Add Quiet Art Museum to Weekend Activities List

Dear Parents,
Pumpkins are popping up on porches, football games are becoming regular weekend fare, trees are hinting at tinting color, and the weather is beginning to de-sizzle. Fall is officially underway.
Whether the weather is cool or warm, a pleasant place for children to spend some “down time” — which they desperately need in their often overly scheduled week —- is in a calm art gallery.
Children who are used to being entertained at every turn, probably would not choose to go to a place where there is no action. But as a parent, you have the opportunity to introduce your child to a world of quiet imagination, expressed by artists through color, design and context, rather than noise and movement.
I was not exposed to the world of art as a child, but instead got hooked when I became my girls’ art docent at their elementary school.
From that point on, through the years, our vacations included visits to art galleries, including ones in Amsterdam, London, Paris and Florence, and our family gained a growing appreciation for fine art.
So when I recently suggested taking four grandchildren to the Norton Simon Art Museum, my daughters were pleased, but apprehensive. “Take them by yourself?” Of course, said the art docent grammy.
Sitting on the grass under Rodin’s Burghers of Calais, we started with a meeting reviewing the rules of the museum. With a full cooperation agreement from Cora (3), Lucia (4 1/2), Everett (5 1/2) and Ivy (7), we entered the large glass doors.
I had mailed an art postcard to each child before their visit, so we were on a treasure hunt to find their three paintings and one sculpture. But first stop was at Van Gogh’s “Portrait of a Peasant,” flanked by the “Artist’s Mother” on one side and the “Mulberry Tree” on the other. We memorized Van Gogh’s name, wondered why his mother’s face was green, and looked closely at the thick paint of the Mulberry tree.
As we proceeded down the gallery, postcards in hand, I noticed the guards becoming extra alert when they saw the girls. I was very impressed with the “Rule Followers” as we located Degas’ “Pink Ballerinas,” and the “Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen” sculpture. The guards relaxed.
Along the way on our treasure hunt, the children were noticing other paintings that interested them — especially by Picasso — on our way to find Rousseau’s “Monkeys in the Jungle,” and Rivera’s “Girl With Lilies.”
It was time for a break, so we walked around the pond in the sculpture garden, in search of the “Panther” sculpture, ending up around a little table in the outdoor cafe with drinks and cookies.
Now, the key to taking children to an art gallery is leaving when they are asking to see more. “Next time,” you say, on the way to the gift shop. Here, in addition to a new pencil, they each picked out an art postcard of something they want to search for the next time we look for treasure in the museum.
As we walked to the car, I asked them what they enjoyed most about the museum. The universal answer was, “The cookies!”
The next time we go, perhaps they will know just where to find Van Gogh’s “Portrait of a Peasant,” will want to re-visit his green-faced mother and look once again at the Mulberry tree’s lush thick paint. Then we’ll launch a hunt for the new paintings.
And of course we’ll get cookies in the sculpture garden by the enchanting pond. After all, for children that’s the prize at the end of the treasure hunt.