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Art & Science Collide: The IMA at Celebrate Science Indiana

Guest bloggers Fiona Beckett and Erica Schuler are painting conservators at the IMA.

On October 4, the Indianapolis Museum of Art was present in full strength at the annual Celebrate Science Indiana Fair at the Indiana State Fair Grounds. Conservation Scientist Gregory D. Smith along with Paintings Conservators Fiona Beckett and Erica Schuler demonstrated the link between science and art to fair-goers of all ages. Throughout the day, the IMA booth was filled with lively conversations about art conservation and conservation science, including the different analysis techniques that help conservators examine great works of art and reveal secrets invisible to the naked eye.

Fiona, Erica and Greg representing the IMA at the Celebrate Science Indiana Fair.

Fiona, Erica and Greg representing the IMA at the Celebrate Science Indiana Fair.

Using a photographic examination technique, visitors excitedly observed a painting in-situ with a specialized infrared camera, which allowed them to see beyond the upper paint layer and discover a hidden figure beneath. Guests analyzed artists’ materials with X-ray fluorescence, a technique used to identify the presence of elements (such as iron or lead). Once identified, these elements help the conservator determine which pigments were present on the artist’s palette.

For many, the highlight was handling the raw artists materials including 6,000 year-old lapis lazuli, a rare blue mineral once worth its weight in gold. Visitors also guessed the contents of a test tube containing cochineal insects, which are processed to make the red dye, carmine. Many were shocked to discover that the dye not only provided color for artworks, but is also present in many of today’s food and cosmetic products!

Visit us next year (Saturday, October 3, 2015) and see what else art and science have in common!

In the meantime, you can visit Coat of Many Colors at the IMA to discover how scientific imaging and dye analysis has helped us to pinpoint a creation date for an Uzbek garment.

Filed under: Art, Conservation, Education, Exhibitions, IMA Staff, Technology


100 Acres’ Play Patch

“Let your walks now be a little more adventurous.” – Henry David Thoreau

One thing that the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres has in abundance is space for exploration. After all, it has a lake, a river AND a canal, wetlands that fill and drain with the seasons, a perfect tadpole pool, dense woods that are like a barricade, open woods that invite a proper game of cops and robbers, a meadow for chasing fireflies, heavy grapevines that resemble something old and gnarled from the Forbidden Forest, and twisty paths that don’t show up on the map but mysteriously disappear over a ridge or around a corner. And that’s just on the nature side of things.

The evolution of 100 Acres and its visitors has been an interesting one, and as we begin to better understand why people come and what they are looking for, we can begin to interpret the natural part of our piece of White River floodplain in a way that the Indianapolis community and beyond can appreciate. There is still quite a bit of “wild” in 100 Acres and, to some degree, we want to keep it that way. What better opportunity for teaching visitors how to respond to and respect the nature they are experiencing? There are many different vines in the park; which ones are okay to touch and which ones will make your skin itch and burn the next day? Oops; that river embankment is too steep to scale and forces you to find a better way back up. Ouch! What makes that specific spot so ideal for that ground bees’ nest? Our goal is to make things accessible without making them too easy, without removing all risk and therefore all opportunities to learn something nature can teach about our place in the environmental community.

play_patchAs a way to address this challenge of cognitive accessibility, a new element was introduced to the park this season: a Play Patch. The idea is a simple one, using all wood materials found onsite to create a creative play area that includes interactive elements that can be moved, manipulated and explored. If the whole of 100 Acres is a bit intimidating, the Play Patch was designed in an effort to ease people into interacting with natural elements that haven’t been shellacked, plasticized or cleaned up. A ring of seats cut from recycled tree trunks, loose branches for building structures, and tree cookies made from cross-sections of smaller branches make up the play pieces within a mulched area in the shape of a tulip poplar leaf – Indiana’s state tree. The educational implications are intentionally subtle; one can count the rings on the seats or tree cookies to discover how old the pieces were when they were cut, use the tree cookies as counters or to visually express mathematical equations, or maybe learn in very basic terms how to engineer a tower of cookies that can stand on its own. Or you can just play. There are natural processes at work that can be observed by way of bugs, fungi, worms and bark that is peeling off the harder, inner wood. Or you can just play.

Tree cookies in the Play Patch.

Tree cookies in the Play Patch.

