Archive for November, 2011

Signora Fabbrini, grapes and bones

Posted 12 Nov 2011 — by Jennifer
Category Uncategorized

I vividly remember arriving at Signora Fabbrini’s house in Firenze, on my first day of my junior year abroad program. She was an elegant and elderly woman who spoke only Italian. I sat down at the dining room table with her for lunch, and was gently asked not to pull the grapes off and leave the stem behind–this reminded Signora Fabbrini of bones. Twenty years later, I can’t look at grape stems in a bowl without feeling visually assaulted.

There are a lot of things like this that bother me–yesterday I was admiring my fruit bowl with pomegranates, lemons, avocados…and there was a label on the pomegranate. It totally disrupted the harmony of the arrangement. I pulled it off.

Our kitchen is original to the previous owner, done in my least favorite color, almond. With other repairs taking precedence, I painted the walls white. Nothing to do about the floor and the countertops, but my husband and I had a very fun night duct-taping the appliances. I’d rather look at this:

than an almond refrigerator.

I don’t like to look at things that aren’t attractive. At the same time, I find rusted metal, old buildings with layers of peeling paint, the oil refinery on the way home to my parents’ house in NJ
(image from


and even this squashed frog on Beach Drive
really, really beautiful.

So I am wondering, what makes something visually appealing to a person? Is it the formal characteristics-color, composition, line? Or something else? Why do the grape stems bother me and Signora Fabbrini? How can I tolerate the mess from my children and not cope with an almond fridge?




“He who seeks beauty will find it.” -Bill Cunningham

Posted 11 Nov 2011 — by Jennifer
Category observation

I just finished watching Bill Cunningham New York.

I have been reading his column,On the Streets,  in the NY Times Sunday Style section for as long as I can remember, and I see a strong connection between the work he does and the role of documentation from the point of view of an educator inspired by the Reggio Approach. Every Sunday, Cunningham documents a trend that he notices on the streets of NYC–houndstooth, man-skirts, bold-striped shirts. What I love about his work is that he goes out searching for something unseen, something new, but what that something is, is not known. In his words:

“You see, I don’t decide anything, I let the streets speak to me. In order for the streets to speak to me you’ve got to stay out there and see what it is, you just don’t manufacture in your head that skirts at the knee are the thing, and you go out and photograph people’s skirts at the knee. You’ve got to stay on the street and let the street tell you what it is.” -from Bill Cunningham New York

I think this is exactly the same process we encounter when we are documenting an experience with children. You go into it knowing that you are looking for something, a special moment, or an episode or gesture that shows the intelligence of a child, a strategy, or an expression of a relationship, but you never know until you are deeply involved in the experience itself what will emerge, what will be revealed. Without taking time to become immersed, to look, or more importantly to listen, or as Cunningham says, “to stay on the street,” the experience will not speak, and it will easily become a recitation, a regurgitation of what happened.

At the same time, it is important to have a point of view. In Cunningham’s case I think novelty, originality, non-conformity, beauty, style, bravery are lenses through which he captures his images.  “It isn’t really what I think, it’s what I see…suddenly I see something, then I see it again, and I think…ahhh, there’s an idea. And other times I’l see it and I’ll think “wow-that’s an idea” and then I’ll look for it, but I’ll be doing ten other ideas at once.” So entering into this process in the classroom, it is not that as educators we come unbiased, or without a perspective, but it is important to create a balance between having a point of view and being open to seeing.



Simple Colors

Posted 10 Nov 2011 — by Jennifer
Category Uncategorized

View from my window, Rock Creek Park, Washington DC:

Fall is almost over and I cannot get enough of the beauty of the landscape. The colors! The light! It is so incredible I have stopped my car in places and stood still during runs through the woods.

Last week I did a workshop for a conference, and in one of the groups, participants were invited to observe the colors of fall. I was not the facilitator for that group, but I wanted to hear what they had noticed about the colors. A participant responded: “We didn’t talk much about the colors, they were so simple.”

I can’t stop thinking about this comment. At first I felt angry-how could someone not see the complexity, the nuance, the richness of the colors?

Just to make a point, I collected leaves around my home, from a tulip poplar tree:

And an oak tree:

In each collection of “yellow” or “brown” leaves, I saw a multitude of colors. In just one leaf there were various hues. My anger changed to sadness, because it is this kind of generalization, this kind of quick pass-over, that makes up a lot of education today. What are the colors of fall? Red, green, yellow, orange, brown. Really? Is that the best we can do? Instead of complexity and multiplicity, we are encouraging simplicity.

Is it lack of time? Curiosity? Interest? Knowledge? Why does one person see hundreds of colors, while others see only red? This generalization of information seems to connect to a bigger issue of minimizing differences among children, of homogenization, of the dumbing-down of education. I quote Vea Vecchi, from her book “Art and Creativity in Reggio Emilia,” p. 31.

“All of us are born equipped with an extremely refined sensibility for perceiving colour; but as with other perceptive abilities it is the brain that must practice decoding. To achieve this task it is important for it to encounter adequate contexts, otherwise we lose opportunities for seeing and tasting the things around us. We are not helped in this task by a hurried, superficial culture that tends to diminish a sense of wonder, our interests and emotions, and brands learning with a stamp from which aesthetics has been eliminated; the aesthetics of actions, of intelligent perceptions and of time and rythym; aesthetics that develop toether with reasoning and emotion.”