Mo Willems Seriously Silly Exhibit at the High Museum of Art: Let the Planning Begin

Now through January 10, 2016 you can see an incredible exhibit of artwork by Mo Willems at the High Museum in Atlanta, GA.  As soon as I saw that the exhibit was coming last spring, I shared it with our art teacher, Rita Foretich.  We immediately began talking about a collaborative project and field trip.  She applied for a grant and both of us began thinking about which grade we might target and which standards we could weave in.

On July 11, the High offered an educators day which allowed educators and one guest to get into the museum for free.  This was a perfect time for me to see the exhibit without 100 elementary students and also to start thinking more about our project.  Thank goodness my wife went along so that I could take a moment to see the exhibit without chasing a 3 and 5 year old around.

As soon as we arrived in the parking deck at the High, we began seeing the Pigeon.  He was even in the elevator to the ground level.

And on the revolving doors at the entrance.

Before you even get to the main exhibit, there are some teasers along the way and some great photo opportunities.

You really have to keep your eyes open because there are characters and illustrations hiding everywhere.  Even this aspect could be woven into a field trip.  The museum provides its own scavenger hunt, but I think it would be fun for kids to write down all of the characters that they find along the way or count the number of pigeons they find and write down the locations that they found them in.  Of course, to recognize all of the characters, the kids would need to read all of Mo’s stand alone books and at least one of each of the series books.

The actual exhibit is grouped by series as well as stand alone books.

I loved the wall of ice ream where the Elephant and Piggie illustrations are found.  There’s even a pigeon hiding on this wall just like the end papers of the books.

One of the things that I immediately noticed was the pairs of illustrations that showed a sketch by Mo Willems followed by the final drawing before color was added.  This would be a great process to replicate with students in our project by having them create first, second, ….drafts of their art before drawing the final art.

I also noticed the illustrations from Knuffle Bunny.  The drawings were done without the digital photographs.  I could see this being incorporated into a project on mixed media and layering drawing and digital photographs together.  Having this image to show students can give them an idea of how to imagine the digital photograph in their illustration before adding it.

Of course, the thing that I love most about Mo Willems is how simple his artwork is without being oversimplified.  In Elephant and Piggie, for example, there is very little on the page other than speech bubbles and the characters.  However, each line drawn around the characters, each raised eyebrow, upward looking eye, outstretched arm, etc gives life to the character and reveals the thoughts, emotions, and actions of the characters.  To me, there is great potential in a project around this aspect of Mo Willems.  I could see us studying his artwork very carefully for all of the subtle details that allow us to know a character’s emotions and actions and implement those same ideas into our own characters, stories, or new versions of Mo’s stories.  The exhibit is filled with numerous illustrations to show these details up close.

The exhibit continues in the Greene Family Learning Gallery where you can learn the steps to draw the Pigeon as well as practice drawing him with different emotions.  I snapped a picture of the directions because I plan to incorporate this into either a center in the library or a lesson in our project.

In the learning gallery as well as the exhibit, you can pick up a scavenger hunt to do while you are in the exhibit, but this scavenger hunt could also be used as a way to look closely at the whole body of Mo’s work.

I loved that the gallery included a bus driven by the Pigeon so that you could take a fun picture like this one.

As soon as we get back to school, I’m going to debrief my experience with the art teacher.  We’ll start looking at our own standards as well as the standards of other grade levels and narrow down to which grades, what project, and which standards we will weave together.

Collaborating brings together the expertise of everyone involved.  I love that I can bring my knowledge and observations as a reader and pair it with the art teacher’s expertise in art terminology and technique.  When we put that together with the interests of the kids and the expertise of the grade level teachers, we have a crowdsourced project that is fun, enriching, authentic, supported, and driven.  I can’t wait to see where this project goes this year.

Think about who you could collaborate within your school.  If you’ve never done a project with the art teacher, I recommend it.  I love that a project can flow from the library to the art room to the classroom and back.  Even if you don’t have a big museum exhibit like this near your school, there are endless possibilities when educators work together with students.

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