If you’re looking for something fun, free, and fantastic to do this weekend, head over to the Baltimore Museum of Art to meet Josh Copus and participate in his interactive Brick Factory, which is part of his greater project “Building Community.”
My mom, the boys, and I visited the museum on Thursday, June 16th to celebrate my birthday (and because when your mom is an art teacher, there is no summer vacation from learning!). After visiting the exquisite sculpture garden, we headed over to the lawn on the opposite side of the museum where we found Copus, elbow deep in clay harvested in Perryville, just a few miles from our house.
“Welcome to the Brick Factory!” he said. “Would you like to help me make some bricks?”
Collin joined Copus on the other side of the table where he explained the history of brick-making and the vision behind his project. While Collin and Copus filled a wooden frame with the terra-cotta colored clay, Copus explained that the after the bricks hardened, they could be stamped with letters and etched with designs. His goal is to create a public installation with all of the bricks created by museum-goers. Every brick will be unique, yet all formed of the same material and the same process. It will be one small way to bring Baltimore together.
After they packed the frame with the clay, Copus lifted the frame and, like magic, six perfectly formed bricks appeared before our eyes.
Copus set them aside to dry, explaining that after they became “leather hard,” they would be fired. But first, they needed to be stamped and decorated.
Each of the boys made a brick, stamping their names with plastic letters and a rubber mallet.
Collin used pottery tools to draw people and sharks on his brick.
As we worked, I learned that Copus is from North Carolina and that he creates other ceramic works of art, as well. He’s enjoying his visit to Baltimore and visibly loves his chosen line of work. His energy was so contagious that we chose to spend most of our afternoon working with him rather than taking in Monsieurs Matisse and Degas. There’s nothing like spending time in the presence of a living artist.
Before we left, Copus gave us a brick with the word “COMMUNITY” stamped on it.
Copus asked Collin what community meant.
“Like a whole city of people coming together,” he said.
“That’s exactly right!” Copus said. “And that’s what this is all about!”
It was a great way to spend a summer afternoon. We were, in a sense, our own community of artists, contributing to an even greater community called Baltimore. I’m looking forward to seeing Copus’ final production, where every one is more than just another brick in the wall.
You can catch Copus and the Brick Factory throughout the weekend at the Baltimore Museum of Art. It’s a fun, free way to participate in Baltimore’s art community. Here’s more on Copus and his Building Community project.
June 17, 2016 01:14
By Robyn Barberry
It was an honor to teach these talented artists.
Catholics have a long-standing tradition of creating beautiful art. So, when St. Joan of Arc’s new advancement director, Lauren Hayden, invited me to host an afternoon of guided painting on February 27th, 2016 to raise money for our school, I channeled the powers of my patron, St. Catherine, and set forth on a new adventure: teaching art to adults.
I’ve attended several social painting events, including a fabulous evening with my childhood art teacher, Susan Thomey, (who was kind enough to lend me some supplies for SJA’s event.) But, could I teach adults step-by-step how to create a masterpiece they’d be proud to display in their living rooms?
I decided on a flower because most people tend to like them and one simple bloom wouldn’t be too complicated for beginners. I chose a dogwood in honor of Spring, particularly Easter, as the flower is often seen as a symbol of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The four petals make up the cross, with the divots on each petal signifying the nail marks. The bumpy center of the dogwood flower resembles the crown of thorns Jesus wore.
Generally when I paint, I don’t have a plan, I just go with it. But, every brush stroke I made on my sample painting was a piece of the puzzle I was creating for my students to solve. Ultimately, their pieces would be as unique as they were, but, as their guide, I would light the path that would lead them to their own vision of a dogwood bloom.
Here's my model.
In the days preparing for the event, I gathered materials, fretted over orders that almost didn’t make it on time (thankfully they all did), and watched in amazement as my talented husband assembled over thirty easels. My nerves mounted. Would my directions make sense to someone other than myself? Would I pace myself properly? Would I run out of paint? Would someone get frustrated and quit? Would my students walk away satisfied?
