By May S. Ruiz
Brad Macneil, Education Program Coordinator at the Pasadena Museum of History (PMH), is readying once more for this year’s My Masterpieces Program. Every Tuesday and Thursday, beginning this month until the end of the school year, he and his team of volunteers will be welcoming 4th graders from all the public schools in Pasadena for a two-hour art class and activity at the Fenyes Mansion.
According to Mr. Macneil, this program originated from a pilot test collaboration among the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD), Pasadena Educational Foundation (PEF), and different cultural institutions, with input from teachers. He said, “It was important that we involved the teachers. We made sure they felt it was their program too so we asked them to write the curriculum for it.”
For My Masterpieces, PMH provides students and teachers with the Museum publication “Painting the Beautiful” as background material for their visit. Students also complete a lesson in class to prepare them for the field trip and learn some basics in art education. During their visit, they learn about the mansion and other members of the family, and explore what life was like in the early 1900s.
The Fenyes Mansion, which is also home to PMH, is a Beaux Arts residence built in the early 1900s as a winter home for Eva and Dr. Adalbert Fenyes. Mr. Macneil added, “At the time, Pasadena was a winter resort that attracted artists to the area because of its landscape, which they painted. They later sold these paintings to the wealthy visitors. A leader of that art community was Benjamin Brown, a famous landscape painter. He was a friend of Eva’s and he created some of the portraits and landscape paintings that still hang today in the mansion. Eva became a patron of Pasadena’s flourishing art colony and invited various artists to her studio or to go out into the foothills for creative material.”
“The inspiration for the mansion field trip is Eva’s life and her love for the arts,” explained Mr. Macneil. “Each visiting class is divided into three groups – art critics, artists, film makers – that rotate to do different 30-minute activities led by a PMH volunteer. The art critics take a tour of the mansion and look at Eva’s art collection which they have seen in the book Painting the Beautiful. Using art terms and vocabulary, students discuss what they like or don’t like about a painting. They talk about the techniques the artist used to get certain effects.”
Mr. Macneil continued, “The artists head outside to the fountain, which has been depicted in painting by a well-known artist named Richard Miller. Volunteers give students a brief instruction: their task is to capture the spirit of the fountain as best they could using the pencil and pad they are provided. It’s very surprising how 4th graders can quietly concentrate on their sketches during the entire 30 minutes. And more amazing is what they come up with!”
The filmmakers go out in the garden. Mr. Macneil said, “Eva was not only interested in the arts, she was also fascinated by the technology involved in moving pictures. So for our filmmakers, we pick the actors, camera person, and director who will take part in creating a silent movie called ‘A Thief in the Park.’ They learn not only techniques in movie-making, but, more importantly, the value of collaboration. Teachers have great fun taking photos of the finished students’ work on their smartphones to show later in class. It’s probably the most popular thing we do – it’s exhausting and it needs several volunteers.”
PMH serves 3,000 4th grade students a year in the My Masterpieces program, using funds raised by the Paloheimo Foundation. But the organization could use more volunteers to help keep it running. Volunteers can be college-age or older and will lead tours Tuesday through Friday. Anyone who has patience, enthusiasm, a sense of humor, and is interested in volunteering can call PMH at (626) 577-1660.
According to Jennifer Olson, District Arts Education Coordinator for PUSD, My Masterpieces started during the 2008-2009 school year. It began serving only four schools, then expanded by four to five schools annually until eventually all of Pasadena’s 18 schools became part of it. It aims not only to provide arts education and a cultural experience for all children, but also to help them feel at home at any of the arts organizations in their community. They found that so many students in the Pasadena Unified don’t usually go to museums with their families because there are too many barriers including cost and transportation. This program removes those impediments and invites all Pasadena families to experience the arts in their community.
A class visit to the Fenyes Mansion leaves a truly lasting impression in the minds of young students. According to Mr. Macneil, several of PMH’s Junior Docents (7th and 8th graders in Pasadena public and private schools giving tours to 3rd graders in the PUSD) first saw the mansion during their My Masterpieces Program visit in 4th grade. And it was what encouraged them to later become Junior Docents.
The Pasadena Museum of History’s motto is “History Matters. Help us Pass it On.” The My Masterpieces program breathes life into that adage.
May S. Ruiz’s My Masterpieces is a series celebrating education in the arts. To read the next entries, please click below: