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Category: Behind the Scenes

“Volunteer Voices” Part II

The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts has lots of wonderful volunteers and docents who donate countless hours to a variety of programs year in and year out.  In the first “Volunteer Voices” blog post, volunteers and docents answered the question  “What drew you to the museum to share your time and energy?” We received so many wonderful answers, we decided to continue the blog posts and create a series. This second installment of “Volunteer Voices” is dedicated to the question  “Do you have a favorite or most rewarding moment with visitors of the museum?”

Take a look at some of the responses from Docents and Volunteers below on their favorite or most rewarding moments at the MMFA, and leave some of your own in the comments!

 

“When the Uribe exhibit was here recently, I captured several people and took them to see the exhibit.  They thanked me profusely.  The same is true for other exhibits.”  Frances Durr, Docent

 

“Several years ago I was giving a gallery tour to a 1st grade class and right before they were to leave the entire class gave me hugs!!!” George Jacobsen, Docent (featured right)

 

“I have had lots of great conversations with visitors about lots of different exhibits.”  Meili Wang, First Impressions Desk

 

“I enjoy seeing children learn.” Penny Thompson, Docent

 

“The kindergarteners’ insightful observations, seeing the excitement as they explore a piece of art for the first time.” Frank Gitschier, Docent, After a Cakewalk gallery tour (featured right)

 

“I get a lot of satisfaction out of helping visitors that come into the museum.  If I can provide information that enhances their visit I have done my job.”  George Childress, First Impressions Desk

 

“Any time a kid walks into the museum.” Liz Land, Docent (featured below)

 

“I like it all. The best part of volunteering for the museum is working with staff and other volunteers to help the patrons have a good experience when they visit.”  Luigi Edwards, Special Events Volunteer

 

 

 

We look forward to your stories and the next installment of “Volunteer Voices” very soon!

Meg Hall
Volunteer Coordinator

Class of 2016 Docents Graduate Thursday Evening

For teachers and students, it’s nearing the end of another school year, and graduation is in the air!  It’s no different for our MMFA docent corps, who will this Thursday evening, May 12, see their newest members graduate from the New Docent Program into the ranks of our talented active, senior docents.  The docents of the 2015-16 class have already participated in Outreach, Studio, Artworks, and gallery tours, and have made their year-end presentations to the Museum staff and active docents. Those presentations were innovative, enlightening, and entertaining, and we are looking forward to incorporating this diverse and talented group into the active docent corps.

My conversations with the members of the 2015-16 docent class are summarized below:

Maria Freedman docentMaria Freedman

Maria came to Montgomery in 1995, by way of Germany and Illinois. She was an art teacher for 40 years, and, during that time, taught a weekend workshop for children at the MMFA and participated annually in the Flimp Festival. She retired in May 2015, and is looking forward to having more time to work on her own art, but, she says, she still needs structure in her day, so in addition to being a new docent, she assists with the Respite Program at First United Methodist Church and is a member of the Selma Art Guild.

Frank Gitschier2 docent-smallFrank Gitschier

A graduate of the University of Louisville, where he was a second string All-American football player, Frank spent 34 years working for the Alabama Legislative Fiscal Office before retiring in 2012. Alice Novak and Jill Barry, whom he met at a dinner party, recruited him into the docent program. A firm believer in the maxim that “a picture is worth a 1,000 words,” he loves leading gallery talks, but is scared (he claims) of leading a studio lesson.

Meg Hall DocentMeg Hall

Before moving to Montgomery in 1996, Meg, who has a master’s degree in social work, lived in Wisconsin and in Auburn, working with children, disabled persons, and the elderly. She also earned a second-degree black belt in karate. In Montgomery, she worked in the Golf Shop at Wynlakes Country Club. Just as she was leaving her employment there, she heard about the docent program from Alice Novak’s friend Foad, a massage therapist at Mind and Body Holistic Spa in Cloverdale. Meg’s favorite part of the docent program is the people. She loves working with children, and helping with Artworks and studio activities.

Evelyn Jackson docent
Evelyn Jackson

Evelyn has operated several small businesses centered on flowers and plants. Now she is a Spanish language interpreter and translator. She says that she needed – and found – a new direction in her life when a friend recommended the docent program to her. Not surprisingly for someone with a degree in English literature, she believes that art is evocative of the range of human experience, and she finds herself looking at art in verbal terms.

