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The Meltdown and the Manifesto—How Tweens Learned from Typewriters at the Guggenheim

Photo: Carolyn Keogh © 2014 Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York

Photo: Carolyn Keogh © 2014 Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York

Tween participants respond enthusiastically to works in the Guggenheim's Italian Futurism, 1909-1944 exhibition. Photo: Carolyn Keogh © 2014 SRGM, New York

Tween participants respond enthusiastically to works in the Guggenheim’s Italian Futurism, 1909-1944 exhibition. Photo: Carolyn Keogh © 2014 SRGM, New York

A young participant works at her typewriter. Photo: Carolyn Keogh © 2014 SRGM, New York © 2014 SRGM, New York

A young participant works at her typewriter. Photo: Carolyn Keogh © 2014 SRGM, New York

A father-son team talks through their project. Photo: TK © 2014 SRGM, New York

A volunteer coaches a young artist on his project. Photo: Carolyn Keogh © 2014 SRGM, New York

Together, a family team works on their project. Photo: Carolyn Keogh © 2014 SRGM, New York

Together, a family team works on their project. Photo: Carolyn Keogh © 2014 SRGM, New York

Portfolios were created to collect the finished projects. Photo: Carolyn Keogh © 2014 SRGM, New York

Portfolios were created to collect the finished projects. Photo: Carolyn Keogh © 2014 SRGM, New York

“But where’s the screen?” This was the question asked by one of the “tween” participants in our special Family Tour and Workshop as she sat in front of a typewriter for the first time.

The typewriters had been provided by harlequin creature, a not-for-profit literary journal, as part of a Family Tour and Workshop held at the Guggenheim Museum in May. The workshop was a collaboration between the Guggenheim and Meghan Forbes, harlequin creature’s co-editor, who conducts typing workshops with children and adults throughout the United States. Forbes and harlequin creature’s other editor, Hannah McMurray, originally designed the typewriting workshops for children because they “found the typewriter to be an excellent tool in bringing something unique and exciting to the writing process.”

For the Guggenheim’s program, Forbes brought ten vintage typewriters into the Studio Art Lab in the museum’s Sackler Center for Arts Education. Never having used the devices before, the tweens who participated in the workshop were as excited as they were baffled and challenged. The adult participants were equally eager to get their hands on the machines, sharing with their children fond (and not-so-fond) memories of their own experiences with typewriters.

Before the families sat down at the machines, they explored the “words-in-freedom” works in Italian Futurism, 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe—pieces in which lettering and creative typography were used to build pictorial compositions. With Forbes, they gathered inspiration from the experimental sound and language poems, pioneered by Futurism’s prominent founding figure, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. One family focused on a work in which letters form the image of a bridge. Another pair of excited tween girls shouted out and identified the letters used to construct a portrait of Marinetti himself.

After their time in the galleries, stirred by what they had seen, the families headed down to the Studio Art Lab to start creating their own words-in-freedom works. After a quick tutorial on using a typewriter, each family began to develop their own working styles. One mother-daughter duo divided responsibilities: as the daughter furiously typed throughout the whole hour, producing page after page of fiction, mom cut collage pieces to illustrate her daughter’s stories. Another family worked together to create pictures of a soccer field using typed letters. “I got a thrill out of seeing a capital R turn into a soccer player kicking an o,” said Forbes.

It was clear that bringing people together in front of the typewriter fostered a unique type of learning for a range of ages. Forbes explained, “The parents were not only helping their children, but working alongside them, creating a collaborative and focused environment in which high-caliber work was produced.” But the creative experience is not always a smooth one, especially when working with a new (or new-to-you) medium. Fed up with how difficult it was to type on the vintage machine, one young girl became increasingly frustrated. Eventually, with tears in her eyes, she crumpled what she had been working on and stormed out of the classroom. Her father, who had been helping her along the way, as well as typing up his own artwork, followed her out of the studio. The typewriters had not only presented the girl with a new experience, but with an unfamiliar creative challenge. After her father calmed her down, she returned to the studio to work. The father-daughter team pushed through the frustration, switching typewriters and reworking their artwork together. The girl, who had initially been so discouraged, was now typing with a new level of excitement.

At the end of the workshop, when the families were asked to share their work, the father-daughter duo presented their creation: a manifesto in which typewriters were portrayed as dangerous, fire-breathing dragons. The pair had worked together to overcome roadblocks and incorporated the child’s negative feelings toward the machine in their final piece. For the educators on hand, it was an demonstration of how resiliency and perseverance can be learned through demanding artistic and creative pursuits—and how wonderful things happen when families create and collaborate together.

Visit us online and learn more about the Guggenheim’s programs for families, children, tweens, and teens. All family programs are free for members.