Posts filed under ‘Education’
Ghada Amer, (1963 – ), born in Egypt, based in New York
Earthwork in “Earth Matters”
Ghada Amer is one of a selected number of artists invited by the National Museum of African Art to take part in the exhibit Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor by creating an earthwork in the Smithsonian’s gardens. Earthworks are large sculptural works which use earth as material, motif, and/or message. Several of these earthworks have been installed in the Enid A. Haupt Garden in the vicinity of the Sackler and African Art Museums.
Amer works in a variety of genres: painting, sculpture, film, photography, installation. In much of her work she has appropriated two media that are usually associated with domestic arts or “women’s work”: embroidery and gardening. She therefore uses thread and plants to express messages that are highly political, focusing on a range of themes, including gender roles, women’s sexuality, and human rights. In the work currently on display in the Smithsonian Gardens, Amer has chosen the subject of hunger as her topic. She thus highlights a worldwide problem at the same time that she alludes to a specific issue: the fact that politicians in her native Egypt and elsewhere prey on the hungry by promising food in exchange for votes. Bags of rice and other edibles are therefore bartered for political support.
The current earthwork began with the delineation of large letters spelling the word “Hunger” along a strip of land at the north entrance of the Haupt Garden. Once the letters were outlined as furrows, they were planted with rice. The work has therefore evolved through different stages, reflecting the initial carving of the land and the growth of the ‘crops’ growing in the designated space.
Initially, the viewer could read the word “hunger” spelled out in earth. Then, the stenciled letters were filled in with small tufts of rice plants. Over the summer months, the plants grew very noticeably, and the edible rice began to emerge. This in turn attracted birds, who saw the grain as a bonus meal. As the plants grew and became bushier, the word was ‘hunger’ became less readable. The letters re-emerged once the crop was harvested. In keeping with the original idea of crop rotation, the letters will be planted with kale, which can survive colder temperatures. During fall and winter, the letters will become greener and denser.
In “Hunger,” as in some of her other work, Amer combines medium and message, and urges us to read both the ‘writing on the wall’ and the letters on the earth.
-Annette B. Ramírez de Arellano, Smithsonian volunteer
As parents, teachers, and students wrap up the first couple of months of the new school year. Smithsonian Gardens horticulturist Christine Price-Abelow thought it would be fun to highlight a few plants with names linked to education. Keep an eye out for these plants growing in the museum gardens on your next class field trip!
1. Chinese Scholar-tree (Sophora japonica)
Chinese Scholar-tree is also known as the Japanese Pagodatree. In its native country of China the Scholar–tree was often planted near Buddhist shrines, hence the name. However it is commonly used as a city or street tree in the United States. It has a moderate to fast growth rate and usually reaches a height of 40-60’ with a nice rounded crown. Sophora trees have a compound leaf which casts a light shade and they are very tolerant to heat, drought and pollution. They produce creamy white flowers in mid-July followed by a pod type fruit. This “educational” tree can be found on the west side of the National Air and Space Museum near the McDonald’s trailer and seating area.
2. Princeton Elm (Ulmus americana ‘Princeton’)
The next time you visit Smithsonian Gardens and the National Mall, be sure to look up at the large towering trees shading the walkways. A large percentage of this tree canopy is made up of American elms, specifically the ‘Princeton’ American Elm. As you know, most plant cultivars are named for people and places and the ever popular Princeton elm is no exception. The Princeton elm was first introduced in 1922 by William Flemer of Princeton Nurseries located near Princeton, New Jersey. The Princeton elm was originally selected for its resistance to Dutch elm disease and aesthetic beauty. There are many examples of the Princeton elm planted throughout the U.S. and they can be genetically linked to a 200+ year old American elm tree formerly growing at Princeton Cemetery near Princeton University.
American elms have a beautiful yellow fall color and make excellent shade trees. They are fast growing and reach a height of about 80’ with a spread of 50-60’. The Princeton cultivar is known for its disease resistance and large dark green leaves. They are also a great choice for urban landscapes. Plant your own piece of history!
