Week 6: From Meditating to Making

Though summer vacation loomed and our forays into the Godwin-Ternbach collection had come to an end for the year, we weren’t quite done. Inspired by our trip to the print shop in week four, the Ekphrastics came together one last time around some blank canvas (totes) and a bucket of ink to screen-print our own posters and paraphernalia.

As we learned over the semester, images speak volumes. So we’ll let them have the last word:

See you next year!




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Week 5: Full Circle

Week five was something of an Ekphrastics reprise: we returned to old themes in new ways. The tactility of our first meeting made its return in our examination of the ancient Iranian pottery shown here…

…and the textile work of the (Re)Woven exhibition took on new depth and meaning when appreciated alongside the ancient, and miraculously well-preserved, Coptic textiles that Elizabeth is describing here:

Remarkably, some of these textiles still bear the centuries-old traces of their daily and ceremonial functions, like funeral shrouds that retain the discoloration where they were in contact with bodies laid to rest.

Others simply left us wide-eyed with their 8-bit figural style.

We then got our hands on the Iranian pottery, which, even more delicate than the Greek pottery from week one, required that we “glove up.”

This was in part because the stunning iridescence on display in some of these pieces is actually a sign of chemical decay in the glass used in their production. Note, in the image below, how it radically transforms the surface of the vessel (see the bottle behind it for contrast):

All in all, the G-T has dozens of remarkable Iranian pieces, with designs that range from striking abstraction to playfulness, like the fish “swimming” along the bottom of a water bowl.

Indeed, the exhibits range from quaint to deadly, as Ekphrastic Clarisse Tam shows us below:

All in all, week five made a fitting end. And thus our final week’s writing prompt:

Week Five Writing Prompt: Full Circle – Return to one of the works you wrote, or museum pieces you wrote and/or sketched, and respond to it again. This time, though, think about introducing a new element from our other meetings at the Godwin-Ternbach. Juxtapose the old with a new insight, or respond to a new artwork using techniques or prompts from past weeks. Finally, set the old response alongside the new. How do they “talk” to each other? And where might you take your writing or sketching next to continue the pattern?






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Week 4: All the Art That’s Fit to Print

Looming AP exams reduced Ekphrastics ranks to a skeleton crew on our fourth visit to the Godwin-Ternbach. Those hardy and intrepid few, however, were rewarded with a visit to the Queens College print shop, where college students and faculty use a range of techniques–from etching to silkscreen to lino- and woodcuts–to produce prints.

Here is Elizabeth describing how a QC student prepared an etching for future printing:

…and here is Brita explaining the intricacies of the print shop’s impressive standing presses, which allow the artist to calibrate the roller pressure in order to control the amount of ink transfered and thus the visual “weight” of the print:

After our printshop tour, we returned to the G-T, where we got to look at some of the highlights of their prints collection: everything from Japanese woodblock and Goya etchings to one of Warhol’s famous Campbell’s screen prints.

Armed with an appreciation of the techniques required to produce different forms of prints, we took our time admiring the craft and care put into each…

…before turning to our own writing and sketching.

Week Four Writing Prompt: Strong Line / Fine Line – Lithographers, screen-printers, and other printmakers work with materials and processes that demand expressive lines. They cross-hatch because they can’t shade; they employ blocks of color–or even no color at all–where painters can blend and photographers can use soft focus.

Visual Artists: try drawing the same image, but use two different approaches to lines. What is the difference between strong lines and fine ones? Alternatively, play with fine lines and strong lines within the same piece.

Writers: write the same poem or scene twice, once with “strong lines” and once with “fine lines”–as in poetic lines, or the prose equivalent: “strong” and “fine” sentences. How does a long, meandering line affect the reader differently than a short, spare one? Alternately, write a piece that plays with the tension between them.







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Showcase: Noel Du

Click through to see Noel Du’s drawings, composed in response to Godwin-Ternbach artworks.

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Week 3: Into the Collection: the Secret Life of Art

Our third visit to the Godwin-Ternbach sent us deep underground.

Well, OK, maybe it was just down a floor. Still, it was quite a rare privilege to catch a glimpse of the museum’s permanent collection–the vault where its pieces are kept safe when not displayed or on loan.

First, Elizabeth showed us some of the collection’s greatest hits: glassware old and older, a (literally) disembodied bust, ceremonial mask and a decorative vessel–even a salvaged portion of an Egyptian sargophagus:

Then we were shown the racks where the framed artworks hang. Here, pieces from all periods, cultures, and styles are stored, side by side . . .

. . . and elbow to elbow.

