When the Curtain Never Comes Down


photo (38) 134A9794

At the Teen Docent Program, we’ve been too busy to blog! Because of exhibition and spring break schedules, we only have five weeks in the new exhibition When the Curtain Never Comes Down before the students will be giving their final tours. With twenty-seven artists and many more objects to learn about, and with tours to plan on themes like “Resourcefulness and Determination,” “Isolation,” and “Happiness,” there is a lot to pack into just a few days of preparation. But it will all be worth it on May 19th when the teen docents lead their own engaging, carefully-crafted conversations about performance art!

If you’d like to bring high school-aged students to the tour, at 4pm on May 19th, please contact education@folkartmuseum.com.


Class #6: Ebony


In today’s class we were introduced to a new exhibit, A Shared Legacy. This exhibit has a lot to do with American History. It’s centered around the 1800’s-1920’s time period. It was really interesting learning how exactly gender and economic status were shown in portraits and the stories behind every piece of art. It’s as if you were walking into just settled land. My favorite painting was the one about William Penn and the Quakers, “A Peaceable Kingdom” by Edward Hicks.

Class 17: A Visit from the Rubin Museum Teen Guide Council

2014-04-01 16.46.39The American Folk Art Museum Teen Docents were happy to welcome the Rubin Museum Teen Council to the galleries. It was wonderful that the students were able to give their very first tours to an audience of like-minded, enthusiastic peers.

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Because the two programs are about equal in size, the students were matched nearly one-to-one for their tours. This unusual situation was challenging in some cases, but also provided great opportunities for intimate conversation.

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In the debrief following the tours, the Rubin teens expressed gratitude that they were able to share their opinions without feeling judged and their pleasure at having had such lively inquiry-based discussions around the artwork. Francia closed out the day by talking about how the experience they’d just shared made her think of Socrates’s method of teaching.

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The Teen Docents have one more class period to regroup and alter their tours based on this first experience before giving their final tours on April 9th!


A Visit to the Rubin Museum of Art

Last Friday, the AFAM Teen Docent cohort set out on its first offsite excursion together! Bundled up in our winter coats, we headed downtown to West 17th Street to visit the Rubin Museum of Art, which celebrates the art and diverse cultures of Himalayan Asia. Our class was invited by the RMA Teen Guide Council to engage in a teen program summit. This exchange invites teens involved with both museums to share program experiences, discuss artworks on view in our respective spaces, and to think about gallery teaching strategies and techniques.

When we arrived, our group was warmly welcomed by the RMA teens, who took us into their classroom space for introductions and snacks—much appreciated at the end of a long school week! We then broke up into small groups and ventured into the museum galleries. One group learned about the Green Tara, a female Bodhisattva who is associated with enlightenment (a concept which was enthusiastically debated within our group!) We also got a chance to discuss one version of the Tibetan Wheel of Life, which illustrates the six realms of existence and their relationship to karma, which is often studied as part of Buddhist teachings. Our teen guide expertly facilitated conversation while referencing a color reproduction, so that the many, intricate details could be made out more clearly. By carefully studying the Tibetan Wheel of Life, students were able to question how an ancient religious tool has universal relevance today, regardless of one’s culture or belief system.


After our gallery tours and back in the classroom, the group spent some time reflecting and discussing questions such as, “what allows for meaningful conversation to happen around a work of art? how do we support one another in the process of leading tours? how do you select works of art that are most personally meaningful, and how does that impact discussion with your participants? what techniques work best to keep your participants engaged? as a tour leader, what are your objectives and priorities in leading a conversation around a work of art? how do you set the tone of discussion? how do you keep your confidence up, and nerves at bay?”

We all agreed that our guides had fantastic storytelling skills that really helped to share many of the artworks that had very specific symbolism and layered religious meaning that could be conveyed through narrative. A big thanks to the RMA Teen Guide Council for hosting such a productive exchange in their space! AFAM teens now have lots to consider as they begin designing their own tours.

We look forward to sharing the American Folk Art Museum with RMA teens in April!

Class 11: Theme Workshop

Today, the Teen Docents began to make their first concrete plans for their final tours, which are coming up on April 9th. The program instructor, Nicole, led them on a model tour like the ones they’ll give themselves– beginning with an introduction to the museum and the exhibition, then continuing with visits to three pairs of folk art objects and the fashion they inspired. She incorporated a small movement activity and two touch objects along the way.