Smithsonian Gardens is using Ulmus Americana ‘Princeton’ as a street tree and in the tree box planters surrounding the museums.
3. Pencil Cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli)
In keeping with our “Back to School” theme, our next featured plant is the pencil cactus. Though often referred to as a cactus, this plant is actually a succulent and a member of the Euphorbia family. The pencil cactus is native to Africa and India, therefore it is grown as a seasonal tropical plant or a houseplant in the Washington, D.C. area. This euphorbia’s distinctive round, rod-shaped branches that resemble the familiar school implement give the plant its nickname. They are very easy to grow and can be propagated by cuttings.
*A note of caution, you should always wear gloves when working around this plant; it exudes a milky, latex-type sap that can cause an allergic skin reaction for some people.
This plant can be found growing in a large container in the Ripley Garden.
-Christine Abelow-Price, Smithsonian Gardens Horticulturist
In preperation for the Smithsonian’s Day of the Dead celebration we are currently growing ‘Hopi Red Dye’ Amaranth and Orange Marigolds in the gardens around the National Museum of the American Indian and in our greenhouses.
The Aztecs, Mayans, and Toltecs commemorated the deceased at fixed times during the year. The Indigenous peoples believed that during these months of the year the deceased could return. To encourage the deceased to return, they offered flowers, food, incense, dancing, and music.
Day of the Dead or “Dia De Los Muertos” is a holiday celebrated in many Latin American countries and in areas of the United States with high populations of Hispanic Americans, including California, Texas, and New Mexico. The festival is celebrated on November 2nd. The culture of the Day of the Dead reinforces the idea that death is not scary or sad but a natural part of life.
In the United States, Day of the Dead celebrations are becoming increasingly common. While the use of skulls, marigolds, and candles is still routine, the altars are sometimes included museum exhibits to make a statement about life in America for Latino Americans. Latino Americans are mixing the traditional with the contemporary in the continuation of this tradition and the preservation of their heritage.
Learn more about the Day of the Dead from the Smithsonian Latino Center: http://latino.si.edu/dayofthedead/.
The National Museum of the American Indian in collaration with the National Museum of American History and the Smithsonian Latino Center will be hosting their annual Dia de los Muertos: Day of the Dead on Sunday, October 27, 2013 and Saturday, October 28, 2013 from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The program will include the exhibition of the ofrendas, food demonstrations, music, dance performances, and special film screenings.
-Mattea Sanders, Fall 2013 Horticulture Collections and Education Intern
This summer I had the privilege of working with two terrific high school students who were part of the Youth Engagement Through Science Program (YES!) sponsored by the National Museum of Natural History. The students spent six weeks at Smithsonian Gardens participating in a citizen science bird watch. Read about their experiences below.
-Cynthia Brown, Horticulture Collections and Education Manager
Elvis Sosa Martinez: My name is Elvis Sosa – Martinez. I plan on graduating from high school next year (2014) and I would like to go to college and major in Business Administration and Criminal Justice.
My experience at the Smithsonian Gardens was great! I never thought I would learn so many things about bird species. My project for the six weeks was about conducting a bird count to see what types, and how many, are stopping by to visit the Smithsonian Gardens Urban Bird Habitat Garden around the National Museum of Natural History. The data that was collected from our bird watching sessions was added to the Cornell Lab Ornithology Celebrate Urban Birds project. Every bird is unique in some type of way. Honestly I would recommend this program to any high school student. It is a great experience and opportunity to communicate and interact with many different people. You get the opportunity to observe and to learn how birds nest, live, what they eat and much more. My mentors Cynthia Brown and Paula Healy were a lot of help. They were always there when I needed help and they were very fun to work with. I really appreciate everything that they have done to make this experience a great experience.