On the museum wall, art can feel forbidding and distant. Seeing it up close and out of context invites a more playful imaginative engagement with the work. So in our written and sketched responses for week three, we followed that curious impulse wherever it led.

Week Three Creative Prompt: Describe the work of art in word or image, paying special attention to its environment. How do the fluorescent lights and crowded storage racks of the collection room make for a different experience for you, the viewer? What difference does a frame make?

Alternately: Imagine, Night at the Museum-style, the “secret life of art.” What is art when no-one’s looking? What shenanigans do the sculptures get up to when the curator’s back is turned? What personalities emerge when the paintings relax their public face?

Photo Credits for this post: Jasmine Mahabir and Rafal Olechowski


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Showcase: “Intertwine” by Tarannum Ahmed

Click through to read “Intertwine” by Tarannum Ahmed.

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Showcase: Two Poems by Jeffrey Huang

Click through to see a pair of poems by Jeffrey Huang.

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Week 2: (Re)woven Opens its Doors

On our second trip to Queens, we were honored with an early look at the Godwin-Ternbach’s new exhibit, (Re)woven, before it opened later that same day. (Re)woven, which has partner exhibitions at El Museu de Los Sures and the Queensborough Community College Art Gallery, “ingeniously redefines the practice of fiber art.”

As she took us around the art works, Brita explained the significance of the show’s title and how it unified the show’s pieces.

The Ekphrastics gather around Pan Ping-Yu’s 2015 textile work “The Key Ingredients”

Drawing on the history and techniques of textile production in Taiwan, these young artists are “re-weaving” those techniques with new materials and contemporary, often political content to breathe new life into an old tradition.

The show is eclectic in the best way, at times whimsical…

Detail, “Embroidery Event” (Wu Yun-Feng, 2013)

…at others, intense…

Detail, “You Are My Tender Weapon” (Hsu Wei-Hui, 2011)

…and sometimes downright weird:

Detail, “Fever Little Pumpkins” (Huang Mei-Hui, 2016)

So we got to writing, and got to sketching…

…and we finished with pizza and an impromptu artist Q&A with textile artist Hsu Wei-Hui, whose work offers a trenchant critique of contemporary life.

Artist Hsu Wei-Hui, creator of “You are my Tender Weapon” and “Flower of Life,” answers our questions


Week Two Creative Prompt: Imagine the story behind the art, the human labor that went into its creation; or invent a story or scene within the work of art, taking place in the landscape it depicts or the world it evokes.

Alternately: Write about the textures of your piece. Use your eyes to “feel” what your hands aren’t allowed to touch. Pay special attention to textures that seem opposite. Hard/soft; dull/bright; organic/metallic–what do these tensions make you think and feel?


Book Nerd Bonus: Spotted–this hirsute book-beast lurking in a quiet nook in the Godwin-Ternbach’s upstairs gallery:

Hoary-Headed Book (Yang Wei-Lin, 2005)

Photo Credits for this post: Jasmine Mahabir and Rafal Olechowski

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Showcase: Jasmine Mahabir and Teresa Ng

Click through to see a pair of poems by Jasmine Mahabir and Teresa Ng.

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Week 1: Odes on Urns, or, Making the Past Speak

To kick off our collaboration with the Godwin-Ternbach museum at Queens College, we (literally) got our hands on some ancient Greek and Mesopotamian artifacts.


(Photo credit: Rafal Olechowski)

Museum curators Brita and Elizabeth demonstrated proper art-handling etiquette.

Two hands! (Photo Credit: Jasmine Mahabir)

Meanwhile, Mr. O asked us to consider the simple but marvellous fact of their existence. Weighing next to nothing and created out of delicate materials like clay, these fragile vessels have defied the odds to survive intact for thousands of years.

(Photo Credit: Rafal Olechowski)

What secrets might these vessels still hold? We talked about Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn, perhaps the most famous work of  ekphrasis, or literature written in response to art.

In his poem, Keats gives voice to the urn’s stubborn silence by addressing it directly. “Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,” he entreats, “What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape?” Though the urn cannot answer, the poetic act of asking the question lets Keats discover his own kind of truth.

Taking a page from Keats’ book, we took some time to write odes of our own, slinging questions, admonitions, and praise at our favorite pieces:

(Photo Credit: Rafal Olechowski)

Week One Creative Prompt: Address the work of art like Keats does–directly. Interrogate; exhort; argue. Use these rhetorical techniques to try to get at the mysterious quality drew you to this work in the first place.

Book nerd bonus: we also got to get an up-close look at some of the of book art in the museum’s collection: a pop-up book by Andy Warhol and this woodblock-printed “accordion book” that folds up into a matchbox:

(Photo Credit: Rafal Olechowski)

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