Honoring Memories through Art and Storytelling

Group photo at Phillips

Student ambassadors from “Bringing the Lessons Home” with the School Programs Educators who led their tour of The Phillips Collection. Photo: James Fleming

As a School Programs Educator at The Phillips Collection, each teaching opportunity is a unique and special experience. I was recently part of something that felt extra special when I collaborated with James Fleming, Program Coordinator of Youth and Community Initiatives at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). James brought his student ambassadors from the “Bringing the Lessons Home” program to tour the Phillips at the start of their Art and Memory project. This project was first adapted by USHMM in 2006 from an Israeli project, Dor le Dor (Generation to Generation), which pairs high school students with holocaust survivors. The students interview the survivors and then work together to capture the essence of the stories in an artwork.

Students at Phillips

Students investigate Jacob Lawrence’s use of line, shape, and color in The Migration Series. Photo: James Fleming

James expressed to me early on that the artistic ability and confidence level of participants in the program varied greatly. He wanted to expose the students to a variety of artworks to help them understand that there are many different ways art can visually convey emotions and ideas. During their tour, student ambassadors carefully looked at how artists made choices about color, line, and shape, among other elements.

Students with survivors

Students discuss their plans and progress with the holocaust survivor whose story and ideas they have represented. Photo: Miriam Lomaskin

My fellow educators and I were blown away by their insights through the lens of their own life experiences! At the close of the tour, James invited me to visit the students while they worked on their artworks with the survivors.

When I arrived at their classroom, it was a typical high school scene: hanging out , eating, and showing each other pictures on their phones. However, when the survivors got there, the students got straight to work and took their time very seriously. They clearly felt the responsibility of honoring these important memories. Many expressed their wishes for more time with the survivors to really “get it right.” They seemed pleased, though, with what they were able to accomplish in their brief time together. One student proudly stated, “That was my part, my idea!” after I had admired the use of symbols to help tell the story of the selection process at a work camp.

Students working on project

Students apply finishing touches to their Art and Memory artwork and explain their artistic decisions to Heather (School Programs Educator). Photo: Miriam Lomaskin

When I asked students how their time at the Phillips impacted their project, I got a variety of responses about learning to use different colors, making things abstract, and building a comfort-level in making art. One student explained, “It helped to know that things don’t have to look exactly like the real thing;” another stated, “Simplicity is okay as long as you get your message across well.”

Final projects

The finished product! A selection of the final student artwork. Photo: Heather Brubach

I hope the students have a chance to visit the Phillips again this fall, when the complete Migration Series by Jacob Lawrence, a work that inspired and encouraged many of them, will be on view.

Heather Brubach, Phillips School Program Educator

Museum and Memory: Part three

This is the third installment of our Museum and Memory series for International Museum Day. Read part one and part two here.

John Marin, Tunk Mountains, Autumn, Maine, 1945. Oil on canvas, 25 x 30 in. Acquired 1946. The Phillips Collection

In 1955 my grandparents moved into a custom-built home overlooking Chehalis, Washington, a town located about half way between Seattle and Portland. They drove to Seattle specifically in search of a work of art to hang above their stately fireplace, the focal point of the brick house. The only one they could agree on reminded them of summer vacations spent with their four small children at Lake Chelan in Eastern Washington State. It was a relatively inexpensive reproduction of an oil on canvas, with “Marin 45” scrawled in black in the lower right corner. Over time that “painting” came to symbolize home for the whole family, but knowing very little about art, we didn’t know who the artist was, what year it was painted, its title, or how to find those things. In 2006, when my grandmother followed my grandfather in passing, at the reading of the will the grandchildren were given an opportunity to select a work of art from their collection to keep for ourselves. Instead of one of my grandfather’s high-value Japanese prints I chose the tobacco-stained reproduction above the fireplace as a remembrance of them, and of the countless good times we spent together in that house. My sister had it wrapped and boxed, and she shipped it to me in San Francisco, where I lived at the time. It was too big to hang in my tiny apartment, and so I left my sentimental treasure boxed and secured under my bed. Continue reading “Museum and Memory: Part three” »