Rubin Education Team Visits the Queens Museum of Art!

Recently, the education team here at the Rubin took another field trip; this time to the Queens Museum of Art! We went to see the new “Anonymous: Contemporary Tibetan Art” exhibit featuring many works from the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation! While commuting to the museum, we had quite the view as we gazed out the 7 train windows.

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(from left to right: Olivia Buscarino, Teen Programs Coordinator, Laura Lombard, Head of Adult & Academic Programs, Bill Appleton, Director of Education & Engagement, Laura Craft, Family Programs Coordinator, Lyndsey Anderson, Visitor Experience & Access Programs Manager, Nicole Leist, Assistant Manager of Adult & Academic Programs, Gail Goldspiel, Coordinator of Youth & Family Programs)

Before entering the museum, we were greeted by quite a large rainbow near the Unisphere!

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We were greeted by Jason Yoon, Director of Education, and the curatorial team. Having such a private tour was a real treat and looking at and discussing the artworks together was very rewarding. Here is a selection of some of my favorite pieces that we viewed:

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From top to bottom: Rabkar Wangchuk, Spiritual Mind and Modern Technology, 2013; Sherab Gyaltsan, Roots and Mandala, 2012; Karma Phuntsok (b. Lhasa, 1959) Marpa, 2008; Gade (born Lhasa, 1971) Mahakala, 2013; Tenzing Rigdol, Melong 2013, various paper, pecha and silk brocade on canvas)

It was fascinating to compare and contrast these modern and interpretative artworks with the works that we have on view here at the museum. We noticed and discussed many details found in our traditional paintings that we also saw in this collection, as seen above. For example, in the first painting above, titled, Spiritual Mind and Modern Technology, the Big Apple is atop Buddha’s head and from his ears hang Home Depot and Best Buy earrings. And in the second to last painting above, we see Shrek and Ronald McDonald in the place of deities at the top of the painting, and instead of skulls hanging around the central figure’s body, we see a garland of Mickey Mouse heads! I was truly drawn in by these details and found the trip truly memorable and eye-opening.

Of course, no trip to the Queens Museum of Art is complete with the unforgettable views of the Panorama of the City of New York!

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Many thanks to the great team at the Queens Museum of Art for giving us such a wonderful tour!

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Nepali Paper Making at Family Art Labs!

We had yet another sold out Family Art Lab this October and it was such a thrill to share my growing paper making skills with so many families.  We began our workshop by discussing handmade paper making techniques in Nepal – where handmade paper is still widely made and used.   These techniques involve using the bark of the lokta plant, shredding it, boiling it, pounding it down, combining it with water to make a pulp, straining it over a special screen, and allowing it to dry in the sun.  Sound complicated? Find out more by watching this short video to see women of Nepal craft some of the most beautiful handmade papers in the world.

After getting more familiar with traditional Nepalese paper making, we took our newly acquired knowledge to the Museum to check out the Francesco Clemente: Inspired by India exhibition.  There we explored Clemente’s works on handmade paper from the Pondicherry region of India.  Many families found it fascinating to discover that each of his large paintings is made up of several sheets of smaller handmade papers, joined together by cotton strips.  This interesting use of media allowed Clemente to be able to easily travel with these large works – all he had to do was fold them up!


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After we explored Clemente’s colorful body of work, we returned to the art studio to create our own sheets of handmade paper.  We followed traditional Nepalese methods, with a few minor adjustments.  We used recycled paper in place of the lokta plant and used standard kitchen blenders instead of the large machines they use to combine the lokta and water into a pulp.  Since we did not have access to the sun, we used pieces of felt to absorb the water from our papers and let them air dry overnight. To decorate our papers, we used spices like curry, parsley, rosemary, and cinnamon, as well as dried flower petals, and colorful tissue paper.  The results were beautiful, but perhaps even more beautiful was the collaboration between families to make the paper…

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Here’s a great example from the day…


Want to make your own paper at home?  Here’s how!

