Even though fall is upon us and the new school year is fully underway, I find myself reflecting on summer, specifically a new teacher program we launched. One of the highlights of my summer, MoMA at the Beach, brought together 15 art-studio teachers from the Tri-State area and three instructors to The Art Barge in Amagansett for a workshop focusing on painting, techniques, materials, and process.
Victor D’Amico, the founding Director of Education at The Museum of Modern Art, created the Victor D’Amico Institute of Art, also known as The Art Barge, in 1960. In 1955, under the direction of D’Amico, MoMA started sponsoring painting classes at The Art Barge. Victor had a great vision for a space to be home to these classes. He envisioned a place “more dramatic and reflecting the character of the environment-sky, sea and salt air, either a boat, or resembling one” (The Art Barge brochure). In March of 1960 D’Amico found his dream in the form of a retired World War I U.S. Navy barge. The barge was towed ashore and beached along Napeague Harbor in Long Island. With the bay at one door, the Atlantic Ocean across the dunes, and surrounded by New York State wetlands preserve, it is an ideal place to slow down and be inspired to create art. In the early years, D’Amico was the only teacher of studio painting and art-teacher training for K-12 teachers. Eventually other instructors joined, including his wife, the artist and teacher Mabel D’Amico. From its very inception, Victor saw this as a place for K-12 teachers to be inspired, recharge, and gain more experience and skills.
My goal for this hands-on studio workshop was directly in alignment with Victor’s ethos—I wanted to create a space for K-12 art teachers to be able to get back to their own studio practice and get back to the basics of painting. I am constantly being told by teachers that their own art making suffers through the school year as they channel all of their creative energy into their students. I partnered with Corey D’Augustine, an independent instructor, artist, and conservator who is also a regular MoMA Courses instructor, and Christopher Kohan, President of The Victor D’Amico Institute of Art. Kohan was integral in pushing for this collaboration and is a great historian whose passion for the barge makes it come alive when you are there. Together we explored the fundamental issues of painting and the connection between the physical and visual properties of paint. Teachers were given license to set up their easels around the barge or outside on the beach to work on their paintings. We concluded the workshop with a group critique in which participants were invited to share their process and answer questions about their work.
The teacher’s responses to the workshop were incredibly gratifying. One teacher said, “Both my teaching side and, more importantly, my artist side gained more from this one full day than several years of district-sponsored Professional Development.”
It was so inspiring to see teachers so engaged and invigorated by the surroundings, each other, and their own work! As for me, I was so inspired that for the first time in 15 years, I was painting and loving it. We will definitely continue the tradition and conduct this workshop again next summer, and hopefully expand it from one to two days. The spirit of Victor D’Amico was alive and well that day!