Summer Sizzles: Finding Inspiration and Renewal in Art

Wrapping up our Summer Sizzles series, we feature two teachers who tapped into the rich resources of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, learning new ways to use art for connection and learning. Lower School Girls teacher Jenny Culbert and Upper School history teacher James Spagnoletti attended a week-long workshop, “Retreat, Recharge and Restore through Art,” that encouraged them to look at art and artmaking as a means of inspiring social, emotional learning for both student and teacher.  

The program engaged educators in a week-long hybrid program combining online sessions and lectures, time at the museum, or exploring art at home. Participants also met with fellow grade teachers in discussion groups following the lectures. 

For Ms. Culbert, “after the challenges of sitting for so long in front of a screen, searching for art to connect with in the museum and experimenting with craft techniques was invigorating!” 

Ms. Culbert learned “how important it is to listen and learn from others' perspectives; we were able to experiment with a variety of art assignments (we had been sent a box of supplies), and we had a final presentation which required finding art which resonated with our own teaching. 

“Being reminded of the bravery required to be a student, will boost my empathy for learners going into this new school year.”

A veteran of their Visual Arts as Sources for Teaching (VAST) 2021 seminars, Mr. Spagnoletti appreciated the “opportunity to reconnect with PMA's collection and spend some time with art after a long, difficult school year.”

Mr. Spagnoletti has attended several PMA workshops, and “over the years the observation and writing activities have inspired me to keep utilizing art and artifacts in my history classes as one method for developing student engagement and thinking skills.”

For this workshop’s final project, educators made personal connections to two works of art while reflecting on their work as teachers. One artwork was to represent the past school year and one work was chosen to look ahead to the new year. Mr. Spagnoletti described connecting with the emotion and dramatic tension of Winslow Homer’s ‘The Life Line’, which depicts a daring rescue at sea: “I experienced similar feelings at the start of last year while facing new routines, expectations, technology, possible infection - but somehow made it through the worst of it.” 

Looking ahead to the upcoming school year, he chose the passionate, dynamic abstract painting by Cy Twombly’s “Fifty Days at Iliam: The Fire that Consumes All before It.”  As he described,  “it reminded (him) that exhaustion, insecurity, and discomfort of the COVID year should be acknowledged, then let go (consumed by the fire). 

“The text, form, and colors of the work make me think of the phoenix rising from the ashes,” an inspiring message for the new possibilities of the year ahead.

Pictured here are the collage Ms. Culbert created and Cy Twombly's piece that Mr. Spagnoletti chose to represent the move into a new school year.


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Where did they go? What are they up to? #SummerSizzle features our SCH staff on the go and exploring their passions during the summer months.


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