Brianne Turner: My name is Brianne Turner and I am a rising senior. I am originally from Dallas, Georgia and moved to Washington, D.C. in 2007. I was excited about this internship because it was something fun and new for me. I hoped to gain knowledge about new science fields that I didn’t have prior knowledge about. When I graduate high school I would like to study food science and go to law school.
When most people think of bird watching, they think “Boring!” and choose to avoid the activity all together. However it is so much more. Bird watching for the first time was dull to me, but when you see your first bird it unlocks a new curiosity. When you see a bird you start to pay attention to the environment near it and also you look at the details on the bird. You begin to do more research in order to find out what bird species you saw and how you can find it again. You find a new appreciation for the world in which you live in and think of ways to help better it for people and animals, because we are not the only ones that have to pay for our negligence. I had an opportunity be involved with a fairly new project and do research for the new bird interpreters. I get to leave with the knowledge that my work that I have done will be used over and over again and it will be put to great use.
I really appreciate everything that Smithsonian Gardens has done to make this experience a great experience.
On May 10th We celebrated National Public Gardens Day with Earth Matters to Smithsonian Gardens – Garden Fest 2013! It was a busy (and hot) day energized by music, dancing, crafts, tomato potting, and lots of information for the home gardener, from composting to attracting pollinators.
When we asked artist Emily C-D to design a collaborative, ephemeral art activity for Garden Fest we were excited to see what she would dream up. For weeks we collected leaves, flowers, and more from our gardens and greenhouses, eager to see how she would incorporate the materials into an artwork dependent on visitor participation that would only last for one day.
In her own words, here is Emily’s take on her process and vision:
What was your inspiration for the project?
Emily: I was asked to come up with a temporary, participatory art piece appropriate for a festival about gardening that would also reference the Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor exhibit at the National Museum of African Art. Drawing on my experience as a muralist who has often painted on horizontal surfaces, and also as an explorer that has experienced the beauty of Mexican tapetes (ephemeral carpets), I proposed the creation of a ground mural out of natural materials. I have always enjoyed transforming the floor—crosswalks, sidewalks, streets, and bridges—because the process of creation and the finished piece are intrinsically participatory. I can invite people of all ages and abilities to join in the fun since the surface to be transformed does not necessitate the use of ladders or scaffolding. The public that walks across the finished work of art enters the world created by the designs and colors, literally becoming a part of the piece. For Garden Fest, it seemed appropriate that we would use organic materials from the garden itself—seeds, leaves, petals, sticks, wood chips, rocks, and dirt—to “paint” the mural.
Can you tell us a little bit more about “garden carpets” in Mexico?
Emily: Tapetes (literally, carpet in Spanish) are temporary works of art that are created on the ground out of brightly colored sawdust and other organic materials like flower petals, beans, seeds, and rice. In Mexico, their creation is a public event that draws the community together and is often associated with the celebration of a religious holiday. Tapetes can be monumental, perhaps covering the entire block that surrounds a church. It takes an incredible amount of patience, time, and energy to create a work of art of such magnitude (and often quite impressive detail and design), and yet tapetes are meant to be walked on. They are pathways for spiritual processions and as such they are ephemeral, lasting only a day or two. The value of tapetes lies within a process that builds community and brings people into the present through the creation of a moment of beauty.
Did everything go as planned? Did anything surprise you?
Emily: The nature of my community practice is such that the element of surprise is built into the projects. My role as the artist is to create an open framework that establishes cohesiveness within a work of art that involves the contributions of many hands and minds. Although I might be working with specific themes, materials, and/or designs, many details are left up to the participants so that they might have a sense of ownership of the piece, and not just feel like “helpers.” In the case of Garden Carpet, I drew a very basic design onto a large piece of canvas which people were encouraged to “color in” using the various materials at hand—sort of like a page from a monumental coloring book. The symmetrical nature of my drawing influenced the placement of the materials (sand, pinecones, or pink sawdust), so that without directing people as to where to place what, the final work exhibited an incredible sense of balance. It was a constant surprise to me as to which colors and textures were chosen to fill in the different areas of the design, and yet at the end of the day, my original drawing still shone through.
