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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« June 2016 | Main | August 2016 »

Sunday 07.31.16


From: Diane Wilkin

It’s amazing what eight days can do! I was planning to share visual art collaborations (I will) but I have additional thoughts after a state leadership retreat followed by the NAEA Artistry of Leadership gathering.  

Student family portraits (colors, textures, objects, size…) hang as a community. 

Like you and me, students need to learn to work together, and what better place than the art classroom.  They also need to engage their spaces and engage in the educational dialog.

Craft/Design students created stained glass to enhance a doorway in Truman HS, Levittown, PA

Elementary geometrics, ceramic symbolic tiles and an Empty Bowls Art event to help the hungry.  Arts for social action and enhancing community spaces.  (Bristol Township SD, Levittown, PA)

PA Art Ed leaders shared time and creative energies. Canvases were begun, placed in a central location for others to take and continue, and returned to the central location until deemed finished by a participant and placed on the wall. Admittedly, a few were taken off the wall and reworked as well. Where are they located now?  - On exhibit at the PA Department of Education offices

Collaborations in art education present in a variety of ways. The collaborations at the PAEA and NAEA leadership gatherings will have artifacts of a different sort – organizational benefits, policies and procedures, enhanced member opportunities…and more. 

Blog%207%20pic%205Art Educators at work – learning together, sharing ideas, and joining together to enhance programs and policies in the field of art education. 

And where does critical thinking fit in all of this- that act of analyzing and evaluating? Well, where doesn’t it?  

HS Communication students collaborated on a Menger’s Cube Wall, with a screen printed message.

As August begins, a new voice will come to the blog, I wish you the best. Perhaps we’ll cross paths in a future collaboration! 


Monday 07.25.16

CREATING – The Spaces for CREATIVITY (Second of the Four C’s)

From: Diane Wilkin

It takes great effort to maintain a flow in my own creative work. My mind is filled with ideas for improving my classroom practice and space.


Blog%206%20-%20Pic%201%20Taos%20studio Taos Clay Studio – a classroom space in Taos, NM

I have a file of photos like these at the Taos Clay Studio in NM. We teachers are always exploring the best methods to organize studios for students. 

Blog%206%20-%20%20Pic%203%20KutztownKutztown University studio space in Kutztown, PA

But, how about our individual creative spaces; what do they look like?

I have learned to be diligent in scheduling time for my own artwork. If you’re saying you can’t make, take or find the time – let me assure you, time already exists and is not hidden. Our artwork starts with making the DECISION to use the time we have as we choose.  Once decided, the challenges become staying focused and dedicating space.  ‘=

Wharton Esherick’s space -  wood sculptor printmaker – ARTIST!

Wharton Esherick built his studio in Malvern, PA. The space changed functions and grew over the years– he maneuvered in this space until his mid 90’s. (No photos were allowed inside- but I’ll bet you know the interior staircase from photos!)  

Blog%206%20Pic%205%20EscherikWharton Esherick’s silo addition to his studio

For me, like many of you, the creative space has manifested differently as my life and family have grown and changed. At one time, a portable bag, then a tabletop, then a whole dining room. As life situations change, our spaces do too.  What’s your creative space like?

Blog%206%20pic%206%20wall%20in%20hall“A Wall in a Hall”

Blog%206%20%20pic%207%20board%20in%20a%20bedroom“A Board in a Bedroom”

“A Rented studio”

Perhaps yours is a drop-cloth in a dining room, a transitioning TV room, a Kiosk in a Kitchen, or a traveling tote. Jackie Thomas, PA artist and retired educator carries her artwork with her-  EVERYWHERE is her studio. You can see her work on display at Eagles Mere Art Gallery.

If you find yourself struggling to maintain a creative space in your life (physical or mental), take a look at Matthew Kelly’s book OFF BALANCE: Getting BEYOND the WORK-LIFE Balance MYTH to Personal and Professional Satisfaction. We can all aim for that personal and professional creative satisfaction where we are ‘the best versions’ of ourselves. 