Nam Kim docentNam Jung Kim

With a master’s degree in business administration, Nam spent 20 years in marketing. When she and her family moved to Montgomery, she visited the Museum and found it to be a “peaceful and comfortable” place. She called Alice, offering to do marketing work for the Museum and was persuaded to become a docent, which, she said, has turned out to be a wonderful way of getting to know Americans and being part of a community.

 

 

Wanica Means docentWanica Means

After living in San Francisco during her working life (which included being a model), Wanica moved to Montgomery to be near family and to be in a place where the cost of living was reasonable.   She reinvented herself by starting an etiquette consulting firm and, along with active docent Phyllis Hall, formed a women’s social club – “Fit and Fun and Fifty Plus.” When Phyllis suggested that she become a docent, Wanica responded, “Free art history class every week? Count me in!” Like Nam, she has found a sense of community in the docent program.

Nicki Rupe 2-docent smallNicki Rupe

Before coming to Alabama, Nicki spent most of her years in California, where she served as the executive secretary to CEOs of biotech companies and to Senator Dianne Feinstein. Here in Montgomery, she has re-launched a business, begun in California, as a professional organizer and home stager. She has always considered playing a role in an art museum, perhaps because she understands that she, like an artist with a blank canvas, “has a passion to create something beautiful from what seems like mayhem.” She believes that the docent program has given her a more discerning eye to appreciate the masterpieces that grace walls of the Museum and she is grateful that the MMFA reaches out to the community to share its treasures.

Marilyn Simpson docentMarilyn Simpson

Marilyn spent 42 years in higher education in California, Virginia, and Alabama. When she left the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service in 2001, she resolved to start on her bucket list, part of which was to become a museum docent. During her travels, she had visited many museums and had found them to be lovely, well-maintained places filled with beautiful things. She decided that her retirement years were going to be surrounded by beauty and the docent program has helped her accomplish that goal. She says, “What could be better than a year filled with a free education in art and beauty?

Gretchen Sippial docentGretchen Sippial

Alice’s friend Foad at Mind and Body Holistic Spa recruited Gretchen’s husband to be a docent, and, when her husband indicated that he was not interested, Gretchen jumped at the chance. (Sounds like Foad should be an honorary docent!). Despite having an undergraduate degree in art, she was not inspired, she says, by her own work and decided to pursue other careers – in management, construction, and higher education. Now, however, she has come full circle and is inspired by the art she is learning about here at the MMFA.

 

Carroll Thompson docentCarroll Thompson 

Carroll was born and raised in Memphis and is a graduate of Rhodes College (formerly Southwestern at Memphis), where she majored in fiber arts. Her three lifelong interests have been theater, dance, and art. She has taught ballet and loves doing art projects with children. She came to the docent program through her friend, active docent Carol Tew. Carroll loves “art history Mondays” and enjoys being part of the docent community at the MMFA .

Congratulations to all the members of the MMFA’s 2015-16 docent class and we warmly welcome them to our active membership.

Mary Lil Owens
New Docent Representative

 

 

 

 

 

Gifts of the Ida Belle Young Acquisition Fund

ShortCourseIdaBelleYoungEleanorWho was Ida Belle Young and how did her generous contributions impact the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts? These questions will be answered through a docent-led short course, which began on January 26, 2016, and will continue each Tuesday (at noon) through February 23, 2016.

I began the first session by highlighting Young’s life, work, and legacy. Regarded as an astute businesswoman, active civic person, and a philanthropist, Young provided the endowment for the Ida Belle Young Art Acquisition Fund, which has enabled the Museum to expand and enrich its American art holdings. ShortCourseIdaBelleYoungA.FreemanFollowing this presentation, attendees proceeded to the galleries, where Dr. Alma Freeman led an in-depth and captivating discussion on the first painting purchased through Young’s art fund, Francoise in Green, Sewing, 1908-1909, created in France by Mary Cassatt. Participants enthusiastically offered their interpretations of the painting.