What was your favorite moment of the day?
Emily: The moment when two girls began to fill in the blank design with color was especially exciting, and viewing the finished work at the end of the day was definitely very satisfying. Although, I have to stress that I thoroughly enjoyed myself throughout the day. Every moment was filled with color, collaboration, and creation!
How did you get into community art, and what do you enjoy about collaborating with the public?
Art is a form of communication that can transgress boundaries of language and culture. As such, I have always been interested in increasing the accessibility of art so that we might all realize our creative potential and cooperate in the creation of a more vivid, expressive world. I first got into community art back in 2004 when I facilitated the painting of new outdoor seating for a public library in Baltimore. Since then, I have been creating fun, interactive projects that blur the line between spectator and participant, working with people to discover color, rhythm, and beauty within the chaos of our reality.
At the end of the day the installation was rolled up and composted at our greenhouse facility, but it lives on in photographs and the memories of those who contributed to its creation.
Emily C-D is based out of Mexico City and Baltimore. You can view more of her community art on her website: http://www.emilycd.com/
-Kate Fox, museum educator
Friday, June 21 marks the 2013 summer solstice in the northern hemisphere, when the tilt of the Earth’s axis reaches its steepest incline towards the sun. It is the longest day of the year, as the sun hangs at its highest point. The solstice represents only an instant in time, but the day of its occurrence encompasses celebrations around the world throughout history. The day of the solstice, or midsummer, offers an excellent opportunity to celebrate the sunny days ahead as well as reflect on the approaching decline into autumn and winter.
In Western culture, midsummer has many ties to pagan magic. Folklore links many plants with the event in many magical capacities, like being able to see the fairies that emerged for the night, protection from natural and spiritual forces, and healing. St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) maintains a strong connection to the holiday. Traditional wisdom tells us that the bright yellow flowers hold the sunny energy of midsummer, making the herb effective at treating depression, and that it can protect against thunderstorms.
European midsummer festivities also have abundant connections to fertility. The Swedes have an excellent saying: “Midsummer night is not long but it sets many cradles rocking.” Cultural traditions provide ample opportunities for young people to pair up and sneak into the night, such as looking for the flower of a fern that only blooms at night in Estonia. Midsummer celebrations often involve bonfires, which play an important role in many myths, such as a jumping through a fire to aid fertility.
The West does not, however, hold a monopoly on summer solstice celebrations. Eastern cultures often observe solstice festivities, as well as Native American cultures. The ancient Chinese celebrations of the summer solstice, honoring the earth, femininity, and “yin,” complemented the heavenly, masculine, and “yang” centered winter celebrations.
Native American rituals varied by culture, and some traditions survive today. The National Museum of the American Indian Heye Center (New York) hosted an event on June 15th entitled “Circle of Dance! Inti Raymi.” The event included a family-oriented activity session to create gold foil pendants to recognize the importance of the Inti (sun) to all life, as well as a lecture session on the celebration of Inti Raymi by indigenous peoples of the Andes. The traditional festival included music, dancing, colorful costumes, and the sharing of food.
Despite being the longest day of the year, the solstice isn’t necessarily the hottest day, which means it could be a wonderful day to enjoy the outdoors. Celebrate the height of summer by working in the garden, hosting an outdoor solstice party, or building your own Stonehenge. There are plenty of beautiful flowers in bloom right in time for the solstice, like this great flower in bloom at the Smithsonian Gardens, Oenothera fruticosa ‘Summer Solstice.’ It’s vibrant “sundrop” flowers will brighten up any day!
Education and Outreach Intern
This post was originally published on the National Museum of African Art Earth Matters blog.