You’ll need:

  • a small wooden frame (just the wooden part)
  • a screen (cut to fit the frame)
  • hot glue (for gluing the screen to the frame)
  • a shallow tray (with at least 2 in. walls)
  • several pieces of felt
  • decorations of your choosing (we like spices, wax-coated tissue paper, and dried flowers!)
  • recycled papers (work best if they are torn or shredded)
  • a bucket (for soaking papers)
  • a blender (regular or immersion will work)
  1. Assemble your screen by taking your wooden frame and using the hot glue to adhere the screen to the frame.  Let the screen dry and handle the hot glue carefully!
  2. Soak shredded paper (copy paper works best) overnight to soften it.
  3. Put paper shreds into blender and top with water.  Blend, adding more water if needed, until you have a pulp with the consistency of watery oatmeal.
  4. Pour pulp mixture into a shallow tray.  Dip screen into pulp, covering surface and lifting slowly out of the water.  Make sure your screen is covered with a thin layer of pulp. *Alternate method – use a spoon to spoon mixture onto frame.
  5. Press decorations into wet pulp – try making a design!
  6. Use felt and pat both sides of the pulp until much of the water has been absorbed into felt.
  7. Carefully remove paper from screen and place somewhere safe to dry overnight.
  8. Admire your very own sheet of handmade paper!

Stay tuned for November’s Family Art Lab, where we will be learning all about mandalas and crafting our own giant collaborative sand mandala!

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What do a Jewish synagogue and a Buddhist museum have in common?

For our latest education excursion on October 7th, the Rubin Museum docents and education team visited the Museum at Eldridge Street, a restored synagogue and national historic landmark.  You may be asking yourself “but what do a Jewish synagogue and a Buddhist museum have in common?” While it may seem there is no direct connection between our institutions, there are in fact many parallels and we learned a lot from the Eldridge Street education team during our visit and tour.

There are so many symbols and images included in the synagogue architecture, including the Star of David and the Hands of Cohanim.

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This reminded us of the mudras (gestures) often found in Buddhist art and featured in a wall panel on the museum’s second floor exhibition Gateway to Himalayan Art.

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We walked up to the altar where we opened the doors to the ark and saw where all the torahs would be kept (today there are no longer torahs stored inside).

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Looking inside this inner sanctum we were reminded of a Buddhist shrine room which houses many objects of worship including important Buddhist texts.

Like our educators at the Rubin Museum, Eldridge Street educators use touch and sensory objects to enhance their tours and help make connections for visitors.  We were able to touch and try on prayer shawls and head coverings and our guide showed us several photographs from the synagogue before its restoration.

In addition to our educational experience, the restored synagogue is absolutely beautiful and the architectural elements, including the monumental stained-glass window by artist Kiki Smith and architect Deborah Gans, are awe-inspiring.

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Many thanks to Judy Greenspan and Sarah Lowenburg for facilitating this amazing experience for our team.  We hope to visit again soon!

To learn more about the Rubin Museum’s Docent program and other volunteering opportunities, please visit our webpage at

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Recap of the Mandala Open House for K-12 Educators and Families in Photographs

This past weekend, September 19th-21st, the Rubin Museum of Art’s Education team hosted a weekend of open houses for various audiences including K-12 Educators, University Professors, and Families. Throughout the weekend, over 150 educators, professors, and families came to watch three Tibetan Buddhist monks create a sand mandala dedicated to Green Tara, a Buddhist deity and protector. To accompany the creation of the mandala, the Rubin museum’s Education Department presented a series of activities, talks, and tours to demonstrate the many ways that we use mandalas for our school, university, and family programs. Below you can find a recap of the weekend, in pictures.

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Before any sand was poured, the monks carefully drew out the mandala using rulers and compasses.


The outline of the mandala could be an architectural blueprint for a real palace, it is so precisely rendered. Now it is ready for the sand!

Three Tibetan Buddhist monks from Namdroling Monastery in India prepare to begin a sand mandala while the Rubin Education staff hangs prayer flags.

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The mandala master puts down the first sand to create the image of Green Tara, to whom this mandala is dedicated.

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While the monks work upstairs, downstairs, K-12 teachers create their own 3D mandalas. This is one of the Rubin’s workshop offerings for K-12 students.


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The main colors used in a mandala are red, yellow, blue, green, and white. These symbolize the 5 elements: fire, earth, water, air, and space.