ShortCourseIdaBelleYoung#4On Tuesday, February 2, Session II of the course featured presentations by Mary Lil Owens (William Sydney Mount’s Any Fish Today?, 1857) and Lou Scott (Severin Roesen’s Still Life with Mixed Flowers and Bird’s Nest, ca. 1851-1859).ShortCourseIdaBelleYoung

We look forward to more interesting and innovative discussions and your insightful interpretations of these fascinating works of art made possible through Young’s bequest. Additional sessions are scheduled as follows:

2/9    George Henry Durrie’s Holidays in the Country, The Cider Party, 1853  (Beverly Bennett)
Edmonia Lewis’ Hiawatha’s Marriage, 1868  (Pam Moulton)

2/16  George Inness’ Medfield, 1877   (Jiyeon Suh)
Eastman Johnson’s Girl in Landscape with Two Lambs, 1875  (George Jacobsen)

2/23   Thomas Hart Benton’s Ozark Autumn, 1949  (Pat Wanglie)
Max Weber’s View of Roslyn, New York, ca 1922-1925 – (Gloria Simons)

ShortCourseIdaBelleYoungMary Lil

Eleanor Lee
Museum Docent and Docent Council Secretary

 

 

Behind the Scenes—Installing Once & Again: Still Lifes by Beth Lipman

Blog.LipmanOn Saturday, November 14, 2015, the MMFA will open our newest exhibition for the fall season, Once & Again: Still Lifes by Beth Lipman.  Featuring seven sculptures and eight photographs, this is the largest exhibition of artist Beth Lipman’s work to date. While her sculptures allude to seventeenth-century still-life paintings, her three-dimensional interpretations of these historical canvases offer pointed commentary on contemporary art and life. (At left: Artist Beth Lipman during installation at the MMFA)

Putting together these large-scale sculptures—assemblages of hundreds of individual glass objects—is not a straightforward process, but rather is an intricate dance of placement, gluing with silicone, and timing. To create this exhibition in our galleries Lipman arrived at the Museum on November 4. Since then, she has worked many long days on several pieces at once, adding new layers, allowing the silicone to dry, and coming back to each of the sculptures to add additional elements day after day.  Lipman’s works often defy gravity—glass vines, pitchers, swags, and vessels break free of the confines of their tables, bursting beyond their edges to dangle unsupported in space.  Pushing the glass material to the point of breakage, while simultaneously highlighting its strength, Lipman’s precarious compositions are fraught with a sense of immediacy and tension. Watching the artist in action as she builds these complex installations demonstrates Lipman’s mastery over her process, and the results are stunningly beautiful feats of exemplary creative engineering!  Accompanying the sculptures are equally impressive photographic representations of Lipman’s glass objects portrayed in two-dimensional splendor, revealing yet another aspect of the artist’s approach to her work.

Once & Again: Still Lifes by Beth Lipman is accompanied by the first full-scale, illustrated catalogue of the artist’s work, produced by the MMFA and available in the Museum Store.  The exhibition is touring to two other venues, The Hunter Museum of Art in Chattanooga, Tennessee (on view from March 11, to June 12, 2016) and the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, Wisconsin, (on view September 22, 2016 to January 7, 2017).

Please stop by the MMFA between November 14, 2015 and January 31, 2016, to see the results of Beth Lipman’s hard week’s work of installation—the culmination of her many years of experience creating art the in splendid medium of glass.

To see Beth in action, check out the  video  Cynthia Milledge, director of marketing and public relations, captured of the installation and the brief interview she conducted.

Blog.Lipman.1

Jennifer Jankauskas
Curator of Art, and the exhibition

A Thomas Hart Benton for the MMFA

Benton.BlogThursday, May 21, 2015 marked a significant milestone in the history of the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts and its collection.  At around 10:30 that morning, the Museum purchased Ozark Autumn, 1949, by the Regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton (American, 1889–1975) for its American paintings collection. It is the first painting by one of the three major American Regionalist painters—Benton, John Steuart Curry, and Grant Wood—to enter the collection.   Acquiring a painting by one of the artists from this particular school of American art was long considered an important goal for our MMFA collection because the Museum owns a significant number of works by Southern Regionalist painters who were contemporaries of Benton and the others. J. Kelly Fitzpatrick and his students formed a “mini-Regionalist” cohort here in the heart of Alabama, and these works were the foundation of the MMFA collection that began in 1930.
 