The post today features Jonathan Kavalier, a supervisory horticulturist with Smithsonian Gardens, who was integral in making the Earth Works happen in conjunction with the Earth Matters exhibit. This partnership marks a first for the Smithsonian – never before has land art been installed on the National Mall. Learn about the process of making this amazing feat happen– with 30 million visitors to the nation’s capital looking on.
As a horticulturist, I don’t often have the opportunity to participate in art exhibitions. So when museum curator Karen Milbourne approached me with an idea for a collaboration between the National Museum of African Art (NMAfA) and Smithsonian Gardens, my interest was piqued. I met Karen when she attended a talk I gave on building gardens in Madagascar, a country I had the immense pleasure of living in for two years before joining the Smithsonian. Since I was already emotionally invested in Africa, the idea of collaborating with NMAfA sounded great, and definitely supported Smithsonian Gardens’ mission to enrich the Smithsonian experience through exceptional gardens, horticultural exhibits, collections, and education. What came out of many discussions was an idea to commission earthworks from several African artists in some of the Smithsonian Gardens.
Now two years later, this idea has finally come to fruition. My job was to manage the logistics of installing these very different earth works involving sculpture, living plants, and earth moving. Add to that the challenge of working around existing garden infrastructure and the 30 million visitors that come through the Smithsonian annually, all without compromising the artists’ visions. I am very happy to say that the earth works have all been successfully installed, and some rice planting finally happened a few weeks ago for Ghada Amer’s piece, Hunger. We’ve actually been growing rice in our greenhouses for the past two months, eagerly waiting for the warmer weather to arrive so we can plant the rice into the Earth Works exhibit.
The most challenging, and rewarding, part of coordinating these installations was working around the visiting public during what is the busiest time of year for Smithsonian Gardens. Lots of time and effort were put into ensuring the public’s safety during the course of the work, but the reward of observing visitors witnessing the creation of these exhibits was priceless.
We hope you’ll stop by the National Mall this summer and fall and see these spectacular works of art that only could have happened with the partnership and hard work of Jonathan Kavalier and the rest of Smithsonian Gardens. They mark a true “first” for the Smithsonian, revealing the constant connection between art, humanity, and the land that each earth artist in the show has skillfully and distinctly revealed. Don’t miss it!
On March 11, 2013, Smithsonian Gardens received accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), a designation that confers a high mark of distinction for a museum. Accreditation signifies excellence to the general public as well as to the greater museum community, the public garden community, and other cultural organizations.
Smithsonian Gardens (SG) began the accreditation process in 2007 by undertaking an Institutional Assessment through AAM’s Museum Assessment Program (MAP). The assessment provided an overview of Smithsonian Gardens’ entire management and operational practices and involved three distinct phases—self-study, peer review, and implementation. Using the outcomes of the MAP assessment, Smithsonian Gardens launched an intensive strategic planning process which resulted in an organizational name change (it had formerly been known as Horticulture Services Division) and a refined mission.
Armed with SG’s FY2010-2015 Strategic Plan http://www.gardens.si.edu/about-us/docs/SmithsonianGardens-Plan.pdf , Smithsonian Gardens undertook the AAM accreditation process in 2010. To earn accreditation a museum first must conduct a year of self-study and then host a site visit by a two-person team of peers. AAM’s Accreditation Commission, an autonomous body of museum professionals, considers both the self-study and site visit report to determine whether a museum should receive accreditation.
Of the nation’s 17,500 museums, only 1,000 are currently accredited, and only 3% of the latter are public gardens. In the D.C. metro area only two other public gardens have attained accreditation status: the United States Botanic Garden (www.usbg.gov) and Green Spring Gardens (www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring).
Accreditation recognizes high standards in individual museums and ensures that museums uphold their public trust obligations. Developed and sustained by museum professionals for over 40 years, AAM’s museum accreditation program is the field’s primary vehicle for quality assurance, self-regulation and public accountability.