I prayed, as I do in all creative endeavors, for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and, as always, they were delivered in abundance. The room was full of my students’ parents, coworkers, and my awesome mom. After giving a pep talk, I delivered instructions, offered one-on-one guidance, generously dispensed compliments, and enjoyed the company of my new favorite artists. And just as Jesus was able to provide enough bread and fish for the crowd who gathered to see him, I had plenty of paint to go around.
That's my mom, putting down her base layer.
Our first Wine and Paint event was a tremendous success. I’m looking forward to the next one, a beach scene on a canvas tote bag. We’re planning on hosting it at a vineyard for a plein air adventure that artists of all kinds will enjoy!
March 05, 2016 03:39
By Robyn Barberry
The contents of the refrigerator were strewn across my kitchen floor. I nearly slipped in a puddle of yogurt and broke my neck. “Frank! Leo!” I shouted. I found the culprits in the powder room, giggling beneath a confetti shower of toilet paper and random objects (a bottle of mustard?!?!). I called their father right away.
“In the 30 minutes I spent working on my computer, they’ve completely decimated the house!” I said.
“They’re doing it to get your attention,” he said. “Go outside, forget about your work for a while, and do something fun with them.”
It was either that or begin to attack the mess while they tore into another room. Why do they need to be so destructive? Why can’t they play with their toys and leave everything else alone? These and other questions I asked myself as I put on their shoes.
Then, it dawned on me. Maybe we needed to create something together. I looked at our drab fence and thought about how fun it would look with some color. I grabbed my crate of acrylic paints and some brushes and told Frank we were going to paint the fence.
Frank is not a big fan of arts and crafts, so he shoved the paint brush back into my hand and shouted out letters for me to paint. Leo watched on from his tricycle. The first word was “torn.” The second word was “yellow.” Then, it was words that start with “w.” In guiding my brush with his voice, Frank was showing me what he knows.
While I was painting, a sense of calm overpowered me. I forgot all about the mess waiting for me inside the house. All that mattered in that hour was my little muse and the picture we were creating together.
Even though Frank didn’t pick up the brush himself, he was engaging in an exercise in imagination, where the things inside his head revealed themselves on the wooden posts at the other end of my paintbrush. I even learned a few things about him, like that he knows his ABCs backwards. And maybe when he’s upending dresser drawers and shoving slices of pizza down the sink, it’s the same kind of experience for him.
I highly doubt Frank wreaks havoc upon my house because he’s malicious. He doesn't want me to be mad. It’s just his way of exploring the world. I think I’ll spend more time navigating those journeys, even if we never leave our back yard.
November 07, 2015 05:39
By Robyn Barberry
To prepare for Pope Francis’ epic visit, I decided to share some art created just for the event with my PreK-8th grade students at St. Joan of Arc in Aberdeen. I knew my students would love Fr. Bob Simon’s “A Priest as Minifigure Contemplating the Splendor of the Vatican,” a realistic Lego replica of St. Peter’s Square.
I shared a video with my students describing the project (it took Fr. Bob 10 months to assemble 500,000 Lego bricks!) and told them that the work was on display at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, which is only a short car ride away.
After telling my SJA students about the Lego Vatican, I decided I had to see it myself. So, I did!
Fr. Bob’s masterpiece is the perfect bridge between the Franklin Institute’s wildly popular “Art of the Brick” exhibition of Nathan Sawaya’s incredible Lego sculptures and an exciting new display of Papal treasures, “Vatican Splendors.” (I’m hoping to take my students to see the latter.)
September 30, 2015 11:47
By Robyn Barberry
I woke up on August 10th from a horrible nightmare. It was the first day of school and I had nothing planned for my art class. I got out some papers and crayons and told the students to draw whatever they wanted. The 4-year-olds just stared at me, the 8th graders laughed, and Collin, my son and 1st grade student, cried.
