Posts Tagged ‘Raegan Russell’

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New Experiences – Raegan’s Story

October 15, 2018

“Winging It” by Raegan Russell

Raegan Russell is a visual art educator at Berwick Academy who was on sabbatical last year. I hope her story inspires you (and perhaps your students) to think about challenging yourself in a new and different way. This is her story…  

This post was written by Raegan Russell for the Berwick Today Magazine, Summer 2018 issue

“View from my window this morning. I’m off to my service site and have butterflies in my stomach. In addition to teaching the young women some printmaking, I’ll be learning their crafts, taking care of babies, pigs, and frogs, gardening, repairing buildings, and whatever else they ask…”

So began the first days of my sabbatical, for which I traveled in Southeast Asia for service, exploration, and art-making. Early on, I joked to my students and colleagues that I was taking a gap year, a semester abroad, or some version of the Eat, Pray, Love journey. For two months, I lived out of a backpack, stayed in hostels or homestays, and sought out local restaurants, cheap digs, and real communities. I traveled to Thailand, where I worked with women and children in crisis outside of Chiang Mai, then on to the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and later explored the bustling cities and stunning beauty of both the landscape and the people of Vietnam. The trip was an adventure for me, and even though I consider myself a well-seasoned traveler, I knew that it would throw me out of my comfort zone and challenge me.

“Highlights from this weekend’s trek to Ba Panden village in the hills north of Chiang Mai. Eva and I hiked 9km up to the village of the Lahu people. I swam in a cool waterfall, rode a raft down river, hiked through bamboo forests and rubber trees, and was kept up all night by a pack of crowing roosters…”

Throughout my trip, I had my sketchbook by my side. I drew the ancient Bodhi trees in Chiang Mai, the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and the motorbikes of Hanoi. As I was drawing Ta Prohm, a beautiful temple nearly overtaken by lush trees and moss, a tourist questioned me about why I didn’t just take a picture of it. I answered truthfully that “this is how I notice and experience things. I will remember the heat, the smells, the beauty, and even the discomfort of sitting here on this hard rock when I look back at this drawing.” The sketchbook drawings from my trip became the springboard for the work that I have taken on since I have been home and in my studio in South Berwick. As an educator who has always balanced teaching with studio practice, this sabbatical has given me the rare gift of time to develop new work. The subject matter of my new paintings has pulled closer to home, and the vibe of the work is exploratory and a truthful expression of how I experience the world.

“Yesterday, I made my way to Wat U Mong, where I found the oldest (?) Bodhi tree in Chiang Mai. It took some getting to, but I was able to paint for several hours directly from the tree. This was an experience I will not forget.”

Nearly two days after I took off from JFK on a cold evening in January that made me rethink my choice to travel light (with only a light down jacket that could roll up into the size of a softball), I landed in Thailand. I had specifically sought out a service opportunity that focused on women’s empowerment, and found the perfect project in the northern hills near Chiang Mai.

After a three-day orientation on Thai language and culture, I began my service project at the Wildflower Home, a shelter for single women and their children directed by two intrepid and compassionate women, sisters Anurak and Siripon. My mornings were spent minding the children in the daycare and teaching the mothers printmaking and artists’ books in the afternoons. The artists’ books were a hit, as many of the mothers transformed them into baby books and journals, quickly discovering that they could sell them with the many other handcrafts and goods they make.

All of this work was accomplished without a shared language between us; I learned a little Thai and they learned a little English. We became friends and laughed together while working. They welcomed me into their lives in ways that I never expected. Dao, a mother who headed the kitchen duties, taught me how to make Khao Soi, the region’s sublime dish of coconut milk, chili, and curry noodles over the wood fire stove in the home’s kitchen. The older children knew me as the art-auntie and would join in on our printmaking projects. As I left work every day, Fa, a young mother who has a beautiful daughter SaiSai, would shout to me: “Good-bye! See you tomorrow!” as I rode from the home on the back of Dao’s motorbike to catch the bus back to Chiang Mai.

“Sketchbook Sunday: a collection of sketchbook pages from over the last few months. My sketchbook has been a place for reflection, taking time to understand the world around me, and for gathering resources for work ahead. My sketchbook has always been by my side. It’s feeling kind of precious these days.”