Hope to find you CREATING in your studios, wherever they may be!    


Thursday 07.21.16


From: Diane Wilkin

Communication in 2016 happens in Very Public Spaces. Even the text messaging that you might believe is private can be recorded and shared with others in ‘screen-shots’. In this year of political posturing with the presidential election and heightened campaign messages about to be released, (I write as the Republican National Convention is taking place in Cleveland, OH) it’s important that we learn and teach how to safely maneuver in this very public space, participate ethically in the discussion and be aware of the impact that this space has upon us. 

BLog%205%20Pic%201%20Breed%20specific%20legislationSummer Feliciano is passionate about the prejudice shown towards bulldogs.  She created this large public piece in the school cafeteria to illustrate that perceptions are different in other places.  The breeds pictured are all banned in various parts of the world. She posted a variety of statistical information next to the piece.  Students, teachers, and a regional community group joined the conversation.

Students want to take part in the discussion and often expand my own knowledge because of their passion about an issue. Kara Walker’s black cut out silhouettes are powerful images exploring issues of race, violence, sexuality - tough subjects for any classroom.  Her work proved inspirational to Summer, whose work is pictured above. Kara Walker Art 21 Episode  

Learning to communicate Big Messages of personal importance, Truman HS students researched facts, and then provided information and large format visuals to inform, educate, and impact the perception and possibly the activity of the viewer. 

Blog%205%20-%20pic%202%20beesUsing Digital media, Brett Sommerer designed a large poster to inform others about the problems being faced by the bee populations and the impact that these problems are anticipated to have on the human population.

Check out the drawings in the February 2015 SchoolArts article by Carol Horst “One Wish” describing student responses to “Can Art Change the World?” We also look at "Running the Numbers" by Chris Jordan. I saw this show in NYC a while back and I STILL remember being drawn in to a powerful moment – a realization of the impact of huge statistical numbers representing injustice, violence, consumption and trash. Jeanne Leffingwell’s A Million Bead Project brings huge numbers into an elementary perspective. These are powerful examples of communicating BIG NUMBER Messages.

Recognizing that what we communicate has an IMPACT and that there are ETHICAL considerations to be made, our photography class discusses ethics when comparing the Newsweek and Time Magazine cover photos of the McCaughey parents, using the guidelines for photojournalism as a reference. AP Code of Journalism

Blog%205%20Pic%203%20mc%20caughey%20Septuplets%20-%20altered%20bobbiComparison of Newsweek and Time Magazine covers – Mc Caughey Septuplets

Always looking to enhance lessons, this week I found additional resources to use when discussing BIG SOCIAL MESSAGES – the following story directly relates to the magazine comparison above.

In Rich Smith’s book, the Leap *How 3 Simple Changes Can Propel Your Career from Good to Great, he tells the story of Sylvia Lagnado in 2002 working at Unilever on an advertising campaign for the Dove brand. Looking at the statistics surrounding women and poor self-images, she and her team wanted to make changes. The team was motivated but management was not convinced about transforming the brand. The team had trouble gaining momentum until they were able to “film young daughters of C-level executives. We asked them what they didn’t like about their bodies. We told them they could name one thing only. I don’t like my freckles, my hair, my butt, I’m too heavy, I’m too short.” I’m ugly. 

“Then we added music and played it back to the people whose daughters we had filmed. Here were grown men sitting in a wood-paneled executive conference room watching their own preteen daughters, cute young girls, saying that they didn’t feel pretty – slender ten-year-olds saying that they were fat. It was as emotional and powerful as you could get…. It was uncomfortable, but they got it.”

Sometimes we’re not aware of the BIG MESSAGE, sometimes we are. Most likely, whether aware or not, we’re affected by it. Let’s educate ourselves and our students to take an active, ethical role in communicating big (and small) messages in the very public spaces of our lives. Let us also teach and learn to critically analyze the messages we receive and then create quality content to contribute to the conversation.  


