Saturday, June 21, 2014

Why I love the UK Part II

It is always interesting to step into another culture (not all of them however), to see if you can adjust, learn something, and be able to look back with good memories.

The biggest challenge for me was to teach in a system in which I did not grow up.  Sometime I will go into the teaching experience itself, but first. . .

Winchester College--I always wanted to see what the public schools were like in England, Eaton, Harrow and Winchester are the top three, and as the headmaster said while he showed me around, "Mrs., R., when one goes to Winchester College, his future is assured."  

One sunny Saturday morning, I walked to Winchester College, where I had been given an invitation to "observe," thanks to my professors at King Alfred's college where I had been staying as a student teacher. 

Winchester College was created by William of Wykehan, Bishop of Winchester in 1323.  "Amazing" I thought, as I stepped through the gate and was greeted by the headmaster. What follows is from my handwritten journal entry of that day as I was taken to the classroom, introduced to the teacher, while taking in the historic atmosphere all around.  

Saturday, 7th of November.

The class, a British history class, taught by a Mr. Peter Roberts, was a delight.  Fifteen eager, intelligent, 13-year-old boys, (two were scholars and wore their black robes, the others wore jackets and ties) studying history in a creative and independent way using primary sources to write short research papers and write speeches.  The speeches were the best part for me, as I was able to watch these future M.P's (?) give their presentations: "You are a native tribal chieftain in Britain during the Roman occupation--argue against the occupation."  Argue they did with logic and much passion.  Fellow "chieftains" questioned the speaker after each speech.

Mr. Roberts asked two of the boys to show me their notebooks which they did as they courteously explained their work.

Additional note:  Roberts is also this class's religion teacher.  An assignment that left the class thinking about if they should have any spare time was: " How do you find Joseph a human character?"

Yes, I understand that what I saw was an elitist system, boys only, at that time.  And very expensive for the parents, except for the scholarship boys who had their education paid for by the college.  And add the class system in the UK. But I am appalled by our congressmen sometimes at their inability to argue coherently, to speak with clarity, to be persuasive without name-calling.  Not just our congressmen, by the way.  And of course this post could lead into our educational system here in this country, politics, political correctness, etc.  But I wanted to share this memory I had of a special time in my life.  If you connect to the website, you can read the College's history and especially the religious foundation it had and why.

And again, thank you to my husband who made my experience in the United Kingdom possible.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Why I love the U.K, Part I

Where do I start?  First, it has been awhile since I was last in the United Kingdom, but when I do think about my visits there, fond and happy memories come rushing back.  I was living in Winchester at King Alfred's college as part of a student/teacher exchange program.

Here is a partial list of the characteristics that I admired.

*  The British sense of humor is that perfect blend of intelligence and      understated wit.  

*  And when I was there, that bit of reserve that I liked.  I learned very quickly not to be so effusive, to hold back a bit, to be more formal when I first met people.

*  Yes, I liked the pomp and ceremony.  When I lived in Winchester, Princess Diana came to visit.  The whole town came out to greet her in the center of the city, where the regiment of which she was the sponsor, was lined up. She seemed shy, looked tall even with her flat shoes.  But everyone was so excited and happy to see her.

* Not bragging about oneself is another trait I admired, so different from the United States.  And the biggest complement that a student could receive was that "he was quite clever."  Here we believe in over-complementing students, thinking that they will come up to what we tell them, while in the UK it is the opposite.   

* And yet the teachers that I worked with were very supportive of the students, but quietly, in the background. Every morning there was a short staff meeting and often a student would be mentioned who was "quite fragile," and to be aware of some problem, perhaps the parents were getting a divorce, etc. 

* But in the classroom, it was all business and quite strict.

* The Brits are friendly, but in a reserved way.  My fellow students and I from the US, enjoyed the pubs, the cozy warm atmosphere, and once someone heard our accents, the questions that followed.

* The history which surprised me at every turn.  My room at the college overlooked parts of an old Roman wall which was on one side of an old cemetery.

* And now those wonderful British television productions:  "Inspector Morse," "Foyle's War,"  "Downton Abbey," and more, all done with excellent actors and production staffs.  The contemporary mystery series is terrific as well, which we see here on Public Television.  And my new favorite:  "Doc Martin."

There is more, of course, and because of my effusive American personality, I have more to say, so there will be a part II.  (History, Literature, and Architecture to follow).

One more thing:  Hurray  for the British Pound Sterling and the British resolve not to adopt the Euro.

View from  the road  down from King Alfred's College.  Part of old Roman  wall at edge of cemetery.  St. Catherine's Hill in background., an old Iron Age hill fort.,_Hampshire

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt, Part II

This is a continuation of the previous post I wrote on the collaboration of Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas.  Written in response to the Washington D.C. USA, National Gallery of Art's current display of Cassatt's and Degas's paintings and letters which highlight their friendship and collaboration.

"Little Girl in a Blue Armchair"  is an example of that collaboration.  In a letter, written in 1903, Cassatt described how Degas suggested changes to the painting and even worked on the background.  The National Gallery of Art, which owns the painting and while creating the theme around the exhibition, x ray ed the work and did find that Degas did add more depth to the painting by adding light to the upper part of the work and adding a corner which leads the eye through the room.

If you can possibly connect to the National Gallery of Art with these feeble attempts of mine to be "techy," please do.  Use the Degas/Mary Cassatt link in their web site.  The colors are breathtaking and you will see paintings and drawings you have not seen before.  

In this age of instant tragic and horrific news, it helps to take a break and view the creative genius of two artists, one an American woman from Pennsylvania and a French artist, Edgar Degas.  Connect to the website, take a breath, drink a great cup of coffee or tea, or even better a glass of wine and enjoy.    

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt a Collaborative Friendship, Part I

If you are fortunate enough to be in Washington, DC, the National Gallery of Art has an interesting exhibit for all you admirers of Degas and Cassatt.  Behind-the-scenes-stories are always fascinating and this exhibit which runs through October 9, describes the working relationship between Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas.

And from the article in the Wall Street Journal , (06/03/14), "Leisure & Arts," page D-5,  "It subtly re-calibrates  our understanding our nuanced dialogue carried on in the work of two artists who operated not as mentor and protegee," but as collaborative artists who respected and admired each other's work.

Degas invited Cassatt to show her painting, "Little Girl in a Blue Armchair" (1878) at the Impressionist show of 1879--but he suggested changes and not only did he suggest changes, he even worked on the background.  How do they know this?  Recent x-rays show this, his brush strokes in the background and her alternations of some of his brush strokes.  Can you imagine someone altering your painting--there has to be trust between you, but she painted over his brush strokes.

The exhibit of 70 works on paper and canvas shows how they experimented with unusual angles and worked with many mediums: gouache, pastels, distemper (an oil based paint).  

The two of them experimented with combining mediums, unorthodox postions of their subjects and always, Degas promoted Cassatt as a talented artist, unusual in those days, the 19th century, where women did not play a starring role in business or in art.  He even said, "No woman had a right to paint like that."  

Degas was a "flaneur" a man at leisure to roam.  In those days if a man had season tickets to the ballet, the opera, he could visit these places, at leisure, even going backstage and visiting the dressing rooms.  This is what gave Degas and others a glimpse into another world that was not open to "proper women."  Mary Cassatt's subjects were on the "other side," the audience at the opera or ballet or the many paintings she did of children and families.

There is so much more to write, this will be a two part post.  Meanwhile, a lovely painting of Mary Cassatt in 1884 by Degas.  He was 50 years old, she was 40.
Mary Cassatt.Oil on Canvas.  Edgar Degas.  Dover Publications