This wasn’t the first time I found myself awakened from a deep sleep, covered in sweat and panting because I’d just escaped a fictitious, yet painfully realistic experience in the land of nod. But it was the first time my subconscious reminded me in my dreams that I was both a teacher and a mom, all at once; all in the same place.
It was 4:00 a.m. and I couldn’t get back to sleep. A train came wailing by and I convinced my mind to load all of my troubles on it. As I drifted back to dreamland, I vowed to spend the next seven days preparing for my best year yet. I wanted to wow my students; I wanted to wow my son.
I submerged myself in Pinterest, stealing ideas for my environmentally-themed units left and right from fellow teachers and stay-at-home-moms. My good friend Gina, who has become my coworker once again, joined me in my quest to engage students in art projects inspired by oceans and trees, the rain and the bees. I imagined guiding Collin through the activities designed for my younger students. His masterpieces would be sure to dazzle the visitors to my refrigerator museum.
I spent the following week purging the art room of spoiled paint and yellowed paper, shelving returned books, and decking the halls (and the library) with paintings and posters reminding students of the rules, encouraging them to think positively, and celebrating the glorious bodies of water God created when he made our Earth. (Water is the art and library theme for August and September.)
When I stepped back Sunday afternoon (the day before school) and took in the beautiful and tidy spaces I’d created, I decided that it was good. But the bliss didn’t last for long.
In preparing for my own return to school, I’d completely neglected to tend to Collin’s back-to-school needs. He had a cool shark backpack from his great-grandmother and the same blue geometric lunch bag he’s used since he was two, but that was it. Immediately, I was faced with a new nightmare: the failed parent.
So, like millions of moms and dads across America, I rushed to Target on Sunday night, where I scavenged the last two packs of glue sticks, a 24 pack of crayons (they were out of the smaller size his teacher requested), paper towels, tissues, juice boxes, and a family pack of rainbow Goldfish crackers for snack time. It was as if we were all preparing for a major storm -- and in a way, we were. An avalanche of homework and a whirlwind of carpools were imminent -- we'd better sharpen our #2 pencils.
Unfortunately, I forgot the most important thing – socks. I scrambled through last year’s uniform bin for a gym shirt. The only one I could find fit like a wetsuit and was splattered with permanent pink and red acrylic paint. I allowed myself to hyperventilate for one minute before deciding, “He’s the art teacher’s kid. They’ll understand.”
After another restless night of battling my way through bad dreams centered on the notion of my occupational failure, the first day of school inevitably arrived. After stopping to take a brief selfie on the front porch, Collin and I went on to have a great first day at St. Joan of Arc. No one stared or laughed at me. No one cried – not even me.
The story ends well, but it could’ve taken a smoother course. The problem was this: I was so worried about planning mind-blowing lessons to impress my students – especially one – that I forgot about the basics. More importantly, I forgot about balance. I can’t let myself focus too much on teaching or too much on being a mom. I need to learn a better way to be both.
I have since obtained Collin new socks and a new gym shirt. My decorations still look awesome, my lessons are going to be great, but most importantly, my students (one in particular) and I are happy to be learning together again.
August 28, 2015 08:28
By Robyn Barberry
There’s a Nature Valley granola bar video circulating where an interviewer asks three generations of four families what they did (or do) for fun as a kid. The grandparents discuss berry picking and escaping from near-bear attacks. The parents also describe creative outdoor play. The kids’ responses are alarming. “Fun” makes them think of their tablets and video games.
It’s heartbreaking on many levels. For one, millennials are living excessively digital lives, spending less time with peers and more time expressing themselves with their fingertips. (I have a theory about why so many young people I know are postponing their drivers’ licenses. They don’t need to get out of the house to socialize!) According to the Nature Conservancy, 88% of kids spend time online every day, while only 66% of kids have had a meaningful experience in nature.
