Diane Pieri shows her own work at Rosenfeld Gallery (see video of her most recent show at the gallery). You can also see her murals on some exterior walls around town. But for the last nine years Pieri’s also been a museum director. In 2005, she founded the Cooke Museum of Art in the Jay Cooke Elementary School in the city’s Logan section. Needless to say it’s the only museum in a Philadelphia public school.
The Cooke Museum is open very restricted hours — one portion of one day of the school year, usually in June. I stopped by during open museum hours on June 18, and picked up my free museum membership card; got a tour of the art led by the docents; relaxed in the refreshments room tended by the museum’s caterers. It was clear to see all the students enjoying themselves and proud to see the fruit of their art classes pay off in this real world experience.
This year, the Cooke Museum exhibited the work of 44 fifth graders in two classes at Cooke Elementary. Pieri, who is not on staff at the school but is an independent contractor funded by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership, established the year’s theme for the museum – Gardens,
Project #1 – Gardens of Earthly Delights
Taking their cue from the newly-opened Sol LeWitt gardens in Fairmount Park under the Western entrance to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the students in this group worked not with soil and seeds like LeWitt but with colorful papers and made metaphorical gardens that embodied ideas about gardens from color to shape and size.
LeWitt did drawings, and so too, the students drew out their garden plans. And as Lewitt considered color, texture and scale, so too the students needed to create pleasing textures in their works.
The students each wrote a cinquain poem as well. Pieri explained in the Cooke Museum press release:
This garden project incorporated painting, printmaking, collage, color mixing and learning about the formal elements of art. As part of the literacy component, students wrote a cinquain poem about their artwork and creativity.
Here’s a poem, written by Giordani Rodriguez, whose Garden is pictured above:
buzzing, rushing, flying
living and walking
Project #2, Garden Medallions
The other group of students worked to create tooled-metal retablo-like representations of gardens. They too wrote poems, in this case Haikus, to go with their works.
Here’s a poem by Myka Ollison, whose work is pictured above:
I see bright colors
beautiful red, green and pink
rocking’ colors for flowers
Here’s the poem by Tavon Lane:
Look at my beauty
my vision of creation
garden of colors
Pieri explains the mission of the Cooke Museum of Art:
The mission of the Cooke Museum of Art is to build self-esteem and empower Philadelphia public school students through art experiences. To this end, the students whose work is on exhibition take ownership of the opening event. They take off their creativity hats and put on their CMA Docent, Security, Catering and Membership hats to host the opening. The entire school community, extended family and special guests are invited to the museum.
I have loved this project for years and visited it in several of its prior editions. I hope the Cooke Museum, which is supported in part by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership can continue in this new extreme climate of austerity in the public schools. It is a most worthy project and an example of how art can foster learning.