by Amy Raimundo Seaholt
Most children won’t recognize artist Marc Chagall’s work, but his masterful use of color and surrealist lines are a natural fit for introducing kids to fine art. The Chagall for Children exhibit on view at the Portland Children’s Museum now through January 21, 2012, gives kids plenty of opportunity to explore painting technique, style and process in an imaginative and engaging way. Older kids may even learn enough of Chagall’s distinctive style that his work will be familiar to them in the future.
The exhibit is as hands-on, as you would expect from the Portland Children’s Museum. I visited with my 6 year old, who spent time happily rearranging tiled pieces of a replica of America Windows (a stained glass work that we parents may remember Ferris Bueller visiting on his day off), experimenting with the way varying degrees of light alter the art. My 4 year old was fascinated with the Green Violinist, wondering why the artist painted a man green. The interactive station next to the painting allowed him to take a photo of his own face and change his skin to green, blue, red or a combination. He could have stayed there the whole visit.
The exhibit is divided into stations, each highlighting one of Chagall’s paintings and providing an interactive activity that allows children to explore an aspect of art illustrated by Chagall’s work. Most stations also include an “old fashioned” (according to my daughter) telephone handset where children can listen to more about the painting and the artist at the time of the work.
Parents or older children can facilitate further learning by asking the open ended questions that are posted near each work. The thought-provoking questions need not only be applied to Chagall’s work, but to any art, including the children’s own.
In the center of the exhibit, children can create their own paintings on easels adorned with Chagall’s ubiquitous goat heads. Opportunities to create and take home art are standard fare for the museum, and with good reason: though they’ve seen similar before, this area held the most interest for my kids. Smocks are, of course, provided.
Children can find inspiration for their work in the art all around them, including the art in the new exhibition space, the art gallery at the museum. The small space in a previously underused area between the front desk and temporary exhibit area is now a showcase for kid-created art. The current exhibit houses work by Opal School students, who have painted amazing, whimsical collaborative pieces. Criteria for further installations in this space are still being determined, but visitors can expect to see examples of the excellence children can push themselves to when their creativity is allowed to thrive.