Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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Monday 07.29.13

Taking Risks for Rewards of Growth

When I received the NAEA newsletter in the mail this past spring, I was eager to read about all the new and exciting happenings in art education. This particular issue was special because an announcement about a professional development opportunity caught my eye: The Dinner Party Institute.  I wondered if the institute was somehow related to The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, an artist with whom I had been fascinated for quite some time. Indeed it was. I knew instantly I had to attend, so I told my husband about it. He encouraged me to find out more information, and the more I read about it the more I was convinced that this was an opportunity I could not pass up. The only thing holding me back was the trip to Pennsylvania.  The plane ride from Louisiana would take me far away from home, from my husband and three year old son, plus the expense was not really in our budget.  There were many positive factors in deciding that I should take the risk, but the two deciding factors were the chance to meet Judy Chicago and the fact that I would get to work with Art Ed guru Dr. Marilyn Stewart.  So I did it. And signing up for The Dinner Party Institute was one of the best professional decisions I have made.
I want to share this experience for two reasons:

1. It is an incredible professional development opportunity that I am so thankful for attending. I do not believe that enough people realize this opportunity is available and take advantage of this experience.

2.  This was a risk that I took, and as a result, I grew both professionally and personally. I hope my experience will encourage others to take a risk for growth as well.
The Dinner Party is an installation artwork that forms a large triangle, 48 feet on all sides. Judy Chicago directed an entire team of people to make by hand a place setting for 39 women in history.  The mission of the piece is to “end the ongoing cycle of omission in which women were written out of the historical record.” (Chicago, Judy. The Dinner Party: From Creation to Preservation)
The institute took place on the campus of Kutztown University. I signed up to stay in the dormitory for five nights, Sunday through Thursday. The actual cost of the program and the dorm was reasonable, $275 for the program and $194.75 for the dorm, plus travel expenses. There were less than 30 total participants.

I flew from Baton Rouge on a Sunday morning and arrived in Pennsylvania later that afternoon.  Dr. Stewart graciously arranged for me to be picked up and escorted to the university by the sweetest lady, Deb.  Having never traveled to this part of the country I enjoyed the adventure and the scenery as Deb filled me in on the institute, the area, the university and more.  The countryside was breathtaking, like something described in a novel.  Once we reached the university, the classroom was filled with brilliant art educators ready to engage The Dinner Party Curriculum. Words cannot express how welcoming Dr. Stewart and her curriculum team were to us all.
We began with an activity called “Table Talk” using the table as a metaphor, appropriate considering the overall subject of the week.  The phrase “table as…” became common to describe how tables affected us in a variety of ways throughout our lives.  Below are some examples of prompts we used for the activity.

*Consider the following: 
> This table reminds me of… 
> I remember a time… > 
I like to ____________________ at the table. 
> Once, at a table like this…

*taken from The Dinner Party Pre-Institute activities

Most of us brought photographs of tables that were meaningful. We took turns describing our thoughts and ideas while viewing the image via a document camera or from the designated Flickr site.

One of the many highlights of the trip was viewing the documentary film “The making of The Dinner Party”.  After we had dinner in the visual arts building on the university campus, the viewing was held in one of the lecture classrooms. We were able to take a behind-the-scenes look at the process of constructing the installation. The passion and dedication by Judy Chicago and her team produced an awe-striking piece of visual artwork dedicated to the role of women in history.

The week continued with The Dinner Party curriculum team inspiring us to explore and reflect on this iconic piece of work.  We immersed ourselves within the history of the women that Judy brought to the table.

Seeing the piece in person was truly a moving experience. If you have not visited The Dinner Party at The Brooklyn Museum and you are ever in the area do yourself a favor and stop by.
Working with Judy Chicago was like meeting one of my heroes. I first began learning about her through her installation “Womanhouse”*.
*“Womanhouse” introduced me to Judy Chicago’s work.  For those who may not be familiar with “Womanhouse,” the feminist artwork was organized by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro and installed in a performance space in Hollywood, CA in 1972.  Womanhouse was a 17-room abandoned house, soon to be demolished, after the artists each turned a room or space into a consciousness-raising piece depicting the biology and social roles of women. The house itself was a metaphor for the place where women spent most their time pleasing others while the installation presented the rooms and subjects in ways that were pleasing only to them and often in exaggerated methods. Subject matters for the selected rooms ranged from “Shoe Closet” to “Lipstick Bathroom” to “Bridal Staircase” to “Womb Room” among others. On opening day only women were allowed to view the house. Over 10,000 visitors attended in the month that it was open.
• We studied and researched The Dinner Party under the guidance of Judy Chicago and her curriculum team.
• We dissected the entire piece and considered different strategies for using this artwork in curriculum development.
• We defined feminism: what we thought it meant and what it actually means.
• We studied the 39 women who are highlighted with a place setting and the 999 names inscribed on the Heritage floor of installation. We discussed how and why these incredible women were selected and who else may have Judy selected if the work continued.
• We viewed The Dinner Party at the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art
• We were surrounded by a team at Kutztown University that served as a “master class” in art education.
• We left enlightened and better prepared to undertake the teaching profession.

