Sunday, December 16, 2012

What To Do With The Kids

The other day it went down to 7 degrees Fahrenheit in Santa Fe after one of the warmest falls ever.  This started me thinking about how many peoples’ lives would be moving indoors.  Particularly for city children, comes the inevitable question how to keep them entertained.

You won’t be surprised to learn that the Stiebel solution is often the art museum.  Yes, we were those “terrible” parents who would drag our kids with us when we would head off to an auction sale or an art exhibition. 

When my wife was a curator at the Metropolitan Museum many long years ago she would often have my 2 children in tow and, of course, that afforded the kids many things to do that are not available to the general public, such as helping her in the storerooms and, when they were younger, playing with the models made by the designers for exhibitions. My daughter, Cathy was always the student, patient if not fascinated.

Danny peeks through a model 

One day Penelope noticed that Danny, then about five years old, wasn’t interested in the pictures in an exhibition. When she stooped down to his level she saw that the lampers, in order to light the pictures properly for the adults, placed the lights at such an angle that caused a reflection right into the child’s eyes so he effectively saw nothing but glare.  To get him to engage with the paintings she had to pick him up. Over time Danny became really good at making up comical explanations of what was going on in paintings, until we convulsed with laughter.

I think the best “game” of all is making up one’s own story about a work of art.  The myths that were painted by the old masters, like images of Venus, were often done to legitimize the painting of a nude, but they had to incorporate the figures into a story.    We have an image at our gallery of the Building of Noah’s Ark.  It was painted by a student, Nicolas Bertin, at the end of the 17th century to accomplish an assignment with which he won the Prix de Rome.  The task was to paint a picture showing men dressed, semi dressed, women in beautiful gowns, animals, and a building, i.e. the ark.  But why not let the child that you are escorting make up their own story.  Through that exercise you may see the painting differently yourself and gain a whole new perspective on it.

Recently, Penelope took a four-year-old to the Wheelwright museum here in Santa Fe.  The exhibition they were going to see was about Mary Cabot Wheelwright (1878 – 1958), the founder of the museum.  Looking through books she found a photo of Miss Wheelwright when she was about the 4 year olds’ age.  This allowed the little girl to identify with the woman and the exhibition, giving her a sense of association with the show, and she thoroughly enjoyed it.  Proof came some time later when she met a contemporary in another museum in a different state and her father overheard her say, “If you want to see a really good museum you have to see the Wheelwright Museum in Santa Fe!

Hunter the tired museum goer

Our son, Hunter, was probably just a little older when we first took him to the Louvre in Paris.   As you know the Louvre is daunting by any standards; once I timed my walk to see one painting which I needed to look at in order to confirm an attribution of a painting that I had. I went in the main entrance of the Museum spent less than 5 minutes in front of the painting and walked straight out again.  It took exactly 30 minutes!  That is a long, long time for a child.  So, Penelope decided first what kinds of pictures and sculptures would be fun for Hunter and where she could build up the story before arriving at the work of art.  One was the Winged Samothrace, the Greek Sculpture of about 190 B.C., because it was huge, had wings and was armless and headless.  Also, it was not far from the entrance and one had to go past Greek and Roman antiquities and sarcophagi.  Hunter became fascinated with dead people in stone coffins and later when we took him to churches, tombs and reliquaries with the saints bones would totally mesmerize him, resulting in endless questions.

I must confess that Penelope and I would often give short shrift to the more modern galleries until one day when Hunter was a teenager we noticed him lagging behind in those same modern installations.  We knew then that he no longer needed a guide and could teach us a thing or two.

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