Benton.Blog.4Thomas Hart Benton was a controversial and influential character in both the art and social worlds in early and mid-twentieth century America.  After study and the practice of art in Paris and New York, Benton’s outspokenness, writings, and large-scale public mural projects made him a voice for national political and art issues in Depression-era America.  Early in his career he worked for a time as a modernist painter, but he eventually abandoned that style to pursue one rooted in traditional European art, creating murals with distinctly “American” themes that resonated with the public.  He is best known for his mural cycles such as America Today (now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York), and his massive composition for the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City. His association with Wood and Curry, along with a December 1934, Time magazine cover story about Benton’s work, allowed him to settle into his permanently defined role as a Regionalist painter. (Above: Registrar Pamela Bransford and MMFA Consulting Conservator Larry Shutts examine the Museum’s latest acquisition.)
 
The acquisition of this critical work was made possible only by the amazing legacy of Ida Belle Young, who bequeathed the Museum funds for the purchase of “traditional American art” upon her death in 2004. However having the resources for a purchase was only one factor in acquiring the appropriate work.  The staff made a concerted effort for more than seven years to locate “the right Benton” before Ozark Autumn became available.  This work possessed two attributes that were considered critical—as a larger scale work in oil and tempera it could be put on long-term view with our other important American paintings (unlike a work on paper which is subject to damage over time from exposure to light), and the subject was an agrarian one depicting a corn harvesting scene.  Since many of our Southern Regionalist works depict the rural South, it was important to us that our Benton reflect that same agrarian tradition.
 
And yet a second exciting day dawned on August 31, when we finally unveiled this outstanding work of art for our MMFA Board of Trustees. The event, held in the Museum’s Rotunda at 5:30 P.M., celebrated the support of the Board, the generosity of Ida Belle Young, and the City of Montgomery’s ongoing belief in our mission to the community.Benton.Blog.3  The painting was given a very warm and hearty welcome, accompanied by a toast to the memory of Ida Belle Young, whose gift in the form of the Ida Belle Young Art Acquisition Fund had made its acquisition possible.(Right: Acquisition Committee Chairman Winnie Stakely and MMFA President of the Board of Trustees Roger Spain unveil Ozark Autumn)
 
For any collecting museum the addition of a truly major work of art is a rare event, and one that contributes to the ongoing vitality of the institution.  It takes a concerted team effort to achieve the Museum’s mission “to collect, preserve, exhibit and interpret art of the highest quality.” This acquisition of Ozark Autumn, and the many people that worked to get it to Montgomery, is a testament to what that mission statement is really all about.Benton.Blog.2

Margaret Lynne Ausfeld
Curator of Art

A First for the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts

Docents BlogThe excitement is mounting! On Thursday evening, August 27 the first ever docent organized and curated exhibition will open. In May of 2014, our docent corps of 45 members was given the unique opportunity of creating an exhibition from beginning to end. It was decided to break down this task into several committees: Selection and Installation, Education Programming, Research and Writing, and Public Relations and Development. All docents were asked for input and most volunteered for one or more of the committees. After many discussions and meetings, works were chosen and it was decided that our exhibition would be titled Journey Through the Collection: Docent Choices. When the selected works were reviewed, it was discovered that they fit into five different categories.

Remembering the Past offers a window into the past, illustrating how events from the past shaped our present and helped us to envision the future.

“Isms” and Styles showcases some of the stylistic trends in 20th-century art and describes these evolving theories in art.

How Do They Do It? helps answer questions the viewer might have about artists’ creative processes and techniques.

Echoes of the South reflects a diverse cultural and personal history that calls to mind the strong sense of place embodied in Southern culture.

A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words stimulates and challenges the viewer to look closer and discover the stories within each work.

JJ in Maltby Sykes Gall BlogDuring this process, the docents not only became familiar with MMFA’s entire collection but discovered the amount of preparation and work that it takes to mount an exhibition. After the works were selected,  labels were researched and written to help the viewer get a better understanding of the exhibition’s content.

