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Around the Gallery’s Permanent Collection: Connected to Learning for Any Age

By Judy Scott, Advancement Department Intern

I’ve seen many regional school groups tour MAG—from pre-school to high school, along with a few college students—led by docents who cater the visit to each group’s needs. Docents also lead regularly scheduled tours to anyone who wants to learn about the Gallery’s permanent collection. One Thursday evening, I even spied my neighbor’s son, Joe, visiting the Gallery with his Boy Scout troop. They were hunting Seeing America with their troop leader, a Social Studies teacher with a love for art, who had devised questions so the scouts could find history in artworks that would garner them an art badge. Joe’s favorite pieces were two busts of Abraham Lincoln, one that he told me “shows the strength of Lincoln’s grasp.” Seeing Joe and the school groups inspired me to connect differently with the MAG collection, making comparisons with my English Literature coursework from Nazareth College. This seems more like an extension of the two classes I took with Dr. Monica Weis, SSJ, who has used and continues to use artwork and paintings regularly to connect with written works in her classes. To honor her jubilee as a Sister of Saint Joseph, I’m working backwards—starting with the literature in my mind and seeing what artworks from the Gallery match.

Every day I’m at the Gallery, I pass by Maquette for “Swing Low” by Alison Saar; this rendition of Harriet Tubman reminds me of the slave narratives studied during African-American Literature with Dr. Mark Madigan. Just around the corner are paintings by Rochester artist Josephine Tota, bringing to mind Baby Kommacha’s tragic yet colorful garden from The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, a book that is exceptionally visual in nature that was assigned by Dr. Suhail Islam for Asian Literature.

After the Asian Art gallery, I wandered to Traditions & Encounters: Art of Africa, Oceania & Native North America, which has works that for me recall excerpts from Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks covered by Dr. Clare Counihan in World Literature: Reliquiry Figure (Ngulu/Nguru) and Face Mask with Hinged Jaw (Elu). Close to these masks is a New Mexican Jar (Jolla), evoking mythological icons from “Towards a New Consciousness” by Gloria Anzaldua, studied in Latino/a Literature with Dr. Joseph Viera.

Next, I go to MAG’s Seeing America gallery, finding Summer Street Scene in Harlem by Jacob Lawrence. This painting brings to mind James Baldwin’s poems and his short story, “Sonny’s Blues” from American Literature, another class with Dr. Joseph Viera, but also brings memories from a different assignment using this story in Grammar with Dr. Jerome Denno. Yes, Grammar, who knew? Also in this section of MAG‘s permanent collection are Morning on the River by Jonas Lie and Boomtown by Thomas Hart Benton, recalling Gifford Pinchot’s short story “Prosperity” from my Environmental Literature course with Dr. Weis.

Another connection to this class is Waterfall, Morse Pond, a painting by Marsden Hartley, which reminds me of Eliot Porter’s short story, “The Living Canyon,” but also his photographs that like this piece of art, bring his words to life. From Romantic Literature, I see the Percy Bysshe Shelley poem, “Mount Blanc” in Albert Bierstadt’s painting The Sierra Near Lake Tahoe, California, and can hear Dr. Weis’s voice repeating “sublime” and “awesome.”

On the Gallery’s second floor I discovered more literary connections to the artwork in the collection. Female Court Musicians, a group of Chinese figurines, makes me envision the cultural structure in Shen Fu’s Six Records of a Floating Life. On a whim, l listened to the cell phone tour, where I learned more about the figures, was surprised how the music completed my understanding of the book I read in World Literature, in addition to the art in front of me. I finished my comparisons with the painting attributed to Frans Snyders and workshop, The Fable of the Fox and the Heron, which reminds me of the crafty young girl saving the grand bird in “A White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett, another short story covered in American Literature. My literature to art experience, inspired by noticing student visitors at the MAG and the instruction of my Literature professor Dr. Monica Weis, SSJ, suggests what can happen to people of all ages who visit the Gallery. Docent tours are available if you want to learn about the art, or you can check the Gallery calendar for other ways to connect with the collection. Cell phone tours are also a great way to learn about the MAG’s collection, but you are always welcome to make your own associations with artwork at the Gallery during regular hours.

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