Feature stories

Putting imagination on the map

Museum workshop gives kids a creative way to view their world

Rita Marx, a docent at the Rubin Museum of Art in Manhattan, explains an exhibitMiller PhotographyRita Marx, a docent at the Rubin Museum of Art in Manhattan, explains an exhibit to 1st-graders from PS 33 in Chelsea.

Two students try to satisfy their curiosity about a piece of art.Miller PhotographyTwo students try to satisfy their curiosity about a piece of art. To find the buried treasure, take the path from Camp I through the shortcut under the water — but be sure to avoid the zombies and the place where you trip on seashells.

Those were the instructions on the map that Raymond, a 1st-grader at PS 33 in Chelsea, designed during a class field trip to the Rubin Museum of Art in June.

The 1st-graders had learned about maps in a social studies unit earlier in the year. Now, they had come to the Rubin for a workshop on “mystical maps,” a way to combine mapmaking basics with art and collage.

“It’s one thing to learn about things inside through resources like books, and another thing to be able to see what it looks like in the real world and to see how other people apply it and use it,” said 1st-grade teacher Mayabi Islam.

Look what I made! A 1st-grader shows off her map.Miller PhotographyLook what I made! A 1st-grader shows off her map. The Rubin, which is less than a mile from the school, is a favorite field-trip destination for the PS 33 teacher.

“I like to keep things as local as possible,” she said. The Rubin’s close proximity also has allowed teachers and students at PS 33 to develop a relationship with the museum.

Museum educator Asya Gribov started the workshop by displaying different kinds of maps — such as a subway map and a map of a college campus — for students to examine and discuss. She asked the students to think about who would use each type of map and how it could be interpreted.

“Why do maps have keys?” she asked.

“So you know what different things on the map mean,” a student answered.

Because the Rubin focuses on artwork from the Himalayas, she concluded with a map of the Himalayan region, leading into a conversation about how mountains were represented on the map by certain shapes and symbols.

“Even though the museum is focused on the Himalayas,” we can use that to make a connection to so many things, said Gribov, like building “vocabulary for talking about different regions.”

Then it was time for students to construct their own maps using cardboard and assorted collage materials. The places shown on their maps could be real or imaginary, but Gribov encouraged the students to think about three questions: “What kind of directions is your map giving? Is there a key? Who’s using your map?”

As the students busily got to work, there were gleeful shouts around the room about the imaginary places and things they were representing on their maps: “Secret creature world! A hamburger map! A map of all the animals living in a strange land!”

One student cut out triangle shapes to represent Mount Everest and the other Himalayan mountains. Another painstakingly drew arrows through a zigzag shape labeled with the letter Z — for a “dangerous” area, according to the map key. And three girls used orange ribbons to connect their cardboard pieces into one supersize map, which they festooned with snowflakes and a picture of a winter wonderland.

Islam and Gribov circulated throughout the room, reminding students to include details that would help users travel around using the maps. Yanling labeled a bear trap in green. Rose marked the “safe path” with a star.

When they were finished making their maps and sharing them with each other, it was off to the Rubin galleries for a tour.

The students were fascinated by the museum’s statue of Ganesh, the Hindu deity, and by the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room, a dim space filled with candles and other ritual objects. When one student asked why the room felt “creepy,” docent Rita Marx gently explained the function of sacred spaces and experiences.

“We want to make sure they view museums as a place they go for learning and that they make a habit of going to museums and looking, thinking deeply and questioning,” said Gribov.

The Rubin offers guided tours and hourlong workshops for grades K–12 on a variety of themes, including Journey Scroll Paintings (in which students learn about the structure of narrative works of art) and Artifact Investigation (a hands-on exploration of the religious, artistic and cultural meaning of artwork), as well as professional development workshops for educators. For more information, visit the Rubin Museum website.

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