Please visit the below sites for more info on this incredible opportunity:

My sincere gratitude for this educational experience goes to Dr. Marilyn Stewart, Carrie Miller, Nicole Romanski, Dr.Amy Pfeiler-Wunder, Amy Albert Bloom, Rami Steinruck, all the participants of The Dinner Party Institute 2012, and, of course, Ms. Judy Chicago.  You are all extraordinary women who inspire me daily.

~Jennifer Keith

Monday 07. 1.13

Making Your Summer Count


It is hard to believe we are halfway through the summer.  Before long we will be back in the classroom hopefully recharged with new ideas and goals of how to make the coming year better. With that thought in mind I can’t help but to reflect on what this past month has looked like personally, professionally, creatively, etc.  What are my summer goals and am I on the road to accomplishing them?  There is valuable time left before “back to school” to refocus and accomplish whatever those summer goals are for yourself.

A recurring goal and key term in my life is balance in both family and career.  I try to use the summer to spend quality time with family whether that be taking trips together, visiting family and friends that live away, or just staying at home and playing games or reorganizing our living space.  Professionally I try to take courses that I may not have time for during the school year or those unique opportunities that arise in the summer.  But again, there is a balance.  You can’t do it all and I have to remind myself that all the time.  I try to prioritize on what I need most and continually reflect on how much is too much and vice versa.

For my first blog post I thought I would share several things I have done over the first month of summer that I find important for my personal growth beginning with a collaborative project I enjoy planning year to year, art camp. 

My dear friend and colleague Amber Harris, who is the lower school music teacher at my school, and I teach an arts camp in June.  We call it “Arts a go go” and it is a half day “mega-dose” of art and music.  We offer two sessions a day for a week with a max of 30 kids per session.  This year’s theme was “Summer Road Trip”.  Each day we traveled to a different American city focusing on art and music projects that reflect our journey.

We began each session as a whole group to introduce the stop of the day, give some background information of the area we were focusing on before breaking into two groups.  One group would go to art, the other music, and swap.  We ended the session together for reflection and closing.  We employed a couple of high school assistants which helped tremendously with escorting the children to the restroom, helping with snack dispersing, and having extra sets of hands in general.

General overview of the week:


Monday we traveled to New Mexico focusing on clay exploration. Our school has an incredible clay lab and the children experienced hand building, creating an owl from slabs and each student had a turn on the wheel.
Tuesday we camped in the Redwood Forest in California.  We collaged newspaper on 12” x 12” pre-cut wood panels and painted a night time camping scene using acrylic paint.  For an encaustic-like experience I created a “hot wax station” for painting with melted crayons on their camping scene.  I demonstrated how to paint what I call “moon drops” with the wax to add a patterned interest to their work.  Moon drops is something I paint in my own work and I wanted to share that idea with the kids.  It is just something fun and whimsical I created, similar to rain drops but from the moon.  The station was utilized with extreme supervision as it dealt with hot wax.  I kept the griddle at a temp just high enough to melt the wax so that it was not too hot and so that no black smoke was created.  The station was located right outside my classroom in the open air. 

Wednesday we went hiking in the Tennessee Smokey Mountains and created “Nature Lanterns”, a project I was taught at the Louisiana Art Education Association Fall conference from two art ed colleagues Kelly Morantine and Killian Williams. The students learned about Earth Art and the artists Andy Goldsworthy and Christo and Jeane Claude.  We collected sticks on a nature hike and used masking tape to secure the sticks in what looked like a Tee Pee during the first stage.  We used masking tape to secure the top which consisted of three gathered sticks about the same length.  Next, we added horizontal sticks near the bottom using masking tape to secure.  Three horizontal sticks were needed and were long enough to touch the next closest vertical stick.  Coffee filters were randomly colored with washable markers which were then dipped in glue (slightly watered down) and draped across all the sticks, covering the structure.  The next day we flipped the “teepee like” structure over, added twine to each corner, secured all twine together to create a hanging lantern.