I am lucky to have been able to maintain an art practice beside my work as a teacher. It has taken effort on my part, but it has been made possible with Berwick’s support and professional development opportunities; 20 years of conferences, workshops, and studio sessions have not only recharged me, they have broadened my perspective and provided me with a rich community of artists and art educators as friends and supporters.

My sabbatical has given me the opportunity to push pause in an extended fashion and appreciate the things that are important. I am grateful for this gift, and the adventure is far from over. I am excited to be planning a trip to Thailand over March Break 2019, where I will take students to engage in service projects like mine in Chiang Mai.

Closer to home, I was awarded a fellowship to paint on Monhegan Island in July. I dusted off the red backpack and packed up my paints to head to another place I had never been, where I let new experiences wash over me like the waves that wash over the dark grey rocks at the water’s edge.

Watch for a future blog post describing Raegan’s fellowship opportunity on Monhegan Island. 

www.raeganrussell.com/

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Make History: Community as Classroom

May 5, 2017

Sarah Orne Jewett

Recently I had the chance to visit the Sarah Orne Jewett House in South Berwick. I learned so much during my visit that was guided by Julia Einstein, Education Program Coordinator for Maine at Historic New England. Julia has kindly provided this blog post so you can learn about the collaborative work that happened between Berwick Academy art and music students under her guidance and those of the schools art and music teachers. At the bottom of the post you will find information on Historic New England.

The Making of “Make History: Community as Classroom.”

The creative collaboration between nineteenth century visual artists and author Sarah Orne Jewett was the inspiration for Make History: Community as Classroom. This interdisciplinary project was a mixing of media—arts + literature + history—and a way to delve into innovation, and how ideas are made. The concept “classroom in the museum” translated in the way high school students were able to self-select spaces in the Sarah Orne Jewett House Museum to study, sketch, write, read passages from a Sarah Orne Jewett story or novel, and to practice a piece of period music.

An exhibition came as a result of this collaborative learning experience between myself, at Historic New England, and Berwick Academy Arts Faculty Raegan Russell and Seth Hurd.

Marilyn Keith Daley, Site Manager at the Sarah Orne Jewett House, used the work synergy in describing the project and it fits. She and I saw this as a way to bring a contemporary energy to a visitor’s tour of Sarah Orne Jewett’s House. Jewett invited artists Marcia Oakes Woodbury and Charles Woodbury into her home to work out the sketches for what became the illustrations for her novel, Deephaven. This allowed for the Woodburys to become immersed in –to fall in love with—the subject in the pages of her novel. They sketched onsite—as did the students of Berwick Academy –and they came to know this house—this main character of her novel.

Students in Studio Art Honors, Advanced Placement Art, and Chamber Chorus were inspired to create personal meanings in the story of the Sarah Orne Jewett House in both visual and performance-based interpretations. In the exhibition, visitors see the time it took for an idea to evolve. They are able to search through the very same sketchbooks used by the students on their visits to the Jewett House to look for connections with their final work. Student statements, written in long hand as Jewett wrote the manuscripts of her novels, bring the artist’s voice into the gallery.

I like unveiling the creative process from that of the 19th century and today. I wanted these high school students to become interpreters of history. In multiple visits to the house, their learning was made visible as they were prompted to stop, look, and to put down on paper what they saw in a quick jotting of initial “noticings.” When guided to look longer, and given passages from Jewett to read, words jumped out and transformed from a historical source into something that feels real in the context of this space. Students sketched, and noted their responses in the spot where Willa Cather visited Jewett. The students read out loud part of a letter Jewett sent to her friend, “The thing that teases the mind over and over for years, and at last gets itself put down rightly on paper — whether little or great, it belongs to Literature.”

In the art classroom, the question “How can artists interpret time through visual means?” led sketchbook exploration, and the creation of a small body of work in a selected media. In the music classroom, the Chamber Chorus explored a piece written in the same decade as Jewett’s novel, Deephaven. They recorded the period piece in the Jewett house for visitors to listen, to imagine the year 1893, and to be transported to a parlor performance.