Far too many of today’s kids aren’t playing outside. When I was ten, my neighborhood was composed of entire families of “free-range children.” We’d set up camp by the creek, pick berries, collect rocks, and study bugs. Today, for valid safety reasons, parents are discouraged from allowing their kids to explore the outdoors unattended. I doubt many of them would be interested in doing so, anyway.
The most detrimental loss belongs to our environment. Because so many kids aren’t spending time getting to know the plants, trees, animals, and water that make up planet Earth, one out of every three young people doesn’t feel obligated to combat the damage our world has suffered at our hands. (Again, according to the Nature Conservancy.) How will the next generation continue to sustain life on earth, if they don’t care about the ecosystem or don’t know how to help it heal?
In response to all these issues and more, the state of Maryland has developed and implemented a series of environmental literacy standards for teachers to use in their classrooms in the hopes that students will be both inspired and armed with the knowledge it will take to save Mother Earth.
But, what am I to do? I’m but a lowly art teacher?
“Nonsense,” says Notre Dame Maryland University professor and STEM coordinator, Dr. Juliann DuPuis. After moving here from New Hampshire, she established a Summer STEM Institute for teachers at the University.
Through day-long programs such as Project WET (about oceans and other bodies of water), Project WOW! (Wonders of Wetlands), NOAA’s Globe Project, Project Learning Tree (I think you can guess what this is about), and Project WILD (about wildlife), Dr. DuPuis and guest environmental educators modeled dozens of ways that the twenty teachers in my class can incorporate environmental science into our wide range of grade levels, curriculum, and school environments.
I sat next to Donna Jones, an inquisitive algebra teacher at Woodlawn High School. Even though our jobs couldn’t be more different, we each managed to find ways to incorporate the activities our instructors demonstrated into our classrooms. The games we played were both fun and educational, and we got to spend plenty of time on the gorgeous grounds of NDMU.
The final component to the class was our “No Child Left Inside” research project. I chose to focus on the Anna C. Leight Estuary Center at Otter Point, which is a ten minute drive from our school. There, we will contribute to clean-up and wetlands restoration projects while practicing wetland photography. The class will write and illustrate a book about our experience, including facts about wetlands and our best photographs from our field trips.
I’ve also decided to establish a “We Love our eARTh” theme for the school year in my art and library classes (yes, I’ve taken on a new role!). Stay tuned for the results of my students environmental art projects, more than a few of which will come from the guides and exercises I gained during my week at the NDMU Summer STEM Institute!
Model of the water cycle my group made for Project WET.
We went with an "Itsy, Bitsy Spider" theme.
My group, Donna, Alex, and Noelle, building a boat with sticks and yarn for Project WOW!
Our boat had to be float and hold a tennis ball without allowing it to get wet in the small pan.
We did it!
My second team gathers data, including GPS coordinates, for our GLOBE location.
My team surveys our location.
Donna examines a "tree cookie" during Project Learning Tree.
Pretending to be "hungry" trees during Project Learning Tree.
Alex and Noelle examine a black bear's fur during Project WILD.
August 04, 2015 03:38
By Robyn Barberry
The only person cooler than your art teacher when you're 8-years-old, is that same art teacher when you're 32-years-old. Susan Thomey is one of the reasons that I became an art teacher. From kindergarten through fifth grade, she stood before us in fabulously funky, appropriately accessorized outfits, her short red hair a testament to her Irish heritage and free spirit.
"Look at my nose," she'd say when she wanted our attention.
Then, she'd transport us to Egypt or France or places beyond our imaginations by sharing stories, posters, fun facts, and gory details (a-hem, Mr. Van Gogh) with us about some of the world's greatest works of art.
After a suspenseful couple of moments, she would introduce us to our assignment, restraining us with her famous line, "When I tell you, but not right now..." And then, our supplies materialized before us and our imaginations opened wide.