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To create even richer detail, the monks layer the brightly colored sand to form patterns and add ornamentation.

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Head of Interpretation and Innovation Dominique Townsend leads a talk on the basic form and function of Mandalas in Tibetan Buddhism for K-12 Educators. Hopefully, many of these teachers will bring their students to the museum for tours and workshops based on mandalas.

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Tashi Chodron, Coordinator of Adult and Academic Programs, led a Q&A session with the monks.


During the University Open House, Laurence Kirby, Professor of Mathematics at Baruch College, gave a fascinating talk about how to teach college students introductory mathematical concepts using Tibetan Buddhist mandalas.


The Mandala Open House Weekend didn’t take place entirely in the Education Center. Each day, there were tours in the museum galleries. Here we see part-time educator Chantal Lee leading a tour of the newly opened contemporary exhibition “Francesco Clemente: Inspired by India.”

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As the monks put on the final touches of the sand mandala, some of the youngest viewers remain absolutely still and transfixed.

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After filling in the space outside of the mandala with green sand, the master incises images of offerings to the senses in each corner. This is a lute, called a dramyin, which is an offering to the sense of hearing.

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An offering of incense appeals to the sense of smell.

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An offering of fruit for the sense of taste.

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And a mirror symbolizes and offering to the sense of sight.

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The finished mandala!


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Visitors watch, engrossed, as the monks begin chanting a series of mantras to consecrate the finished mandala before they destroy it.

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During this final ritual, the monks make many mudras, or symbolic hand gestures. This particular mudra is meant to symbolize a three dimensional mandala.

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The sand mandala must destroyed to symbolize the impermanence of everything in this world, and that we should practice non-attachment. The master monk first uses a vajra, a ritual implement that’s name means lightning bolt, to draw lines through the four gates of the mandala located at each of the four directions.

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Finally, the monks begin to scrape away all of the sand that they spent 3 days putting down so delicately.

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The sand is distributed to those who witnessed the dismantling ceremony, which included family visitors, and teachers and professors who had attended the open houses earlier in the weekend. The remaining sand was poured into the Hudson River.

For more information on mandalas, visit the Himalayan Art Resource. Or visit the Rubin Museum’s galleries to see examples of painted mandalas.

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A Ganesh Celebration at Family Art Labs!

Once every fall we hold a Family Art Lab devoted to the beloved elephant-headed deity, Ganesh (also known as Ganesha or Ganapati).  Ganesh is not only popular among Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain communities, but is also famous among many cultures throughout the world.  Perhaps it’s his unique characteristics and the interesting stories surrounding him that make him so popular, or maybe it’s his great wisdom and ability to “remove obstacles”.  There are many reasons why he is so well loved – a fact made very clear from our sold-out Parade for Ganesh Family Art Lab.

We began the afternoon in the Museum at the large Dancing Ganesh sculpture in the Spiral Lobby.  Children and adults all seem to be attracted to this artwork for its large size and Ganesh’s joyful appearance.  Here I told families the story of how Ganesh got his elephant head.  This was also the site of the first of many difficult questions asked by our youngest participants.  “But…how did his mom make the clay alive?” – A question followed by many more questions, highlighting their great curiosity.


We continued our Ganesh-themed gallery exploration upstairs in the Masterworks exhibition where I told the families stories of Shiva and Parvati (Ganesh’s parents) and how Ganesh broke one of his tusks – a story that always gets a few laughs.  A few of the children eagerly shared their own versions of the story and, as an educator, I always welcome the opportunity to reciprocate in the learning process.




After the tour, we returned to the art studio to create our own miniature Ganesh shrines.  We used clay to sculpt Ganesh’s body and cardboard to construct the bases.  The bases were decorated in everything from shiny metallic paper to dried flower petals to glitter…lots and lots of glitter.







One of my favorite parts about working with families is watching the intergenerational collaboration that inevitably becomes a part of the process.  From our oldest to our youngest Family Art Lab participants – everyone takes part in the art-making.

Here are a few of the finished works of art.


Notice the creative addition of the mouse in this one!



