A (Few) Photo(s) a (To)Day: We Make Things

“Whether you’re three or seventy-three, the act of assembling disparate materials into a new object is a profound one. In a world of ready-mades, it seems almost magical.
Today, if you need a new chair, you go out and buy one. If you want a shirt, you take a trip to the mall. For many of us, life is filled with countless objects that have lost the connection to their source. We no longer have to make out of necessity, so sometimes we don’t do it at all. But there’s a hidden loss within the efficiency of our postindustrial times: process.”
– Sarah Olmstead in “Out of the Dirt”
from imagine childhood: Exploring the World through Nature, Imagination, and Play (2012)


Dan, in the process of building a banquette for our new dining area. The wood is old floor boards he harvested from the room this one replaced. That floor was installed when his grandparents first built the house (c. 1947) and wheat-pasted on the underside with the official stamp of the Carpenter’s Union (see below).


A brick patio I made for Dan out of bricks that previously lined our garden beds. When I replaced those edges with urbanite from our old patio, these bricks made themselves available for new use.

A brick patio I made for Dan out of bricks that previously lined our garden beds. When I replaced those edges with urbanite from our old patio, these bricks made themselves available for new use.

One of the things I love about Dan and my life together is that we make things. At times we do this alone. At times together. Sometimes what we make is ephemeral, sometimes long-lasting. Sometimes original, sometimes following a pattern. We use materials we have on hand and we make frequent runs down the street to Beechwold Hardware.

The projects in these pictures are from late-June. While Dan was inside working on a bench of his own design, I was just outside the windows (sweating my ass off) working on the patio following a plan I found online. When I wasn’t working on the patio, I was advising a few grad students for UF. Two were working on projects that addressed material culture studies and art education and their work provided me space to reflect on the home Dan and I have been shaping together for the past 7 years. Shout out to Holly and Miranda!

In part because our house has been in his family since it was erected, we feel tied to it. Whenever we make changes, we try to keep the past in mind. Case in point, Dan building the bench out of old floor boards. We appreciate looking around and seeing upgrades Dan’s grandparents dreamed up (like the fake drawer in the kitchen Frank used to hide cash or the bookcase he turned into a wall cabinet in the basement) and we have made many changes of our own. These are our family heirlooms.

Holly and Miranda both read an article by Marice Rose (2012), an art history professor about her use of family heirlooms to teach students “the importance of context and making connections between art, individuals, and history” (p. 51). I love how straightforward these learning objectives are. They seem to speak to the most essential reason for studying art history. I still haven’t read Rose’s article myself, but it’s on the list…

You don’t have to live in a historic homestead or be a master carpenter to help your children understand the value of objects in their world. But you do need to find ways to talk to them about the special objects in your home and how they came to be counted as special. Keep in mind, special is not the same as expensive. (See Ellen Dissanayake’s work for more on defining art as making special.) Then, find simple ways to make your own mark on your environment, to make it special, and find ways for your children to do the same.

Dispatch from NAEA

“We Are Inveterate Storytellers: The Role of Narrative in Arts Education Research”
I kind of zoned in and out here as I got to thinking about storytelling is a powerful teaching tool. I love to tell stories, to hear stories. I know that I learn best and remember facts when they are connected to stories. But I’m not sure I have been able to harness the power of storytelling in my online teaching yet.  More homework…

Dispatch from NAEA

A shell on the path to Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela which would alert pilgrims of a rest and refueling stop.  The shell oil company adopted this as their symbol in 1909.

A shell on the path to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (Spain) which would alert pilgrims of a rest and refueling stop. The shell oil company adopted this as their symbol in 1909.

We have our students read Paul Bolin’s (1996) article “We are what we ask” at the start of our course on curriculum development at the University of Florida. Today he brought that principle to life when he co-hosted a session with Doug Blandy on “In Small Things Forgotten: Exploring Overlooked Objects and Their Stories for Art Education.” Both men talked about objects in our world in ways that exemplified material culture studies, design thinking, and inquiry-based art education without ever using those terms.  They have always been some of the my favorite storytellers in our field. Without getting bogged down by theoretical jargon, they manage to take us deep into the world of big ideas.

Permission to Play (Finale): Imaginative Play

“Occasionally in her travels through her childrens’ minds
Mrs. Darling found things she could not understand…”
(from Peter and Wendy, J. M. Barrie, 1911).


Over the past few weeks Cora’s become an imaginative babbler.  Since she rarely naps, I often use the baby monitor to listen to her talk herself through rest time.  She loves to sing, so these monologues often turn into musicals.  This morning, as I tended to some half-mindless back to school business like organizing and archiving documents, and marking the calendar with upcoming assignments and meetings, the other half of me watched and listed to her play. I realized that as her storytelling skills develop, she’s simultanesouly becoming involved in grand imaginative play scenarios.  Nothing could make me happier.

Before I became pregnant, I had a lot of concerns about parenting an only child 50% of the time.  When my stepkids were young, they were one another’s best playmates.  (Not so today, though they still have their moments.)  But I was really worried that I would have no time for myself if I had to make up for absent siblings.  I hoped for a child with an independent spirit and ability to entertain him or herself.  So far, I’ve been pretty fortunate. What Cora lacks in the sleep department, she makes up for in playing on her own.

Around the time she started talking, Cora began to make regular reference to a place she calls Penza.  For awhile, I thought she was trying to say something else and attempted to crack the code.  But eventually, I came to accept Penza as a part of our lives.  Something I could even rely on to gain Cora’s attention and cooperation.  For example, one afternoon she wouldn’t get in the car so we could run an errand.  When I asked her why not, she said she was going to Penza and she started off across the yard.  I asked if it was far away and she said it was.  So, I offered her a ride in the car.  No more argument.  When we got to our destination, I told her we had arrived, in Penza.  She was delighted and the game went on from there.


This afternoon found Bert, Ernie, a Playmobil elephant, and a Hotwheels car on the road to Penza.  For the most part, the journey seemed to be the destination in this game.  The four were alternately moved around the bathroom, only to be moved again a few minutes later.  I’m not sure where this all might have gone if we weren’t called to neighbor’s house for a playdate, likley just back in circles.

I think of Penza as Cora’s version of Neverland, a place for her to work out her burgeoning understandings of the world, both real and imagined.  It certainly bears all the characteristic benefits of imaginative play.  Perhaps Peter Pan was right afterall.  I think we could all use a Penza to call our own.  I think this blog just might be mine.  What’s yours?