At some point in the budding relationship between a mother and her new baby, they have to find things they both like doing. While I love her delight in "That's Not My Monkey..." for the millionth time, and she patiently endures being strolled down the Museum Reach while I run, the portfolio of activities enjoyable to both a 30-year-old woman and a 7-month-old baby is slim. Very slim.
Thankfully, my Urban Baby and I live in the heart of the city.
Living a few blocks from Broadway’s cultural corridor gives us easy access to two excellent art museums. Urban Baby and I both love art.
First up, ArtStrolls at the McNay Art Museum, which takes place every Friday in November at 10 and 11 am.
Recently we joined three other mothers and their wee ones in the lobby of the McNay. Sheena Solitaire, museum educator for family programs, met us and gave us a rundown of the tour.
ArtStrolls happens three times per year, for a month at time. Each month-long series of tours has a theme. This November the theme is “children’s songs.” We were there for “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes” focusing on the art of Picasso, and his famous treatment of body parts.
Each mom used a different transportation method for her child. A sling, a stroller, an aunt, and then there was my Moira who spent a good portion of the tour on the floor studying the tiles. Her dad is an architect.
Solitaire doesn’t expect the babies to model museum etiquette. There are rules about liquids in the galleries, but meltdowns, tangents, and loud gabbing are taken in stride.
Amazingly, though, very little of that happened. The babies enjoyed staring at the art.
Solitaire and her team select pieces of art that will engage both parent and child. She explains the kinds of images that most babies enjoy, and how to tell which pieces your baby engages.
The high contrast and bold graphics of Picasso’s “Femme Accroupie,” “Femme Couchee,” and “Portrait of Sylvette” held the gaze of the children, while Solitaire explained the difference between analytic and synthetic cubism for the benefit of the adults.
We then visited two sculptures of women in contrasting postures, and discussed how to read the human body in art.
The whole of the curated tour lasted about 15 minutes, after which we were free to explore the gallery. While I had hoped my daughter would fixate on the Chagall I have loved for 23 years, she’s a Matisse girl already — thanks to some formative time at SAMA’s summer exhibition— and was immediately drawn to “The Red Blouse.”
I was pleased however that she lingered with Raoul Dufy’s “Golfe Juan.” I love that one.
After the gallery tour, we went downstairs to one of the education rooms to hear Miss Tiffany, one of the popular Storytime Chicks for story time. Even tiny children love to be read to, and Miss Tiffany is fun to watch.
After the story, Solitaire budgets in a brief social time for mom’s to connect while children free play. For many, the opportunity to connect to like-minded mom-peers is vital. ArtStrolls naturally narrows down the crowd to some level of shared interest and value. Solitaire said that playgroups have spawned from ArtStrolls groups in the past, and many participating moms attend every Friday in the month.
Finally, if you need any more proof that this program is designed by moms, the art project is a take-home kit called Art To-Go. Any mom who has ever tried to load a wet, sticky baby into a car seat while juggling a fragile sculpture dripping with glue and “washable” paint will appreciate the neatly packed bag of easy baby-friendly art supplies and instructions. It comes in really handy during the five o’clock witching hour. Twenty minutes of art, 40 minutes of bath. Another hour well-spent.
Another option for art-loving caregivers looking to engage kids early is SAMA’s ArtCrawl, a monthly program that takes place on second Thursdays. It's coming up on Nov. 13 at 10 a.m.
The value of art time for babies is widely accepted. As their brains develop, each engaging picture, each logical pattern, each new form helps to organize the nerve cells in their brains. From the earliest ages they are drawn to light, contrast, and bold images that strengthen the function of their retinas. As they grow they recognize faces and familiar images.
"Any stimulating environment, and especially looking at art is important for development," said Solitaire.
We made one final stop at the museum gift shop, to let Moira survey the wall of postcard prints from the collection. I let her pick two cards, one for each grubby little hand. Predictably, she zeroed in on “The Red Blouse” and “Femme Couchee,” which are now hanging next to "Woman in a Purple Coat."
*Featured/top image: ArtStrolls at the McNay. Courtesy photo.