Art Education in the Antique Shop


One afternoon back in the fall, Cora and I headed to a vintage consignment shop focused on checking out a mid-century modern sofa I had seen online.  However, when we got to the store and learned the sofa had been sold the previous afternoon we made the most of it.  We played a baby grand piano and tried on fur hats.  We roared at life-size ceramic lions and sprawled across velvet lounge chairs.  We ogled case-after-case, and shelf-upon-shelf of collectibles figurines, toys, and telephones, jewelry, teapots…

The experience was actually my impetus for starting this blog.  I had just taught about art education in informal learning environments (ILE) (Paris, 2002) for a course on museum education I was covering as an adjunct at Ohio State.  Walking around the Grandview Mercentile, following Cora around and watching her through the lens of my camera, I felt like I had found the ultimate ILE for art education.  Reflecting on our field trip that evening, I realized, there were overlaps between my double-life as an art educator and mother that I wanted to explore and share with others.

Cora took in the shop with her eyes, hands, and whole body at times.  Within reason, I allowed her to independently approach objects, following her curiosities.  After a few moments of uninhibited investigation, I talked with her about whatever she was looking at – often beginning with a reminder that it was breakable and she needed to be gentle – and asked her a few questions.  We talked about the objects’ formal qualities and we compared them with things we’d seen in books or elsewhere in the world.

As in a comprehensive art museum, the objects on display presented a seemingly endless opportunity for material culture studies – links for exploring how the objects in our world contribute to the development of our personal and cultural patterns of behavior, sense of self and community, and help preserve our heritage and our memories.  Each time we turned a corner, a new space revealed itself – a Victorian parlor, an office made for Mad Men, a French garden cafe…   These spaces showcased various aesthetic styles, advances in manufacturing and design, and palettes of colors, textures, lines, shapes, forms.  Unlike in most museums, we were allowed to get up close to the objects, to touch them, and (more or less) to play with them. All that, and it was free.

What’s your favorite informal learning environment for art education?

4 thoughts on “Art Education in the Antique Shop

  1. Your excellent blog post was on my mind today, as Nora and I went about our day. Our informal art education environment today was Spring Grove Cemetery. The lessons learned are not in mortality but in observation. As I let Nora explore and discover, I thought about how time spent in this manner lays an important foundation for art-making. Many of my students lack the tools to explore. I wonder how many children are allowed to roam around out side touching, smelling, listening, looking and yes, tasting. 🙂 I love that Nora is learning to carefully observe the world around her: from giant trees with gnome-like roots, to the tiny white feathers of the swan or bubbles trapped in the ice. It nourishes my soul and gives me fresh inspiration for the classroom.
    -Thanks for your blog Jodie! I LOVE It!

    • Thanks so much for reading and sharing about your experiences with Nora and your students, Melinda. It’s great to hear that you are also finding spaces where you teaching and mothering intersect and feed one another. How lucky we are to have that continuity and richness in our lives. I remember when I met my husband, one of the things I loved about his online profile was when he wrote about seeing the world anew through his children’s explorations and discoveries. Definitely a turn on for me…
      We were at a colonial cemetery in TN this summer that was only accessible by foot trail. The decaying markers, trees, mosses, and flowers there were unreal. The older kids and adults in the group definitely had a sense that we were transported through time, contemplating the sacredness of that space for so many people. The fact that more than half the stones identified the deceased as young children certainly made an impact on me.
      How old are the students you are working with now? Do you think your students had a sense of exploration and then lost it? Or do you think they were never allowed or enabled to develop their curiosities?

  2. Informal art environment… well, the outdoors is an obvious one… the bus, the grocery store, and our alley when we lived in the Short North…

  3. I really enjoyed this blog and I’m sure you and Cora enjoyed the outing even more. Just today I was commenting to a colleague (teacher) that I believe, sadly, too many parents are not spending quality time with their little ones, talking with them, getting down to their level, exploring, questioning and having a dialogue even when children can barely speak because they are so young. I wish more parents could read this and be inspired to go antiquing and exploring with their children. Too often children are just plopped down in front of a tv alone and get no interaction, no give and take and then they grow up to be dull students with little imagination and tactile abilities. Keep up the good writing and the wonderful parenting..

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