We all know art is boring. We only pretend to like it when we’re dating a sculptor or trying to impress our intellectual friends, right? Okay, I actually love art, but my kids love of art extends to drawing princesses on the iPad. Thanks to Martha, though, we finally found a way to get Fluffy interested in the National Gallery of Art. Or at least, not to spend half our time there asking, “Are we focusing on finding the way out?”
Try this outing:
Difficulty Level: Moderate. The stroller accessibility of the gallery leaves something to be desired. Young kids might have a hard time not touching the art or respecting the noise level which art-patrons would appreciate in the echoing halls.
- Try reading The Girl with a Watering Can book beforehand, see below.
- Plan ahead and keep the little ones in the stroller as you buzz through your tour.
- The Gallery Cafe has a great seasonal menu, and the concert series which has featured my voice teacher a few times, is a wonderful date.
- The waterfall wall and lighted tunnel between the East and West wings are exciting for the littlest kids.
Fluffy Fun Factor (Preschooler rating): Fun! “My book was mostly the funnest. I’m sad the paintings didn’t tell the story. That would be super duper funny. I wanted to see all the pictures.”
We’ve tried other museum scavenger hunts with limited success, but this one was very different.
The key is this story book, The Girl with the Watering Can (which is out of print, but you can buy cheaply used). In it, Renoir’s girl with a watering can comes to life one night and has an adventure with the characters in 9 of the other paintings in the National Gallery of Art. They aren’t necessarily your favorite 10 paintings or the most famous, and the writing is long-winded (who am I to talk?), but the point is, there’s a plot. Kids love plot. Their parents love plot. And to judge from the great difference between this and the last time we visited the museum, plot makes art palatable to young children by giving them a connection to the paintings.
I can take none of the credit for this idea. Martha Ethington bought us the book for Fluffy’s last birthday and made this nice laminated copy of the museum map with the paintings’ locations marked. The map was invaluable as it cut our hunting time by half at least. Even so, the boys barely made it through the scavenger hunt and the Pre-Raphaelites exhibit before they hit their expiration date.
You’re not supposed to take pictures. I didn’t know this until the 6th docent who’d seen me photographing Fluffy told me. That was the last picture I took. I assume the rule is to prevent flash photography from damaging the paintings. I’ll admit, I’m really glad nobody stopped me until after the scavenger hunt–and I never used the flash, let’s be clear.
In the book, the Girl with the Watering Can first takes off her shoes and pops out of the painting. Fluffy looks mortified and tortured in this picture not because she didn’t like the painting, but because as soon as she found it, she squealed, ran right up to it and touched it! When I told her (nicely) how very bad touching the paintings was, she was so embarassed to have broken the museum’s rules that she didn’t even want to take a picture.
The Girl with the Watering Can then steals the hoop from the Renoir’s Girl with a Hoop next to her. (You can see Fluffy is still embarassed. I told her that though she felt bad now, if she didn’t take the pictures, she’d really regret it when she felt better in a minute.)
Then the little trouble-maker knocks over Fantin-Latour’s Still Life, (Ah, there’s my Fluffy back to her old self and posing away.)
breaks one of the potted plants in Rousseau’s The Equatorial Jungle,
and loses the hoop in Turner’s Mortlake Terrace which actually has a hoop leaning against the wall–quite a satisfying connection.
She knocks the hat off a boy in Homer’s Breezing Up,
and falls into the hole in Bellini’s St. Jerome Reading. (Yeah, Fluffy’s feeling fine. No permanent dent to her spirits from the touching incident.)
After she apologizes for her naughtiness, Jerome pulls her out, and she restores all the paintings. She can’t get the hoop out of Mortlake Terrace though, so she has to borrow a brush from Self-Portrait by Judith Leyster to paint a new one for Girl with a Hoop.
Astute counters will notice that we’ve only talked about 8 paintings. The other two are not currently on display.
After the scavenger hunt, a couple of people stopped and asked to take pictures with Fluffy because she “looks just like the little girl in the painting!”
The new pre-Raphaelite’s exhibit is finally open, and it is amazing! They’ve painted the normally grey walls of the galleries in vibrant jewel tones to highlight the saturated colors of the paintings.
The exhibit is a feast of color and romanticism–that the twins could not possibly have been less interested in.
They went nuts over the waterfall wall at the food court though. Point-athalon! Squeals. Dancing. I’m pretty sure they remember this as our trip to the waterfall museum.
And Fluffy, well and truly over the awkward start to our scavenger hunt, ended the trip by blowing kisses to the lily buds to open up the blooms. Thanks Martha, for a wonderful trip to the National Gallery of Art. If you buy the book and do the tour, please send me a little note to say how it goes!