It was such a fun day and I cannot wait until October’s Nepali Paper Making Family Art Lab.  During this lab, we will explore the newest Rubin exhibition, Francesco Clemente: Inspired by India and his works on handmade paper and then tear and mix recycled paper, fibers, flowers, herbs, and spices to make our own sheets of handmade paper.

See you in October!





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Take Time To Smell The Roses

As the Rubin Museum’s Docent Coordinator part of my job is to plan and manage Docent schedules each month, facilitate trainings, and organize research materials. Additionally, a very important part of my job is to boost Docent morale, show them support, and ensure that they feel like part of the larger Education team.  With this in mind, I always make sure to schedule several field trips for our group throughout the year.  This not only gives Docents perspective on other museum educator techniques, but allows them time to bond together as a group.

While most of our field trips are educational and relate in some way to our exhibitions and collection, I find it important to plan at least one trip a year that is purely social, where Docents can “take time to smell the roses.” Our last trip allowed them this both figuratively and literally!  On August 23, 2014, a beautiful Saturday morning, we met as a group at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens to take a tour together.

It was nice to get outside the museum walls and walk through all the greenery that the Botanic Gardens have to offer.

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Many plants were still in bloom especially many of the roses and flowers in their Rose Garden.

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In addition to admiring the roses, we visited the vegetable garden where we were impressed by the size and variety of vegetables. Their signage was well written and accessible for all visitors.


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We walked past some greenhouses and towards the lily pond where we saw some lotuses. It was nice to see them in nature as compared to the stylized lotus petals we see around the museum in painting and sculpture.


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Many thanks to Lou Cesario, Jeanine Poggioli, and Katherine Patton at Brooklyn Botanic Gardens for facilitating this amazing experience for our team.  We hope to visit again soon!

To learn more about the Rubin Museum’s Docent program and other volunteering opportunities, please visit our webpage at

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Staff Connections: Gail Goldspiel, Coordinator of Youth and Family Programs

Running a museum takes a whole team of professionals whose different skills help make the Rubin Museum of Art one of the premiere places to visit. In this Staff Connection, we meet Gail Goldspiel who shared with us some unique personal experiences, her role as Coordinator of Youth and Family programs at the museum, and ongoing passion for museum work. 

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RMA: Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do at the Rubin Museum.

GG: I am the Coordinator of Youth and Family Programs here at the Rubin. I help with  family and toddler programs as well as K-12 school programs. Once a week, I lead Yak Packers; our art-making program for toddlers, and once a month, I lead our new Family Sundays drop-in program. For school programs, I schedule and book our class and camp tours and primarily lead our art-making workshops, but occasionally give museum tours. I really find it rewarding helping in these many ways and being involved in as many different capacities as I can.

RMA: Where are you originally from and how did you end up at the Rubin?

GG: I’m originally a New Yorker! I’m from Queens, New York and went to high school in the heart of Flushing. I love the bustle of the city and how there’s always a new museum exhibit, public art installation, festival, or street fair to see. I left the city for college, when I went up to Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. It was there that I really became involved with creative writing , my major,  the Festival of the Arts, and the Rose Art Museum. After Brandeis, I was inspired to go into the arts/museum field and enrolled in the Museum Education program at the Bank Street College of Education. I came to know the Rubin quite well through Bank Street, and attended many open houses and educator events. I feel like everything has come full circle, because I’m really excited to now prepare for the same educator events that I once attended and help host them with our great team here!

RMA: What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on at the Museum?

GG: Right now as the summer ends, we are getting ready for the fall school year by ordering supplies and making sure we are set to go when schools start coming in, in just a few weeks! We are all getting ready for and excited about the new exhibitions and programs and are thinking about upcoming tours, workshops, and programs that can relate and how we can continue to prepare for, enhance, and expand upon them.

RMA: Out of all the current exhibitions at the Rubin Museum, which one is your favorite?

I started when Bodies in Balance had just opened, and now that its ending, I have to admit, I’m a little sad to see it go. I feel like I’ve really been able to get to know the exhibit from studying its artworks and medicinal herbs, to determining if I am in balance mentally and physically, to understanding which force (wind, bile, or phlegm) I gravitate towards the most. It was truly a fascinating exhibition to explore and come into. Some of my favorite objects in the show are the hand-made amulets we always make sure to show our students, the Medicine Buddha palace, and the Medicine tree. I’ve also grown very fond of the outstanding and very unique medicine protectors that I always try to show students on my tours.