The theme of the mock tour was “Materials” and the subtheme was “How did the folk art objects’ materials inspire fashion?” (The answer to that question, according to the students, was that the fashion designers responded to the symbolism of the artists’ materials more than to the actual materials themselves).

After seeing how a tour can be organized under a specific theme, the students were assigned groups for their final tours–they were split up into either pairs or trios–and worked together to brainstorm a list of themes and subthemes they might be interested in using themselves. Their ideas ranged from “Process” to “Harmony” to “Symmetry” to “Mood” and much more. They’re off to a great start!

Class 7: Students as Curators

For the last class session in the exhibition alt_quilts: Sabrina Gschwandtner, Luke Haynes, Stephen Sollins, Teen Docents participated in an exercise  where they were asked to think about “re-curating” the show from their own perspectives. They each chose a theme and then selected and sketched three quilts or quilt-inspired artworks to hang under that theme. Here is a slideshow of them presenting their work, followed by a list of their themes:

Danielle: FILMS OF OLD











It was a great note to end the semester on!

Class 6: Questions for Personal Connection and Music Match-Up

The Teen Docents used the activities today as an opportunity to practice public speaking. They were given “Questions for Personal Connection” that asked them to find a work of art that reminded them of their family or of themselves, that had them identify an object they wanted to know more about or gave them pause, and present to the rest of the students about what they chose and why.


The students did an amazing job selecting the quilts and quilt-based artwork that best answered their question and practiced making eye-contact, projecting their voices, and using positive body-language to engage their audience.



Next, the students were challenged to match an art object in the galleries with a song they were randomly assigned. They paired off and listened to mid-20th century country-folk songs, contemporary punk songs, girl-group pop, dancehall and more before heading out into the museum to find their matches. Their choices were surprising, creative and insightful.


Would you have paired “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes with Quilt for a Dentist by Luke Haynes?  After hearing Laddy, Walid and Lia discuss the pairing–the offering of the crown is akin to proposing to someone with a ring–you’d be convinced!

Class 4: Art-Making

Today, the students identified seven different traditional quilt patterns in the gallery and sketched them.

Photo by Elena Bernstein, New York

Photo by Elena Bernstein, New York

Using those patterns as a point of inspiration, they then transformed assorted art materials into their own quilt-inspired collages. Some students were rigorous about trying to recreate a specific pattern while others incorporated ideas from various sources into their work.

Photo by Elena Bernstein, New York

Photo by Elena Bernstein, New York

Photo by Elena Bernstein, New York

Photo by Elena Bernstein, New York

Photo by Elena Bernstein, New York

Photo by Elena Bernstein, New York

The class flew by, leaving everyone with great starts but few with finished artworks, serving as a reminder of how labor-intensive quilt-making can be.

Class 2: alt_quilts Walk-Through

The entire second class of this year’s Teen Docent Program was devoted to the exhibition alt_quilts, which showcases the work of three contemporary artists–Stephen Sollins, Luke Haynes and Sabrina Gschwandtner–alongside the kinds of traditional quilts from the museum’s collection that inspired them.




Students were particularly interested in Sabrina Gschwandtner’s use of 16mm film to create works like Camouflage. The material had a different meaning for these students–who are familiar with film only as what tourists use in their disposable cameras–than it does for older museum visitors for whom digital technology is still new, rather than what they’ve always known.

The students’ observations and the depth of their insights into each individual artwork, as well as the relationships between them, speaks well for the many conversation to come throughout the year.

Welcome,Teen Docents 2013-4!

This semester, the American Folk Art Museum’s Teen Docent Program welcomes a class of high school students from Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School and Talent Unlimited High School for a year-long program. They will be the first crew of Teen Docents who get to experience three different exhibitions at the museum.


The new group spent the first day of the program getting to know each other. They paired up and each answered the questions:

“If you could eat only one food for the next month, what would it be?”

“Is there a song you listen to on repeat? What is it?”

“What is your earliest memory that has something to do with art?”

Following their ice-breaker, students took part in “The Sort”–an activity designed to help students understand the breadth of the museum’s collection and of the field. They then ventured into the galleries for an in-depth discussion about an icon in the museum’s collection– St. Tammany Weathervane.


We are excited to see what the year brings!