Nearly twenty years ago I taught a workshop at the Islip Art Museum in East Islip, NY. Fresh out of undergrad, it was my first teaching experience. I think it was a cartooning class for kids. There, and at that moment, I fell into my present career. It was in that converted Dining Room space where I led a group, introduced them to art and watched as processes unfolded. Back then, I would look at the ceiling moldings and the carvings on the fireplace and imagine the space in another time, filled with other people: a fine dinner in the golden age of Long Island Hunt Clubs and Vanderbilt splendor, a rowdy breakfast of orphans reaching for more bread. I never imagined that twenty years later, I would be standing in that classroom, remembering a younger me. And as I stood there a few days ago, I added that image of a tentative new teacher in a museum school to the socialites and the foundlings that passed through the room.
A student in my 2011 workshop asked me, “What is your favorite thing that you do in art?” I paused and thought deeply about this. The materials and methods change. My subjects change. The teaching/learning relationships change. Ultimately, this is my favorite thing that I do: to change and to grow and to evolve. I discovered that my favorite thing to do is to transition or transcend my old self, like a ghost finally crossing over into a new existence. The process is not always easy - I tend to linger like a haunting spirit, reluctant to move on.
At the end of class, I spoke with the Education Coordinator at the Islip Art Museum. She told me that a team of paranormal investigators had recently visited the museum. They were looking for spirits who might be inhabiting the ether, who might be tickling the attic floorboards. And I thought that perhaps my workshop was something of a paranormal investigation: a search for the vestiges of our younger selves, a portal into another time. Delving into memories, however fleeting, help us make sense of who we are now.
I was privileged to share my artistic process with some extraordinary women in this class. The following images are evidence of their explorations into papier-mâché and personal narrative. I am most grateful for their openness to learning and their serious contemplation of their own Secrets Within.