Field Trip to the Jewish Museum

The American Folk Art Museum currently is closed for installation, so the Teen Docent Program went on the road to visit The Jewish Museum this week. Because this class was a late addition to the schedule, only a handful of the students were able to join the trip, but those who attended had a fantastic time exploring artwork by Lee Krasner and a traditional Russian-American quilt with Jewish Museum educator, Rachael. Rachael conducted engaging conversations around the artworks, connecting them back to folk art and the students’ experiences. She modeled inquiry techniques as well as told the students about the Jewish Museum’s teen programming, including how their teen interns execute their Sunday family programs. After a lively discussion and sketching activity, we joined Jamie Auriemma, Associate Manager of Teen Programs, to talk further about the roles that teens play in the museum. Based on the feedback we heard after the tour, the Jewish Museum staff loved having us there as much as we loved visiting them.

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Class #5: Nicole (the instructor)

After a month long break, the students returned to the museum this week. They were each charged with leading a conversation around one work of art, either by Ralph Fasanella or Willem Van Genk. Many of the students had done research on their works of art and were able to put into practice many of the inquiry education strategies they’d experienced in the program so far. It was a great exercise for them because, when March rolls around, they will be leading full tours for their peers!

2014-11-18 16.24.07At the end of class, the students said goodbye to the two exhibitions they’d been working with all semester. When they return to the museum in January, it will look completely different!

Class #4: Danielle


Today in class we drew sketches of the pieces we are presenting. It helped us analyze and better understand our art. It will help us when it’s time to present because we will see things in the panting we’ve never seen before. Also we got to watch the teacher, TDP intern Laura, present and that helped us get some tips on what to do and say while presenting.

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Class #3: Cecely and Juan

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Today was the introduction to giving tours at the museum. Guided by Nicole, we went upstairs to the Willem van Genk exhibition. The first piece of art we looked at was van Genk’s collection of raincoats. As we came to this exhibit, we were to take notes on how Nicole gave us a “tour.”  Some things that I took into account for were: giving history about the artist, giving eye contact with the person you’re listening to and the people you’re talking to, internalizing the art work, asking questions about what the piece of art might mean to your audience, and lastly, projecting my voice. These are some things that I’ll keep in mind for when I give a tour in the future.


Today was a fine day at school, but school wasn’t anything compared to what AFAM had in store for me. We learned how to start a tour and how to keep the conversation going for a while: clutching together, asking questions, projecting the voice, making connections, and having some or a lot of background about: the artist, the drawing, and history of the drawing.

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Class #2: Ava and Ivonne


This week in class we had the honor of having Ralph Fasanella’s son Marc Fasanella to talk about his art, explain more of the small details and answer our questions. We looked at three of Ralph Fasanella’s paintings. We got to talk about how poverty was big in his life, as was family and politics. All of Fasanella’s paintings have symbolism all over them and each one of them leads to more questions and debates between different opinions. Most of Fasanella’s paintings would take from 6 months to a year but some of the biggest ones took him 3 years, and all with no assistant. Marc Fasanella also told us that it was kind of hard growing up being the son of a Communist because people would think you were crazy. Marc didn’t care, though, and would still speak his mind. To me, Ralph Fasanella’s work fascinates me in many ways because it is much different than other artists’. You don’t have to be an artist to understand the paintings and make connections to today.


This week, son of the folk artist Ralph Fasanella came in to discuss his father’s work. It was a great learning opportunity because Marc was our primary source. As we delved deeper into conversation, we learned how his father would incorporate multiple objects into all of his paintings. One of these objects was ice tongs. Ralph’s father sold ice from a cart when they immigrated to New York from Italy. Other depictions of his family were included as well.

Last Day!: A Trip to The Studio Museum in Harlem

To celebrate the last day of the Teen Docent Program, the students visited the Studio Museum in Harlem for a guided tour of their exhibition When the Stars Begin to Fall: Imagination and the American South. The exhibition includes both academic and folk art and gave the teens the opportunity to view and discuss work by artists in the American Folk Art Museum’s collection that has not been on view this year. Highlights included art by J.B. Murray and Marie “Big Mama” Roseman. The students did a wonderful job expressing themselves through observation and interpretation, as they have all year. They are a fantastic, inspiring group of young people and will be missed!

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Self-Taught Genius

On their second-to-last day of the program, the Teen Docents explored the Museum’s brand new exhibition, Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum.

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They started the day with an in-depth discussion about a double-sided artwork by 20th century Chicago artist Henry Darger. Because he is one of the best known artists in the Museum’s collection, it was important for the students to spend time with his work before the end of the year. They were taken with his imagery and talked about how the piece depicted “the dark side of childhood.” They had a lot to say about Darger’s depiction of his female characters and had deep, far-reaching interpretations of the message of his artwork. They easily could have discussed it for the full ninety minute class period.

From there, students traveled around the exhibition alone or in groups to find:

  • an artwork made before 1800
  • an artwork made after 1900
  • an artwork that connects to something from a previous exhibition
  • an artwork that they loved

Students were drawn to work by Ronald Lockett, Sheldon Peck, and Judith Scott, using the works as jumping off points for discussions about poverty, predetermination, Calvinism, circumstance, and mystery. They also were thrilled to see the museum’s new acquisition, The Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks, since they’d studied a different version of the painting earlier in the year.

The Teen Docents were uniformly in love with the exhibition and wish it had gone up sooner so they could have spent more time studying all the different facets of folk art on view!


Final Tours!

On April 9th, the Teen Docents led a crowd of their friends and family, teachers from two of their schools–Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School and Talent Unlimited High School, young people from an organization called The Fortune Society, AFAM staff and other museum professionals on tours of the Folk Couture: Fashion and Folk Art exhibition. The museum was packed with visitors eager to learn from the teens. The conversations were lively and active; the teens used touch objects to engage their audience and asked questions such as:

  • How do fashion and folk art relate to each other?
  • Would you feel the same way about this dress if it were in a different color?
  • How would you stand if you were wearing this garment?
  • What does it mean for a dress to be soft and spiky at the same time?
  • What does this pairing of fashion and folk art tell you about the culture it came from?

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!