Thursday we surfed the waves on the beaches in North Carolina. Earlier in the week our assistants had taken photos of all the students individually dressed in their chosen “beach/surf ware” from a costume box complete with a surf stance.  The artwork created on this day was inspired not only from the summer activity of surfing but also from Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” through creating a mixed-media photo collage painting.  The students drew and designed a surfboard and painted a cool colored ocean with a warm colored sunset using watercolors.  Students used the photo cut out to glue on the surfboard. 

Friday we ended our journey in Key West, Florida for a wet and wild creative adventure.  We spent our session outside with stations including painting on large canvas panels, slip n slides, and snow balls. The paint station consisted of a table set up with left over paint from the week, old bottles of paint that had just a little paint left in them and filled with water to create a very fluid paint, water guns to shoot at the paint, bucket of water for the students to wash hands and feet.   Students wore old swim clothes so they could enjoy a paint experience like no other.  This was definitely unique to our summer curriculum.  Students were encouraged to use their hands and feet to create a collaborative painting on canvas which was laid flat on the ground.  (The canvas panels were large 4’ x 4’ drop clothes from the hardware store)

The music teacher orchestrated a video project that is being sent to the students later in the summer in cd form.  A couple of songs performed by the students on the music video are “Let’s Get Together” originally performed by Hayley Mills on the original Parent Trap movie and adapted version of “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (A letter from Camp) written by Allan Sherman and Lou Busch with modified lyrics written by the students. The students danced, sang, and played instruments throughout the week.

In addition to arts camp, I had the privilege of attending the Broadway musical Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz.  A teacher friend thoughtfully organized a group from our school to get tickets at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre in New Orleans.  I highly recommend seeing this production.  The storyline and costumes were incredible to say the least. This was a true treat and so glad I attended.

The middle school art teacher, Russell Roper, offers an adult clay class each summer.  I signed up with a couple of friends and we have been meeting two evenings a week and it is so relaxing.  I have missed a few to attend my son’s T-ball games and vacations but the times I am there it is so great to unwind by playing in the mud, sharing laughs, and brushing up on the wheel.

A few afternoons a week I spend my time downtown Baton Rouge to oversee a summer project called “Farm to Table Tops”.  I am more than thrilled to have been approached for this unique part-time summer job opportunity.  In the Spring I was contacted via LinkedIn by the director of BREADA, Big River Economic and Agricultural Development Alliance, a Baton Rouge non-profit, to serve as the Director of Art Production for the “Farm to Table Tops” program.  This project is designed for youth artists age 8-18 to paint square, wooden table tops for the market café.  This unique multi-disciplinary experience is designed to educate students on the importance of local farming and food system while strengthening their artistic talent by painting images inspired by local farming and downtown experiences.  We have over 30 youth participants who are giving back to their community as they work to complete 50 table tops by the end of July. There will be a grand celebration before school begins to unveil the tables that will “live” in the Main Street Market for the next three years before being auctioned to raise money for BREADA to serve the community and the cycle will begin again with another summer program.  The people I am meeting and working with are so genuine and lovely.  I have learned so much in just a short time regarding the “Farm to Table” movement and being among the market life is more than inspiring.  If you have a local farmers market you should make the effort to visit it.  The produce is like no other and the colors you see are incredible.  My painting palette has naturally gravitated to these hues I am surrounded by and I love it.  


I have been able to fit in a day workshop on classroom management with Harry and Rosemary Wong, begin a few commission paintings, visit family in Monroe, LA, attend the first Art of Education online conference which by the way was worth every cent, paint with my son, do some thrifting, submit a few student artworks for the NASCO Fall catalog cover, and get back to the YMCA for some work-outs.  I need to complete my Youth Art Month observance form and get it to my state YAM report chair, Carolee Miller, ASAP.  It’s due now, so get yours in as well if you haven’t already. 

Currently I am at Sea Crest near Rosemary Beach, Florida with my family and dear friends so I will sign off and get back to enjoying a relaxed beach life. 

Until next time,
Jennifer Keith