AAM’s Characteristics of Excellence are the standards by which all museums can and should strive to achieve in ways appropriate to their resources. To best serve their communities, it is essential that museums be committed to institutional improvement and maintaining the highest standards in collections stewardship, governance, institutional planning, ethics, education and interpretation, and risk management. AAM accreditation signifies excellence and accountability to the entire museum community, to outside agencies and to the museum-going public.
For more information about the American Alliance of Museums and its Accreditation Program, including a complete list of accredited museums, please visit www.aam-us.org .
-Sarah Hedean, Horticulturist
In celebration of National Public Gardens Day, join us on Friday for Earth Matters to Smithsonian Gardens – Garden Fest 2013! This year’s Garden Fest is inspired by the National Museum of African Art’s exhibition, Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa.
At Earth Matters to Smithsonian Gardens – Garden Fest 2013!, visitors of all ages can participate in fun and lively activities focused on interacting with the earth. Help create an ephemeral land art installation with materials from the many Smithsonian Gardens with artist Emily C-D, listen to live music, make a seed bomb, journey on an ancient expedition with the help of petrified wood, fossils, amber, and gardens tools, or dance Zumba! Smithsonian Gardens will also hold a plant container design contest, host a photo shoot for our Shutter-Bug Collection on Pinterest, and offer informal workshops on composting. There will be demonstrations highlighting the connection between Smithsonian Gardens’ irrigation plan and the Smithsonian weather station, and learn about the many tomato varieties that are grown in Smithsonian Gardens’ Victory Garden.
Stop by during your lunch break or after work to hear great live music, for a snack or drink at the Castle Café (featuring a special garden menu for the event), view the Earth Matters exhibit in the gardens and at the National Museum of African Art – both open until 7pm – and have some fun in the garden at Garden Fest!
Date: May 10th, 2013
Time: 11 am to 7:00 pm
Location: Enid A. Haupt Garden behind the Smithsonian Castle
Metro: Green/Yellow or Blue/Orange lines to L’Enfant Plaza or Blue/Orange line to Smithsonian
This year, Smithsonian Gardens is pleased to be hosting its second annual Arbor Day Tree Planting Celebration! Although we have a great diversity of tree species here at the Smithsonian, we are always looking to add more to diversify our collection. There are many wonderful exotic, non-invasive species that are well-suited to the growing environment in the Washington, DC area. However, we are currently concentrating on adding more native tree species. This year, we have chosen two different natives to plant.
Carolina Silverbell (Halesia tetraptera)
Carolina Silverbell is a native hardwood understory tree that is typically found along slopes and streams in ravines in hardwood forests. They favor north and east-facing aspects with moist, well-drained acidic loam soils. They thrive in full and partial shade and have a core range in the southern Appalachian Mountains, but stretch as far as eastern Oklahoma, northern Florida, and southern Illinois. This tree typically grows to be 30-40 feet, but can grow as high as 80 feet. Its primary feature is beautifully bell-shaped white flowers that hang in clusters and are borne in the spring.
White Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus)
The White Fringe Tree is another native hardwood tree that is found in its natural range which stretches from southern New Jersey to Florida, west to Texas. The species is very variable, and no two trees seem to be alike in all characteristics. The Fringe Tree can grow in a variety of conditions, and is cold hardy to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit. As with the Carolina Silverbell, this tree’s most striking feature is the flowers. Six to eight-inch fleecy white, fragrant flowers appear in May and June and make this a beautiful addition to the landscape.
On Arbor Day, Friday April 26, we will be having two tree plantings. The White Fringe Tree will be planted at the Anacostia Community Museum, and the Carolina Silverbell will be planted at the National Museum of Air and Space, on the south side of the building adjacent to the observatory. The Smithsonian Gardens’ Arborist and other horticulture staff will be on hand at the Air and Space event to demonstrate proper tree planting techniques and to answer questions. The planting will take place at noon. We hope you can join us!
-Greg Huse, Smithsonian Gardens Arborist