Almost a quarter century later, I found myself once again a member of Mrs. Thomey's class. This time, we weren't in the basement of the old green St. Margaret's building. This time, we were on the upper level of a White Marsh restaurant called Flameworks, who have the best burgers and pickle chips in the world, according to Mr. Thomey. (Their soft pretzels are incredible!)
My classmates included the restaurant's hilarious proprietor, Rose, several members of her family, two of Mrs. Thomey's daughters (including my St. Margaret's classmate, Caroline), another old friend from St. Margaret's, Conor, and even my mom!
In addition to Susan Thomey, current St. Margaret's School art teacher, Peggy Hart, instructed us on how to paint the details of the crab outline before us. "Even though we're working on the same project, everyone's art is going to be different because you're all different," Mrs. Thomey said.
Joy bubbled throughout the air as we dabbed our brushes in complementary shades of orange and blue. Our teachers praised us and offered us solutions as we stumbled upon problems. As time passed, confidence grew, and the canvasses that started out identical were now representations of the art and soul of each member of the class.
Painting classes like these have been popping up all over the place. It's an environment where anyone, regardless of talent or experience, can release his or her inner artist. But, in the other places I've participated in social painting activities, I've found the instruction lacking and the environment stifling. That wasn't the case on this particular night.
When you spend an evening with Art and Soul, you're receiving real instruction from two fabulous art teachers. (It takes one to know one.) Susan and Peggy have started this enterprise as a way to expand their educational reach to adults. They'll come to your event, bringing easels, canvasses, brushes, paint, and over 40 years of combined knowledge. They'll even clean up for you. And if you're looking for an exciting birthday party idea for your artsy child, Susan and Peggy can help you plan an unforgettable event.
Schedule your next painting event by contacting Susan Thomey at email@example.com or 443-243-1261.
August 01, 2015 09:33
By Robyn Barberry
In the lime green room, plastic covers the floor. It’s the perfect setup for the birth of a Jackson Pollack masterpiece, but today’s artists are much smaller. Toddlers waddle across the canvas in onesies and diapers armed with a variety of painting tools, their parents chatting and distributing red, orange, yellow, green, and blue paint to their little Picassos. Everyone is having so much fun that it’s hard to believe it’s Monday.
This is no ordinary Monday, it’s Messy Monday at The Creative Cow
, a family art center in Forest Hill, Maryland. Once a month, children aged 9-24 months are invited to explore their creative (and social) all while painting a keepsake work of art. The cost is $10 per child for a one hour session, and the best part is that the mess stays there!
My friend Rachel and her 18-month-old son, Mason, invited us to Messy Monday in May. Our designated project was a canvas with a metallic letter (“M” for Mason; “L” for Leo) stuck to the middle. The boys (okay, mostly the moms) painted around their letter and removed it to find their special letter in a white space surrounded by bursts of color. They even used the tires on toy cars to paint!
The highlight of the night was when the hosts brought out shaving cream and the little guys smeared it all over the big paper, all over their bellies, and all in their hair. Some parents were the victims of shaving cream attacks as well.
The bright, energetic room bubbled over with laughter, but some very important learning was happening, too. In addition to practicing fine motor skills, the toddlers were tapping into the right sides of their brains, where outside-the-box thinking originates. This kind of thinking is essential to developing problem-solving skills that will help them make the world a little bit better when they grow up. But for now, let’s just let them make messes.
Creative Cow will be hosting another Messy Monday on July 13th at 6 pm. Register by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
and dress for the mess!
June 30, 2015 11:13
By Robyn Barberry
In honor of Earth Day, I invited Melissa Filiaggi, the recycling program manager for Harford County, to visit my art classes to discuss the importance of caring for our environment and create some cool art from recycled materials.