Monday 07.18.16

EXPLORING: to Boldly go ...

From: Diane Wilkin

It’s been a year of technological learning, pushing boundaries and opening up those ends to those questions. Our school introduced google classroom as a platform - syllabus, assignments and student submissions all in one. Still making adjustments, but I love it! 

Technologies: Embracing the ubiquitous cell phone in the classroom as a research tool with internet access, as a test answering device, and even as a creative tool, means adjusting old school policies.  

Two students explore the details of two very different objects – an old trumpet case and a large tape dispenser. (R.King and A.Holbrook)

Add a MACRO Lens – those low cost clip on accessories for cell phones! Explore textures and macro compositions: eyeballs, lint, skin colors, joints, and more- make it a puzzle, a visual quilt, a repetitive pattern. In a culture of speed and photography access – it takes time to work beyond the ‘point and click’ mode – to develop real visual explorer skills, and compositional mindsets. 

Blog%204%20pic%202%20Jimenez%20-%20Macro%20TelephoneThat OLD telephone has a microphone similar to 21st century models. The phone inspired students to create experiments for dialing friends and family- from voice activation, speed dials, and taking time to look something up in contacts (S.Jimenez)

The compositional mindset to check all angles finally hit home for my photo students when they had to explore objects through a macro lens. (Some students did use digital class cameras and then cropped to macro details in Photoshop.)

We then translated that same skill to larger objects and looked at David Hockney’s collage photo work.

Grammas old vanity chair by E.Dail

While photography explored digital imagery, an Intro to Art class of 9th graders explored alternative materials.

Blog%204%20pic%204The face explorations  TP Tiny Totems

 How are you exploring in your classroom and the world at large?   

Blog%204%20-%20image%205Wouldn’t you know it? There’d be a book on the subject!   


Wednesday 07.13.16

Stay Curious and Collecting!

From: Diane Wilkin

It’s such a curious thing – that desire to piece things together, and make new out of old, or larger out of smaller.  My sister does it with quilting; I do it with found object art and planning lessons, our Conference Administrator does it with proposals and events.  I share here two kinds of work where things are collected and arranged – one a classroom lesson, one not.  One is small scale completed in six classes; the other is larger, envelops us in the experience, and took much longer.

Blog%203a-%20Pic%201%20%20mary%20girlGirl by Mary Ajibolade

Students found new use for discarded fabric samples and scraps from a local seamstress.  The variety of the imagery and color palette choices are a testament to the creative abilities of the human mind. 

BLog%203a%20-%20pic%202Turtle by Nicole Bowker

Trees by Marcus Johnson

Perhaps you’ve noticed, as I have, that students often work in the same palette that they choose for clothing.  That’s a curious thing too!  That’s an observation to track next year with photos as students work in class.  A display of the working process with the final work could demonstrate this phenomenon and also be an ‘advocacy’ display by showing the kind of learning and problem solving required in the art classroom.  Jason Blair suggests ‘process’ displays in his School Arts April 2016 article “Art as Process”.

The lintel over the door to the Cabinet of Curiosity - Alice in Wonderland – quoted

Anne Gulley has created a whole space in her home in North Carolina as a Cabinet of Curiosity.  As a painter who loves the outdoors (one son became an archeologist), she keeps an eye out for what the world has to offer.  We’ve known each other since 8th grade.  She introduced me to paper made of Kudzu, piano jazz, lots of good books and provided lessons in the art of taxidermy- something I will never try.  She includes her paintings and aesthetics in all aspects of her life.  This one room gathers her many experiences, collections and interests into one space.  I love visiting to see what new curiosities have been added and how life has expanded.

