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?