Today we took a ride up to the first museum I ever went to – The Allentown Art Museum. As a preschooler, my grandmother would take me on the weekends and we would wander around for a couple hours while she taught me about various artists, techniques and periods of art. Of course, my favorite part was the gift shop. In fact, I still have a red glass marble that I got there almost 30 years ago. I hadn’t been back since those weekend trips. And while the museum has changed greatly over the years, walking the halls flooded me with a thousand memories.
We decided to go on a Sunday when the museum is free to the public. Sundays are also the day that the museum provides family friendly activities. We went to check out The Art Ways Gallery, which is not an exhibition, but rather a space designed for kids to learn about art through hands-on participation. The room is set up with different art making stations that correspond to the various exhibitions that are currently up. Many of the stations feature fairly common children’s art activities, such as different types of building blocks, coloring with crayons (although the pictures were images of pieces hanging in the museum), and drawing on a giant chalkboard mural.
The one station that I felt was a bit more involved and unique than the others was the one that tried to teach children about the process of printmaking. The museum currently has a very large printmaking show up, so this was a really great way to get kids to understand the process that went into making many of the works on display. And while the activity demonstrates more of the callograph printmaking technique (building a printing plate by gluing raised objects onto a surface) rather than the etchings in the exhibitions, it really did a great job of teaching about the process of printmaking. Sebastian noticed a bunch of triangular shaped scraps of foam on the table and decided to make a type of collage with them. It actually turned out great, and he was very excited to witness the results.
After we finished up in the gallery, we spend a few minutes wandering around. At this point Sebastian was a combination of tired and amped up from all the activities, so we didn’t get to do as much as I would have liked (I guess it’ll give us something to go back for). We briefly checked out the current printmaking exhibition, which was a really great collection of works, and spent a moment looking at some of the pieces in the museum’s permanent collection.
There was one piece in particular that I wanted to see. During those early childhood visits, there was a large painting that used to hang in the entrance of the museum. Frans Snyder’s Game Stall at Market burns in my mind as one of the strongest memories I have about the museum. This is probably due to a combination of its size (its over 11 feet wide) and its content (bloody game and vicious dogs make for a pretty intense image for a 4 year old to see). I asked the lady at the front desk if they still had the painting and she said it was hanging in the Kress Gallery, so we stopped in on our way out. I’m not sure if Sebastian even knew what he was looking at, or if he had an opinion one way or another. But for me to see him sit and look at a painting that I had almost 30 years ago was quite the experience.
We headed out the front door and started to walk to the car when I noticed a building across the street from the museum that also held significance in my life – The Baum Art School. My father enrolled me in a sculpture class their when I was five years old. I remember it so vividly and it was one of my most formative experiences as an artist. Seeing that building made me realize how involved my own family was in immersing me in the arts and how that has translated into my own desire to provide Sebastian will a similar experience. Hey, maybe he’ll grow up with an interest in art too. Or maybe not. Either way, I am enjoying spending time showing him what it out there.