Public Relations and Development not only helped secure funding for the exhibition but made it possible to spread the word through various types of media. The Education Programming committee planned audio tours of some of the works, created a studio activity to be used during Family Day, and arranged for speakers for short courses that will cover the five categories. There will also be a gallery talk in Korean for our local Korean community. All of this could not have been accomplished without the help, support, and enthusiasm of the entire MMFA staff. Thank you.

Gloria Simons
Docent

A History Worth Saving

Scrapbk_blog220About three years ago, the Museum staff began identifying and digitizing photographs and other documents that record the history of the institution, which was founded in 1930. The project was planned and initiated through the efforts of Tara Sartorius in conjunction with our Collections Information Specialist, Sarah Puckitt, and the project is now managed by Sarah who continues to add data when her schedule permits. This “digital archive” is in its earliest stages, but already we can see the long-term value and usefulness of preserving our institutional memory in digital form.

Paper has always been a perilous material for storing information over time. All paper (the kind we write on, the kind we print copies on, and even photographic paper) is largely acidic; the non-acidic kind is now too expensive to be used for much other than making and preserving artwork. So when the process of scanning existing images and documents became more widely available and cost effective, the Museum started using computer hard drives to store our archival data. While it has its challenges, digital records are the future of archive management, and we are already somewhat ahead of the curve.

Archives_blogThe 2014 year-long celebration of our 25th anniversary in the Blount Cultural Park provided significant impetus for our efforts to locate and scan images of the Museum during its first twenty-five years, when we were located in an old school building downtown. A desire to focus on the early art collection also prompted us to look at the roots of the institution in its early years and to revisit our now distant past. It was fascinating to find images of the previous Museum buildings and the programs that gave rise to the ones we offer now.

McDonough_constr_blogA tangible result of our efforts to digitize the institutional history in a well-organized database was the timeline of early Museum history titled Origins • A Timeline of the MMFA. Produced in conjunction with the Origins exhibition which was on view this past summer and online at the link above, the timeline encapsulates through photographs and brief text the development of the Museum and its collection on Lawrence Street.

Through our website, via email, and through social media, the Museum will increasingly use digital means to communicate with our audiences. By preserving a digital heritage of the MMFA, subsequent generations of Museum visitors will have the resources to explore our development as the primary visual arts institution in the River Region for the last eighty-four years.

Margaret Lynne Ausfeld
Curator of Art

Call me Trim Tab—Twelve Degrees of Freedom Restored

B_Fuller_Karsh_blogRichard Buckminster Fuller (1895–1983), who preferred to be called Bucky, wrote more than 30 books, earned 28 U.S. patents, circumnavigated the globe 57 times, and coined the term “Spaceship Earth.” Along the way, he invented the Dymaxion (short for dynamic maximum tension) house and car, and he popularized the geodesic dome, an efficient but often leaky structure designed and built through application of the principle of tensegrity.

Tensegrity is the balance of forces of tension (cables) and compression (rods) that the artist patented. His 1962 patent defines tensegrity as “the physical phenomenon that produces a stable geometric structure with solid members that are arranged in tandem with tense metal cables. The solid members of this system do not touch or support each other directly.B_Fuller_damage_blog

The spare beauty of the principle of tensegrity is aptly demonstrated in Twelve Degrees of Freedom (and by Fuller himself in a photograph by Yousuf Karsh, 2009.9.2), but not long ago that sculpture was limp and unable to stand on its small tripodal foot as originally designed because an accident in the galleries stretched its plastic-coated, braided steel wires.

B_Fuller_art_blogFortunately, a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) enabled the museum to employ McKay-Lodge Fine Arts Conservation of Oberlin, Ohio to restore the sculpture. After careful research into the design and fabrication of the sculpture, which was produced in Fuller’s architectural studios in Cleveland, conservator Tom Podnar painstakingly measured, knotted, and inserted each of the eighteen replacement wires and fitted their knotted ends into holes in the rods and the central sphere so that the entire geometric structure attained a rigid state. Only in that condition will the sculpture stand on one of its tiny tripodal feet as designed. Podnar’s persistence has paid off. Once again viewers can appreciate Twelve Degrees of Freedom as the artist intended.