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RMA: What’s the most interesting or unusual thing you’ve experienced working at the Rubin Museum?

GG: There have been several unforgettable and interesting events here at the Rubin that I’ve been able to participate in and assist with since I’ve started. From the recent and very successful Block Party, to the Dream-Over in May, these events and experiences have been unique, fascinating and truly memorable. I have never participated in an event quite like the Dream-Over. It was truly a new experience to see so many people come into the museum with their pillows, blankets, and sleeping bags and settle comfortably under the artwork while also having rich conversations about dreams. It is an experience I would definitely take part in again. I read a poem I wrote about the Teaching Buddha and a short story I wrote about the Future Buddha and giving my stories to my guests to keep at the end was one of the best gifts I’ve given in a long time. It was an unforgettable experience as a whole, from sleeping under the Lukhang Murals on the third floor to walking through the galleries as the lights were dimmed and the floors were silent, even with all of our sleeping guests. I encourage everyone who can to participate in the Dream-Over.

RMA: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to follow the same career path?

GG: For a prospective museum educator, I would advise as soon as possible becoming as connected to the network of great museum educators and teaching artists in the city. It’s really important to join the networking organizations in the field and attend as many museum events as possible. The first organization I learned about and immediately joined at the start of Bank Street was NYCMER (NYC Museum Educators Roundtable) and since then, I’ve met many talented and wonderful museum educators who I’ve really gotten to know through monthly programs and educator events. One can become more and more involved, and since joining, I’ve worked on the NYCMER conference committee!

RMA: What do you do when you’re not at the Rubin Museum?

GG: When I’m not at the Rubin, I try to stay really active in the museum community and keep myself busy with NYCMER and another arts organization, ELNYA (Emerging Leaders of the New York Arts) where I serve as a fellow and help plan and create events / programs for emerging arts professionals. I also like to give back to Bank Street as much as I can and when I’m available, volunteer as a Museum Education Ambassador for prospective students. When I’m not busy with museum activities, I like to exercise (ride bikes, jog, walk through the city) and explore new restaurants, cafes, and street festivals. This summer, it’s been nice taking some weekend trips and exploring the art and museums in nearby towns like Beacon and Greenport, NY and hopefully before the end of the summer, Cold Spring.

RMA: If you could travel anywhere in the Himalayas where would you go and why?

GG: If I could travel anywhere in the Himalayas, I would really like to go to the heart of Nepal, because in my short time here, I’ve already heard so much about the region, seen such amazing photos, and now know it’s a must-visit destination and place I must go in the near future. Now that I’ve used images and photos of Himalayan Asia in workshops and tours, I would especially love to see Mount Everest, the Kathmandu Valley, and all of these breathtaking mountain top views in person!

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Finding Math at the Rubin Museum of Art

The Rubin Museum’s Education Department continues to expand its horizons and explore new and surprising lenses through which to look at the art in the museum’s collection. Most recently, the School Programs staff invited educators and administrators from the National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath) to have a tour of the galleries in order to begin brainstorming ways that Himalayan art and Math intersect.


The “Mathenaeum” is the playful tittle of an interactive section of the exhibit space that provides visitors with some digital technology with which to experiment.

The Rubin has a history of incorporating mathematics into their K-12 programming, especially when it comes to in-school residencies called Thinking Through Art (TTA). The Education Department has led TTAs based on such mathematical concepts as the Golden Ratio, symmetry in Mandalas, and using prayer beads, or malas, to illustrate division problems. On their tour, the staff of MoMath looked at both mandalas and paintings of deities to find she symmetry, proportions, and intricate grid work that goes into the creation of these paintings. They also had the opportunity to discover their own mathematical connections in the galleries. One of the staff favorites for MoMath was the the Eleven-Headed, One Thousand Armed Avalokiteshvara. Not because of the beautiful painting or the inspirational story (although these were well appreciated) but because of the line drawing that accompanied the painting in the Gateway to Himalayan Art exhibition. Glen Whitney, MoMath’s Co-executive Director, noted that the drawing wasn’t laid out according to a Cartesian grid (all points are plotted out according to X and Y axes), like others we had seen, but was instead designed using a polar coordinate system (all points are plotted out relative to a central point). It was fascinating to view the Rubin’s collection from a very different perspective.