The knitted frog

Blog%203a%20-%20pic%206%20%20%20nne%20cabinet%20of%20curiosity%20&%20driving%20049-%20smallGifts from the field

Blog%203a%20pic%207%20cabinet%20curiosity%20room%20copyThree views of the Cabinet of Curiosity

Stay curious and collecting and refashioning your interests into new beginnings. 

What’s in Your Cabinet of Curiosity? 


Friday 07. 8.16

Deconstruct and Reconstruct!  

From: Diane Wilkin

“Still talking about books?” my husband asks. And of course, I reply “Yes.” He knows me well.

Blog%203%20-%20pic%20preview%20-%20Morgan%20%20smallerBook sculpture by Morgan Williams, Truman HS, Two views

My Craft and Design Class, after sorting through a VERY LARGE box of discarded books, were asked how they envisioned the library of the future. It proved to be a very tough question. They posed a question back, Is it even a ‘Place’ of the future? We had a rich discussion. We didn’t have an answer.

But people are resilient and creative. What to do with those books that seem to have become useless due to digital media, television, audio text, our face paced lives, and….(you too, could fill in a blank)? Here are some examples from all ages constructing and deconstructing books.

1Courtney Kipp of Truman HS created a Flower Garden – a beautiful object from a discarded one

One group of students was given the prompt to create a self-portrait using artifacts in the style of Joseph Cornell with a wide variety of materials made available. Tina Ney chose a set of art books. “My Box is an open book which describes who I am…On the inside of my box there are mirrors so I can visually see myself within it. There are upside down figures because my life is sort of crazy and unexpected. I used art text books for the foundation of my box and a paintbrush to express my passion for art.”

1aTina used artifacts from her personal life; her dad helped attach and then carve out the inside of five volumes from a set of art books to make a Joseph Cornell ‘box’ construction. (The inset photo shows construction.) 

Just having books available, students will find uses. Some even take time to read portions of text and rescue books, or incorporate the text into their artwork with intention.

These Bald Eagle SD middle schoolers were challenged to create “a place that will never be forgotten” by their middle level teacher Janet Riggio.

2A place not forgotten

Basketball Court – Bleachers and all

On the water in a canoe – Never to be forgotten!

We adults approach de and reconstructing as well. Leslie Gates, Assistant Professor at Millersville University in Pennsylvania, created this book.


Ann Wessmann, a Massachusetts College of Art and Design professor, expanded the intimate scope of a book to create an installation “Memory - Loss”. It is shown in its entirety at the Crane Art Center Philadelphia exhibition in 2012, accompanied by a detail image ( A 1937 handwritten journal was de and re-constructed as a piece, larger than 6 feet across in diameter. A story expanding its impact, on a continuous journey.

6Ann Wessmann’s installation  -  Memory – Loss

7Detail: Memory – Loss (

Re-constructing into functional objects is another approach. Ten Thousand Villages offers a variety of functional objects from across the globe created by re-constructing a variety of printed text materials. 

8Printed newsprint is rolled and woven to create a journal cover from the Phillipines and students shape bowls from rolled and flattened magazine pages after seeing an example made in Japan. 

Let’s continue to design ‘useful’ purposes for those discarded and ‘useless’ books.  


Tuesday 07. 5.16

Stoking the Fires!   

From: Diane Wilkin

The Fourth of July weekend was cookout fun with a whole day to read and organize shelves. A final note for those readers out there. —I DO KNOW that we are not all readers.

These books surrounding me are an eclectic group, given by friends, librarians, and students. And, full disclosure, I rarely just pass a bookstore and don’t make a purchase. I won’t mention the art biography and media books on the shelves - YOU KNOW what I’m talking about! So here are my 4 summer goals:

Goal 1) To read books my students read, in order to engage students in conversation about books. I saw a student reading The Power of HABIT by Charles Duhigg for her Sociology class. I’m re-reading it for fall. I’m also on the look-out for new graphic novels appropriate and relevant for class. 

1The pile by the bed…a mix from students and friends. I’ll let you know how I do...