In the exhibition, a paper sculpture—made from pages copied from a Jewett book—is a dreamy walk in paper shoes on a tufted surface because the artist saw the knobbed bedspread knots in Jewett’s bedroom. Another student saw the same bedroom, yet is interested in what you do not see—intimate, casual images, unlike posed photographs of Jewett, The artist paints you into one—of waking in her bed and looking out the window. In another work, it is about how your eyes adjust to light and movement of 19th century invention, an optical amusement, in 3 beautifully constructed zoetropes. There is an exploration into what is modern. What was modern then—the newness and excitement of cobalt blue in wallpaper—what is modern now?

Several artists invite you to notice details—of objects, wallpaper, fixtures, and translates them into watercolor patchwork, stenciled fashion design, a magical still-life, and a cubist musical instrument. And, the book itself as subject. An artist’s book greets you upon entrance to the exhibition—and you can pick it up, read & turn the pages. It introduces this exhibition as a visual reading into works of art, and prepares you to see a wonderful scrolled portrait of Sarah Orne Jewett with her chapters made larger than life. Enjoy Make History: Community as Classroom, and then see the Sarah Orne Jewett House Museum with “new eyes.”

The exhibition Make History: Community as Classroom was funded in part with a grant from the Sam L. Cohen Foundation. It is currently on view for one more weekend at the Sarah Orne Jewett House Museum and Visitor Center in South Berwick, Maine, through Saturday, May 6. Hours are from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. For more information, call 207-384-2454, or CLICK HERE.

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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Tim Christensen – Teaching Artist

September 16, 2016

Berwick Academy Community Emotional Map Sculpture

screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-7-37-10-pmTim Christensen, in his own words below provides an overview of a residency he did at Berwick Academy. Tim graduated from Berwick Academy in 1987 so returning to his community to collaborate on this unique project is pretty special! Congratulations to the community, Tim, and Raegen for carrying out this idea. The artwork is permanently displayed in the Commons building on the Berwick Academy campus.

screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-7-25-33-pmRaegen Russell (Berwick Academy art teacher) and I started talking about me coming to Berwick Academy, in South Berwick, at last year’s Haystack Maine Art Education Association fall conference. As the conversations continued, an idea began to form of making a community sculpture with the entire Berwick Academy (Pre-K to alumni to faculty to staff) in commemoration of the 225th anniversary of the founding of the school.

I started thinking about what was really being celebrated, what we mean when we say, “this school is 225 years old”. I figured out what was being celebrated was an unbroken chain of relationships that went all the way back to those three boys going to school in what is now on campus called, “the 1791 House”. Those relationships I wanted to document are the result of feelings and emotions of the community members for each other, and so could be recorded as abstract expressionist marks.

screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-7-24-45-pmI asked the artists to think about how it felt in their guts when they came up the hill in the morning to go to school, or were laying in bed at home at night and thinking about school. I asked them to make marks that seemed in concert with those feelings, and not to worry about drawing anything, to have no expectations except to show up and make marks.

They were each given a disk of dried porcelain which had been covered with black underglaze, and into the center of which I had drilled a hole, and gave them an etching tool of one sort or another. Most artists worked for 20 or so minutes, although some worked for 15-20 hours on their disk.

screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-7-25-22-pmThese were then fired and installed on 1/8″ brass rods into which I cut threads on either end, to allow them to screw  into a metal insert in maple orbs, which I turned on the lathe. The result looks like dandelion fluff, or atoms, or drawn circles.

It is basically a community self-portrait, in which every member has an equal voice. In my opinion, one interesting result was a school-wide conversation about the community’s feelings about itself, a self-assessment if you will. This of course invited the related questions of “where do we go, and what do we value as a community?”.

It was an honor to be part of this project.

Tim can be reached at timchristensenporcelain@gmail.com. Last Spring he worked at the Camden Rockport Middle School on an integrated unit. The blog post describing the residency is at THIS LINK. Tim is on the Maine Arts Commission Teaching Artist roster at THIS LINK. Tim is available for school and community artist residency’s. Tim is also a Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Teaching Artist Leader – a new program established this year. The Teacher Leaders are listed at THIS LINK.

Embedded is a video that provides a close up look at this project.

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