The point is, playing in this setting, with these elements, can educate someone without them realizing they’re receiving instruction. Early naturalist Henry David Thoreau famously wrote, “I went to the woods to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach …” Beautiful thought, Mr. Thoreau, but I would hedge a bet that even if you don’t go to the woods to live deliberately, you are still likely to learn a thing or two before you come out. Maybe it’s a boost in confidence, or hearing a bird call you don’t recognize. Perhaps it’s as monumental as self-discovery or self-expression, or as mundane as being grossed out by a slug. Whatever you learn, it is important to make connections between oneself and the natural world in order to better understand both.

The Play Patch is a small step to achieving this, and the hope is for other Play Patches to spring up around the park featuring different natural elements, such as stone or grasses. Don’t look for one yet on any map; you’ll just have to come discover where they are hidden, in the woods.

Filed under: Art, Art and Nature Park, Education, IMA Staff


City of Light meets the Circle City

Photo of Zadig Perrot by Eric Lubrick

Photo of Zadig Perrot by Eric Lubrick

Recently, 14-year-old Zadig Perrot, from Paris, France, spent two weeks at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. During his first week he attended the Social Photography summer camp for teens where he learned how to use a camera and Photoshop. You can see some of his photos in the slideshow below.

Zadig’s photos and the works of other Summer Camps participants are on view in the Community Gallery on the first floor of the IMA through August 8.

During his second week at the IMA, Zadig spent his time with the Interpretation, Media and Evaluation department. He helped them with some of their tasks and created this video to showcase what the department does at the IMA.

Thanks for your work, Zadig! We hope you enjoyed your visit with us as much as we enjoyed hosting you!


Filed under: Art, Audience Engagement, Education, Guest Bloggers, IMA Staff, Photography


Toddlers, art, and the IMA

Today's blogger is Heidi Davis-Soylu, Manager of Academic Engagement and Learning Research at the IMA.

The TAG group visits the Orchard and Greenhouse to collect plant fibers. Photo by Eric Lubrick.

The TAG group visits the Orchard and Greenhouse to collect plant fibers. Photo by Eric Lubrick.

This year at the IMA, we’re excited about a new school program designed specifically for preschools. The Toddler Art Group (TAG) launched in September with the help of our partner school, St. Mary’s Child Center at the Butler Lab location, and partnering arts organization, Arts for Learning. If you happen to see a clever bunch of 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds singing, drawing, or performing in the galleries, you might have spotted our TAGers!

From September through May, 20 of our friends from St. Mary’s will visit the IMA twice each month for TAG time. A typical TAG session begins with a hunt for Tag Tiger, a stuffed animal tiger who likes to take naps in the galleries. Guided by a modified version of “we’re going on a bear hunt,” our tag_tigerfriends from St Mary’s locate Tag Tiger and then take her for a walk to look at art and find a good place to read her a story. Story time is followed by two or three sensory activities that help students build their own meaning of the art and, we hope, to establish positive relationships more broadly with art, learning, and the Museum. On their second visit each month, students explore art-making in an IMA studio classroom and revisit an artwork from the previous visit that resonated with the children the most. For example, the group decreed “the ship” (Tim Hawkinson’s Möbius Ship) the most intriguing work from our first tour of the Contemporary galleries.

We look forward to learning a lot from the students throughout this pilot year and we hope to grow the program during the next academic year to include more partner schools.

Readers of this post might also be interested in our wee Wednesdays program designed for children ages 0 through 5, open to the public.

Filed under: Art, Audience Engagement, Education


Making art accessible to low-vision visitors

Today's blog post was written by Jennifer Todd, Manager of Docent Programs, and the IMA’s Accessibility Core of Docents.

The IMA wants to share art with everyone, including those with vision loss and other disabilities. We welcome the opportunity to offer monthly tours for blind and low vision visitors to be guided by touch and description through the Museum’s permanent collection. The Touch & Audio Descriptive Tours, which are open to the public, take place on the first Saturday of each month at 11 am — including this Saturday, December 7.

low_vision_tourTwo interactive approaches are offered during these public tours. The Touchable approach offers visitors of all ages and abilities the opportunity to experience original works of art through their sense of touch. Visitors are provided with nitrile gloves, while museum educators guide their touching and describe the work of art. The Audio Description approach offers visitors, along with their families, companions or caregivers, the opportunity to engage in a discussion of works of art through the use of descriptive narration and participant interaction. Tours include a combination of both approaches. Group sizes are small and interaction is encouraged.

If you, or someone you know, are looking for an opportunity to get in touch with art — we invite you to join us!

Reservations for these tours is recommended, and can be made by contacting Wendy Wilkerson at Visitors may also schedule a private group tour by appointment.

Filed under: Art, Audience Engagement, Education


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