As Teachers Know, There’s Something about Mary—The “Picturing Mary” Teacher Workshop

Staff at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) not only provide space to research, present, and discuss the lives and work of women artists, but also hold educational programs and events. At the beginning of many new exhibitions, the Education Department hosts a focused teacher workshop that provides didactic and hands-on materials for teachers’ use in classrooms and beyond. These workshops create a fun and collaborative environment for the teachers to explore the new exhibition, and they present different techniques for using art in educational settings.

The workshop for Picturing Mary happened on a cold and windy evening in January, but many teachers braved the weather to come and learn! Director of Education and Digital Engagement Deborah Gaston introduced the workshop, as well as the online resources available outside of the exhibition. Many of the teachers were excited to explore A Global Icon: Mary in Context online exhibition.

Teachers learned and talked in the Picturing Mary galleries; Photograph Laura Hoffman

Teachers learned and talked in the Picturing Mary galleries; Photograph Laura Hoffman

Associate Educator Adrienne L. Gayoso led the teachers to the exhibition. They spent time in the gallery and then worked in small groups, using discussion strategies to explore the exhibition. One popular method called QUESTs, developed by Harvard Project Zero’s Project MUSE, provided several entry points for talking about art. “(The) QUESTs were very helpful,” commented one teacher, continuing that it was great to get “group input about impressions” of the artworks. Another teacher saw an immediate connection to the classroom, commenting, “I teach an ESL (English as a Second Language) class, and those will provide great general entry points into talking about art as a class that are accessible to my students.” Many of the teachers found the QUESTs adaptable for different types of classrooms, and for exploring art outside of the museum.

Teachers took part in activities that they can use in their classrooms; Photograph Laura Hoffman

Teachers took part in activities that they can use in their classrooms; Photograph Laura Hoffman

Last but certainly not least, the teachers took part in the final activity—a hands-on bookmaking project. They made star books with tooled metal covers. These connected to the idea of the early modern “Book of Hours,” which often included prayers for the Virgin Mary. The teachers were given a chance to make their own special books, and after folding, gluing, and even metal tooling, they were delighted to have fun keepsakes to remind them of their experience at NMWA. One teacher commented, “I really enjoyed this workshop, especially the hands-on component. It’s good to be in my students’ place as well.”

This workshop may sound like fun and games, but the teachers also learned valuable ways to incorporate art, and especially works from Picturing Mary, into their curricula. One teacher saw the benefit of working in groups, appreciating “the fact (that) we did more than we listened—We looked, discussed, and created, accessing multiple modalities,” and making the workshop successful. In the end, the teachers went out into the cold, wintery night with new resources, confidence, and knowledge to help them integrate art into their classrooms.

For those who missed the Picturing Mary teacher workshop, you will not be left in the cold! Here you can find the Picturing Mary Educator’s Resource Packet, a comprehensive guide to strategies discussed in the teacher workshop, and more. This resource does not have to stay in the classroom, however. Use it anywhere to help others picture Mary!

—Rebecca Ljungren is an education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

If you are a teacher looking for another chance to learn at NMWA, consider applying to our ABC Teacher Institute, which runs Monday, July 13–Friday, July 17, 2015. Learn more and apply.