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Make History: Community as Classroom

May 17, 2018

Historic New England Collaboration

Thank you to Julia Einstein, Education Program Coordinator for Historic New England in Maine for providing this blog post called Make History Redux.

Megan Zachau’s embroidered homage to the grand window in the Sarah Orne Jewett House.

The 2nd annual exhibition of “Make History,” once again celebrates collaboration!  Year two of a project is always filled with a certain amount of anticipation mixed in with lots of excitement.  We all were ready for surprises and inspired by the endless possibilities. Historic New England and Marshwood High School brought together students to create personal meanings and visual interpretations from the Sarah Orne Jewett House Museum in South Berwick. Myself, and Marilyn Keith Daley, were proud to partner this year with art teachers Jeff Vinciguerra, and Rebecca Poliquin, in the department headed by Patricia Sevigny Higgins, recipient of the 2018 Maine Art Education Association’s Distinguished Educator Award.

Joni Mitchell once said to an audience (recorded on her 1974 live album) “…nobody ever said to Van Gogh, ‘Paint a Starry Night again, man!’ You know? He painted it and that was it.” For us, we counted on our community saying, “teach Make History again!” That is the joy of creating a learning experience, and the art of being a teacher. There’s always a repeat performance to look forward to.  New students, when added to a different context, generates change.

The teachers and students, just as in 1891 when Jewett invited artist friends Marcia Oakes and

Sarah Orne Jewett as superhero in a mixed media collage by Mikayla Smith.

Charles Woodbury to work in her home, immersed themselves in the writer’s surroundings to develop ideas for their art. The Woodburys’ drawings became illustrations for Sarah Orne Jewett’s novel, Deephaven.”  The teachers’ study resulted in classroom lessons and the student work became a public exhibition. Unique to our program was a visit from Peter and Chris Woodbury—the grandsons of Marcia Oakes and Charles Woodbury.

I like being witness to creativity at the moment of inspiration. In the house, the students explored rooms and collections, including art by the Woodbury’s as well as Sarah Wyman Whitman, and Celia Thaxter, and investigated the influence of Jewett’s surroundings on her work.  The visit took the form of a “classroom in the museum,” as students selected a space in the house to study, sketch, or write.  I enjoyed sharing the spot of the famous author’s writing desk, where Jewett had tacked up a piece of paper on which she had

Ceramic work on view in the Make History exhibition.

written, “Écrire la vie ordinaire comme on écrit l’histoire,” her inspiration from the work of the early 19th century French writer, Gustave Flaubert which translates, “the artist’s job is to write ordinary life as if writing history.”

When the collaboration was first proposed to Jeff Vinciguerra, he recalls, “Everything about this project fits perfectly with my own philosophies as an educator. This process has been a great way to shake up my routine and make meaningful connections between my classroom, the community, and local history.” His ceramic students worked out ideas using the concept of a blueprint, where everything from decorative details to structure and shape are worked out on paper before the clay is brought into the studio.  Rebecca Poliquin was inspired to use this project as a model in her current studies for

Marshwood High School students used the Sarah Orne Jewett House Museum as their classroom.

a Master of Art Teaching degree. She says, “This collaboration with the Sarah Orne Jewett house has proven to be an effective and exciting way to motivate high school students to create authentic artwork.  My Mixed Media class developed themes or big ideas that were inspired by their visit to the Sarah Orne Jewett House; Themes included history, nature, time, and place.”

And so, the students became interpreters of history. A ceramic fountain, a birdbath and garden painting references Jewett’s writing on the subject of the natural world. Several student artists invite you to notice details in everyday objects, wallpaper, fixtures—to show what they themselves noticed. Writing itself is a subject. The author’s famous

The exhibition reception was lively as each student artist engaged in gallery talk

signature —is highlighted into the design of vase much like “SOJ” was etched by Jewett into a pane of her bedroom window over 125 years ago. A contemporary portrait presents Sarah Orne Jewett transformed –into a superhero. Of course, any translation of Colonial Revival Period décor would not be complete without a bust of George Washington—and we have one—in cobalt blue.

All are invited to Make History: Community as Classroom, and then visit the Sarah Orne Jewett House Museum with a new perspective. The exhibition is currently on view for one more weekend at the gallery in the Sarah Orne Jewett Visitor Center through Saturday, May 19. Hours are from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. For more information, call 207-384-2454, or check the WEBSITE.

Sketchbooks show us the act of “being there” in the student’s visual document.

Sarah Orne Jewett House Museum and Visitor Center is one of 36 house museums owned and operated by Historic New England, the oldest, largest, and most comprehensive regional heritage organization in the country.   Historic New England is devoted to education, making connections in the communities, and offering unique opportunities to experience the lives and stories of New Englanders through their homes and possessions.

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