Goal 2) To become a better leader in my field. This means becoming better organized, pro-active, and staying current with the literature. Digital LEADER by Erik Qualman kept me up until 2 AM recently, but my emails are manageable! The art magazine pile still awaits.   

2  3
                 Half of a shelf                                The other half

Call it ‘self-help’ or call it ‘growth and improvement’; I continue reading as I pursue both professional and personal satisfaction in my life. As the summer wanes, I’ll go back to Teach Like a Champion and The First Days of School – both titles I have begun sharing with student teachers. It’s all about Mindset (Carol Dweck). 

Goal 3) To bring more reading AND new ideas into my classroom. This is an all-the-time goal that we educators live – to design and deliver Art education that fully engages students.  

4Here’s a pile of books for our Photography Class (YES, we have a darkroom!)

Goal 4) To enjoy the images and experiences created by those artists who use language in lieu of paints and brushes, pastels and gouges. I hope I can inspire my students to engage more in language exploration, as well. Victor Stabin comes from the language side and engages students with vocabulary through visual images. 

5A photo of the Daedal Doodle curriculum book by Victor Stabin

Check out Victor Stabin’s daedle doodles. I had the pleasure of meeting Victor in Harrisburg, PA, where his English Art Educators Conference was located next door to our Art Educators Conference. Happily so. He’ll be presenting at the PAEA Conference in Philadelphia this fall, October 7-9! May you be inspired! 

I’ve collected dictionaries from teachers who now use online dictionaries. Lots of uses for these in the art room!

What books do you recommend? Care to Share? – Comment here

Next up! – de- and re-constructing books. I hope you all had a wonderful Fourth of July!


Friday 07. 1.16

Summer Break: What’s your plan?

From: Diane Wilkin

1.Image%201%20-%20Emoji%20sculptures  The Emoji – Text Emotion made Visual

While this is ‘summer vacation’ time, many of us are still busy with professional activities - summer camp programs, teaching summer classes, curriculum reviews, lesson writing and prototyping, and finally catching up on professional publications. We need to dedicate time for our personal growth, healthy living, creative productivity, and, of course, rest and rejuvenation. A busy summer ahead! What’s your plan? 

How about a book? I’d say it’s time to get away from the screen and delve into some regenerative reading, (I LOVE THE FEEL OF A BOOK) but I have to admit that a good ¼ of my reading is on an app. One device is just less cumbersome; and audio books - Wonderful invention! That being said, no matter HOW you read, let’s talk content. 

A good fictional escape is a required summer read for me, and while I find new titles, I re-read Jasper Fforde’s The Big Over Easy: A Nursery Crime every summer. I don’t know why. I suppose it reminds me that those childhood imaginary worlds live on within us. When I read about Jack Spratt (partnered with Mary Mary, of course) investigating Humpty Dumpty’s murder, I ‘see’ pictures from the stories I read as a child. Imagery and story are interconnected. Fforde expands the life of characters and involves us in the ‘backstage’ action, the before and after events surrounding the written tales. He does with literature, exactly what we ask students to do with visual images. 

Our students interpret images and tell the story: What do you think happened before this? What do you believe might happen next? We discuss Barbara Kruger and Shepherd Fairey and juxtaposition for meaning.  Students research the events surrounding an iconic Pulitzer Prize winning photo. Students use text as a medium. Meaningful Story. Perhaps it is time to read Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind (again) and pass a copy on to an administrator. With states and districts moving to provide a more ‘well-rounded’ education for students under the new ESSA law, we have an opportunity to create or continue a powerful dialogue regarding the placement of the visual arts in the required curriculum. We have the power to move the process! was used to create a digital portrait with meaningful text

3.Image%203%20-%20Text%20value-%20smallPortrait of Abraham Lincoln – valued in his own words

4.Image%204%20-%20TEACHTEACH in the style of Shepard Fairey – testing a tutorial in photoshop