Melissa happens to be one of my best friends. The irony of our Earth Day teaching experience is that we both started college as art majors at Towson. I ended up becoming an English teacher, while Melissa studied biology so intensely that she spent almost two years living in the Peruvian rain forest. After teaching in the public schools, the opportunity came up for her to work directly on improving the environment, which led her to her current position. Her creativity and understanding of children are gifts that allow her to continue to teach about environmental responsibility at various schools and events in the community.
The students and I were so excited that we were having a visitor. Melissa gave an interactive presentation about what happens to plastic water bottles when they are recycled. Students bounced up and down while pretending to ride on the truck to the recycling center, did their best impersonations of The Wicked Witch as they melted down, and stretched their arms as high as they could reach when they were pulled into plastic threads that could be used to make new material. Then, Melissa showed the students a fleece scarf, a fuzzy teddy bear, and an Under Armour running shirt that were made of recycled water bottles.
We discussed how artists recycle old materials to create beautiful art. I mentioned the American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore’s home for the eclectic work of self-taught modern artists, and told the students that even they had the ability to create something unique using the materials in the bins on their tables. Once they figured out what they wanted, Melissa, me, and some wonderful parent volunteers would assemble their work with hot glue guns.
You could have powered a jet with the energy surging throughout the room. Tin cans sprouted faces. Soda bottles grew feathers and became birds. Vehicles were assembled with the love and care that goes into restoring a classic car (except these were more enviro-friendly). Musical instruments filled the room with a joyful noise. And one of my pre-K boys made a “tickle device” that could brighten up anyone’s bad day.
Some of the art was a free-formed collection of things the artist perceived to be beautiful. It didn’t matter that they didn’t have a function. What mattered is that these objects weren’t headed directly to the landfill. Contrary to our society’s tendency for disposal, this “trash” was given a second chance and a new purpose. More importantly, children’s eyes were opened to possibilities by engaging the whimsical right side of their brains.
Encouraging subsequent generations to problem-solve by thinking “outside-of-the-box” is an essential part of restoring and preserving our planet. A STEM education, such as the one we provide at St. Joan of Arc, offers young people the opportunity to work collaboratively and reach solutions through a balance of sound reasoning and ingenuity. Sure we spared two giant trashcans worth of junk from entering the waste cycle, but more importantly, the students learned that the world is in danger and that it’s not too late for them to make a difference.
April 22, 2015 11:56
By Robyn Barberry
On Feb. 28, the St. Joan of Arc Pastoral Council hosted their first ever family movie night. We decided to show "Frozen," hoping that the popular Disney movie would draw a crowd. It did.
Over 30 children and their parents attended, many of who are also SJA students. Kerry Davidson, mother to Pyper, one of my preschool students, helped me plan the decorations, food, and activities.
My art students created six-sided snowflakes that we stuck all over the place. Kerry brought balloons, tulle and ribbon. We hung life-sized pictures of the princesses Elsa and Ana.
Kerry made two different varieties of snowman cupcakes (one flat, strawberry flavored and one marshmallow stacked vanilla) and crystal blue sprinkled chocolate cupcakes. She even brought strawberries. (They were gone in 30 minutes!)
I set up three art activities, including blow painting, salt water “ice” painting, and “stained glass windows” with overhead transparencies and permanent markers in every color you can imagine. Kerry taught the kids how to make snowflakes using shower curtain rings and ribbon.
There was even a “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?” station where partygoers could assemble their own Olafs using marshmallows, mini chocolate chips, itty bitty gummy orange slices, pretzel sticks, and icing for glue.
Of course, the movie was playing, too. Many of the parents watched it, and some of the kids would briefly take a seat then scamper away to participate in the HUGE indoor snowball fight (with fluffy, white, stuffed snowballs) that lasted almost two hours. Even Frank got in on it!
I’m certain that all of the party guests slept well that night, because I saw some of them at church the next morning! That’s what this party was about – building a community for families with young children at our parish.
We’re planning another party for the end of the school year. Stay tuned for your invite!
March 05, 2015 09:23
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By Robyn Barberry