This July, I was honored to teach a workshop at the American Folk Art Museum. The museum has been hosting a wonderful exhibition entitled, "Folk Art and American Modernism" (open through September 27) and invited me to teach a hands-on workshop on the methods of producing chalkware figurines.
"Chalkware is a mainly American term for popular figurines either made of molded plaster of Paris (usually) or sculpted gypsum, and painted, typically with oils or watercolors." Dating back to the late 18th century, American chalkware has a history as long as the country itself! Whereas the figurines were, through the beginning of the 20th century, valued as serious decorative art, they became more of a disposable commodity as the century progressed, when they were given out as prizes for winning carnival games. (wikipedia.org/wiki/chalkware)
While meeting with Suzanne de Vegh, the museum's Director of Public Programs and Audience Engagement, we realized it would be very difficult to find original molds or figurines to decorate at the workshop. So, I began searching for some old figurines I could use to make silicone molds and then reproduce. After a few unsuccessful trips to some antique stores around NYC, I finally found two perfect little figurines, and quickly got down to work making the molds!
The workshop began with a short lecture by Suzanne on the historical path of chalkware in America. Afterward, I explained and demonstrated the process of making and decorating the figurines. Then each student was given time to paint their own figurines. I was impressed by the quality and wide variety of styles the students presented!
This workshop was such a special experience for me. Everybody at the American Folk Art Museum was very kind, and the students were so enthusiastic and fun. I highly recommend visiting the museum's beautiful space on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, and please check out their website, folkartmuseum.org, for current exhibitions (and look out for future workshops)!