This sculpture is part of Triad, a group of three similar tensegrity sculptures of rods and cables that Fuller designed and fabricated in an authorized edition of ten around 1982. Some of those are now in the collection of the Buckminster Fuller Institute in Philadelphia. Fuller made a few other sculptures like these, but most of his formidable creativity was focused on functional structures in a lifelong quest, as he said, “to find what a single individual [could] contribute to changing the world and benefitting all humanity.”

Fuller said, “call me Trim Tab.” That is the tiny adjustable flap on the trailing edge of an ocean liner’s rudder that creates a low pressure area, easing the movement of the relatively small rudder that steers the massive ship. Bucky made a career of applying minimal amounts of energy to effect maximal results, designing efficient sculptures, houses, cars, and other components of Spaceship Earth to achieve sustainable systems that maintain nature’s delicate balance.

Michael W. Panhorst, Ph.D
Curator of Art

Museum Director Celebrates Twenty Years

ADM.Mark_blogTwenty years — that is a long time by any measure, but it is a particularly long tenure for a museum director and Tuesday, August 12, we had the pleasure of celebrating Mark Johnson’s 20th anniversary at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.

Staff threw a surprise breakfast party for Mark that included his 1994 hiring president, Winnie Stakely and past president Laurie Weil and featured a waffle bar given by Jennie Weller to honor this significant achievement. Winnie and Laurie shared stories about Mark from the Board and community point of view, while Margaret Lynne Ausfeld, who is one of a handful of staffers whose tenure exceeds Mark’s, rounded out the remarks from the staff perspective. While Mark has publicly stated he does not like surprises, he was touched that all current staff signed a plaque created by artist and Museum Shop staffer Kay Jacoby that featured Rose Kennedy’s quote “Life isn’t a matter of milestones, but of moments.”

While Mark has reached a momentous milestone with this anniversary, I just ran a quick tally and Mark has hosted over 3,150,000 visitors to the Museum during his tenure, creating a myriad of moments for so many people.

We thank Mark for his service to the Museum and the River Region in so ably leading the institution and we look forward to creating many more moments in the future.

Congratulations Mark!

Jill Barry
Deputy Director

Photo: Donna Pickens, Amy Johnson, Mark Johnson, Winnie Stakely and Gloria Simons at the celebration breakfast held August 12, 2014.

Groundbreaking for a Garden of Endless Possibilities

 

DSC_0805blogWhat started out as a $3 million vision by Museum director Mark Johnson and the MMFA’s board of trustees is being transformed into a three-acre reality.

Johnson says, “First we were just considering building it out to the road and having a one acre sculpture gallery, but then we started saying we have another 50 yards of property out there. We decided if we extended it out and changed a road here and there it would add a lot more space to it. ”

With temperatures rapidly approaching the 90-degree mark on Wednesday morning Johnson, Montgomery’s Mayor Todd Strange, MMFA Board of Trustees President Barrie Harmon, and other dignitaries took the Sculpture Garden to the next level. They all shoveled sand during a ceremonial groundbreaking to make way for it’s creation. The Mayor Strange says, “This is the next step forward.”

DSC_0769blogForward to 2016, which is when Museum leaders plan to have this new gallery completed. The additional outdoor exhibition and studio space will be an extension of the Lowder Gallery that is located on the east side of the building. The Board’s president believes the Garden was the highlight of the Museum’s 25th anniversary.  Harmon says, “It enhances the image of the city. It gives us a cultural dimension to what we’re trying to achieve in Montgomery.” The new addition will not only feature temporary and permanent exhibitions of outdoor sculpture, it will also be used for special events and innovative education programs. The space will provide an outstanding new venue for entertaining and appreciating the beauty of the natural setting in the Blount Cultural Park.DSC_0827blog

Director Mark Johnson says the planning committee did their homework touring other sculpture gardens across the United States to get ideas and taking this research to an architect and landscape architecture specialist in order to prepare the current plan.

The efforts to fund the construction of the new sculpture garden are already underway and Johnson says a third of the money needed has been raised so far.

In the meantime, to hear and see more sights and sounds from the June 25th groundbreaking go online to the Youtube video link seen here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlH9G0YduH0&feature=youtu.be.

Cynthia Milledge
Director of Public Relations and Marketing

 

 

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