully Sally can come back and participate when the students lead their own tours in April.

Class 9: A Visit from Folk Couture Guest Curator Alexis Carreno

When the Teen Docents arrived at the American Folk Art Museum, they were greeted by the new exhibition Folk Couture, which presents work by thirteen contemporary fashion designers inspired by objects from the Museum’s collection. Five of the students had seen the exhibition the previous week, but it was the first time the rest of them were able to explore it. To start off the class, Walid led the group over to Koos van den Akker’s gown, which was inspired by five very different works of folk art, for an in-depth and lively introductory discussion.

Then, students were treated to a visit from Folk Couture’s guest curator, Alexis Carreno.


Carreno, a PhD candidate who hails from Chile, was gracious, enthusiastic, and truly interested in the Teen Docents’ ideas and opinions. He presented the exhibition by challenging students to think about questions like:

  • Are fashion and art different? How?
  • What does it mean to have a fashion exhibition in an art museum?
  • How does folk art, in particular, relate to fashion?
  • What do fashion and folk art have to do with identity?

The students had many thoughtful responses to his questions. He then led the way into the gallery to discuss work by Fabio Costa, Bibhu Mohapatra, and threeASFOUR. Students debated which garments they would wear (Costa’s!) and which they wouldn’t, the symbolism and theme’s of religious tolerance behind threeASFOUR’s work, and much more.



After thanking Alexis for his time and generosity, students made quick sketches of their own designs based on folk art objects on view. Vivian remixed a New Mexican porcupine sculpture into a more wearable dress than what Jean Yu created, Francia created a color-blocked kimono from a piece Koos van den Akker was inspired by, and Melissa transformed a howling wolf sculpture into an incredible idea for a hooded dress.


Teen Docents, leave your thoughts about this class in the comments!

State of the Union & Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School

For those of you who tuned in to last week’s State of the Union address, you may have noticed high school senior Estiven Rodriguez on stage being lauded by President Obama for his academic accomplishments. A special guest of First Lady Michelle Obama, Estiven was invited as a representative of one of our Teen Docent Program partner schools– Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School! To see the video, click below:

WHEELS, State of thew Union 2014.50.06

Congratulations, Estiven and WHEELS!