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Later, the Rubin Museum’s Education staff took the quick walk to MoMath, situated at the northern end of Madison Square Park. The exhibition spaces at MoMath are wildly different than what one might see at the Rubin. First of all, nearly all of the exhibits are interactive, or at least things that visitors can touch. Some of them are so interactive that visitors can climb in and ride around on the objects in the collection. One of the highlights of the experience was a bicycle with square wheels that was set up on a special track so that it could be ridden (almost) smoothly in a circle. Chief of Education Ben Levitt explained how the angles of the wheels dictate the bumpiness of the track, and how normal, circular wheels have no angles and therefore perform best on a smooth surface. (This is, of course, a greatly pared down version of his explanation.) The Rubin’s Docent Coordinator, Laura Sloan commented, “After seeing so many touchable things at MoMath it would be nice to incorporate more touchable things at the Rubin.”

Larissa Raphael, Head of Youth and Family Programs, takes the square-wheeled bike for a test ride.

Larissa Raphael, Head of Youth and Family Programs at the Rubin, takes the square-wheeled bike for a test ride.

MoMath does have a gallery that focuses specifically on art and how it relates to math. This gallery was of particular interest to the Rubin staff because here was where they could find the greatest parallels in educational practice between the Rubin and at MoMath. Some of the artwork emphasized symmetry, knot theory, and even some more scientific topics such as how the lens of the eye views the world. Tim Nissen, the Chief of Design at MoMath, was always quick to point the similarities between the art in their galleries and the mandalas in ours.

Part-time guide, Jeremy McMahan studies a knotted sculpture made of pipe cleaners.

“It was interesting to see the parallels between the Rubin and MoMath, especially considering that our subjects couldn’t be more different from each other. Despite this though, we both attempt to teach a relatively esoteric topic and try to make it relatable to our visitors.” -Jeremy McMahan, Rubin Part-time Guide

Both museum staffs learned a great deal from this experience. Discussions were held about pedagogy, addressing challenges, and accessibility. Bill Appleton, the Rubin’s Director of Education and Engagement said, “I was particularly struck by how we share some of the same challenges. MoMath and the Rubin both seek to make complex content meaningful and fun in an informal learning situation.” The two museums hope to continue working together in the future and are discussing potential educational partnership opportunities for K-12 and teen audiences. A special thanks to MoMath’s Co-Executive Director, Cindy Lawrence, for helping to make these discussions happen.

Stay tuned for next month’s Educator Meetup when the Rubin Education staff visits the Merchant’s House Museum to talk about how the context of objects plays a major role in the way that they are interpreted by museum staff.

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Are you feeling Peaceful or Wrathful?

Campers from Berkeley Carroll Summer Camp represented their personal protectors – both peaceful and wrathful – inspired by images from The Rubin Museum. Here are some of their great drawings!

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Tara, Mother of all Activities; Tibet; 13th Century; Brass with silver inlays

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Begtse; Mongolia; late 18th Century; gilt copper with pigment



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Guest Artist Preeti Vasudevan visits Family Art Labs!

July’s Family Art Lab was all about Himalayan Sounds.  In honor of our sound exploration, we invited special guest artist, Preeti Vasudevan to lead our family tour.  She arrived with many interesting ideas and instruments of her own that enhanced our tour experience – teaching us stories about Shiva and his damaru, Ganesh and his dance moves, and guiding us through a listening experience in the Tibetan Shrine Room.

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We hope to have Preeti join us again very soon for another engaging family gallery experience.  We’ll be taking a break from Family Art Labs in August, but our ever popular Parade with Ganesh Family Art Lab will be taking place Saturday, September 13th.  If you’re hankering for August family activities, please join us at our weekly drop-in art-making program, Family Sundays – every Sunday from 1-4pm!

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